Niall Blake Knox, Communications and Policy Analyst
Wednesday 1 February 2017
In a few months, police and crime commissioners (PCCs) will be celebrating one year in office. For those in their second term, it is business as usual. For those elected last May, it is a more significant milestone. One thing all will have in common is a strong focus on their police and crime plan.
This month we have been looking in detail at these plans, which are rich sources of key strategic and operational information. We’re pleased to say that Crest has read them all, so you don’t have to.
All PCCs must produce a police and crime plan within one year of taking office, setting the strategic priorities for policing and community safety in their area for the next four years. Of the 42 PCCs or elected mayors required to produce a police and crime plan, 28 have published either drafts, which are currently out for consultation, or final versions.
Variations in public consultation
The level of public engagement and consultation varies considerably. According to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, PCCs “must make arrangements to obtain the views of the local community about matters concerning the policing of the area before the police and crime plan is issued. The Commissioner is also required to obtain the views of victims of crime in particular and have regard to those views when carrying out his/her functions.”
The majority of consultations consisted of public meetings, invited submissions and online surveys. The quality and the quantity of responses to these surveys varies substantially. Most consultations simply asked the public to rank or agree/disagree with a list of predetermined or suggested priorities or alternatively invited open submissions with no suggested focus or format. Our research of the currently accessible data shows that the number of responses to a police and crime plan consultation ranges from 96 to 4,000, suggesting some PCCs consult more widely and in greater depth than others.
More bobbies on the beat may or may not be the most effective use of police resources
Interestingly, seeing more bobbies on the beat was a widespread demand resulting from the consultations, alongside reducing anti-social behaviour. This probably accounts for the prevalence of these two priorities in the plans (which we will look at later). This may or may not be the most effective use of police resources in any given area, so PCCs will seek to properly align this with actual police demand and the changing nature of crime. And where greater demand exists on the police's resources, PCCs will look to properly inform the public and create an accurate narrative around what is most effective. There are some good examples of such efforts; MOPAC’s plan goes into considerable detail on the changing nature of crime which it cites as evidence to justify its unusually specific priorities. South Wales’ plan includes an effective infographic explaining daily police demand. It is tactics like this which have the potential to improve public understanding about the realities of modern policing.
PCCs should inform the public about what is most effective
The priorities in PCCs' plans do not necessarily reflect the changing nature of crime. In the most recent police recorded crime statistics and Home Office data for England and Wales released last month, fraud and cybercrime accounted for half of all crime, recorded knife crime rose by 11%, sexual offences rose by 12% and violence rose by 22%. Meanwhile, demand on police time taken up by complex crimes such as sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation continues to rise. Below we have generated a word cloud of all the published plans’ priorities, illustrating a prominent focus on victims and the vulnerable, but little on specific crimes.
Of the plans currently published, a total of 19 PCCs highlight (the very broad) priorities of ‘tackling crime’ or ‘making communities safer’. When looking for more specific priorities we find that 11 PCCs mention tackling anti-social behaviour, six focus on reoffending, six on alcohol, three each on violence, youth and terrorism, and two PCCs have knife crime as a stand alone priority.
Significant attention is also paid to resource based issues, showing the increasing pressure PCCs and forces are under to cope with increasing demand and shrinking budgets. 17 PCCs have made value for money or collaborating with other forces and/or services a priority, 12 promise to increase or protect levels of police visibility and 8 are seeking to improve its forces resources - human and/or technical.
It is notable that a majority of PCCs prioritise protecting vulnerable groups from harm, but when analysed more closely, they tend to focus on all vulnerable people or combine protecting the vulnerable with focusing on victims. Very few focus on specific groups of vulnerable people as stand alone priorities. The chart below maps the number of priorities that mention these different groups, but they come in a variety of combinations. Some plans prioritise cybercrime and protecting vulnerable people from sexual abuse as one priority, others have child protection and vulnerable as a priority.
There are a myriad of different ways in which different PCCs deal with vulnerable groups as a whole or on a more focused level. This could hinder the attempts for chief constables to target finite resources as effectively as possible. Of the PCCs who have as priorities particular crime types involving vulnerable groups, four specified sexual abuse (which may include adults and children together), four specified domestic violence/abuse, two specified child protection and two specified hate crime. In addition, only six PCCs specified cybercrime and/or fraud as priorities.
Only six PCCs specify cybercrime and/or fraud as headline priorities
Only half of PCCs are (yet) able to articulate a set of performance measures for which they will be held to account. Half of the plans contain detailed performance measure frameworks - indicators and measures alongside their priorities to help the public and other interested parties assess future success. Essex’s plan has a particularly clear and easy to measure performance framework. For example beside their priority of “Breaking the cycle of domestic abuse” they articulate the desired outcome as being “domestic abuse victims are and feel safer and more perpetrators are brought to justice” and use “incidents of domestic abuse (actual and % change)", "repeat incidents of domestic abuse (actual and % change)" and "domestic abuse solved rate (%)" as clear and easy to measure indicators of performance in this area.
Many PCCs are developing performance measures to publish at a later date.
Performance management frameworks help assess future success
PCCs are refreshingly transparent and imaginative when setting out their forces’ financial situation, proposed budgets and capital expenditure programmes. Again, Essex’s plan is a good example of best practice, as it includes detailed and clear infographics relaying detailed financial information in an easy to understand and accurate manner. Of the published police and crime plans and consultations, a total of 25 show the split between central and local funding. The average proportion of central government funding in these plans (or available data) is 68% with Merseyside having the largest (83%) and Surrey the lowest (46%).
PCCs are refreshingly transparent when setting out their forces' financial situation
So what does all of this tell us? Firstly, police and crime plans remain the key document for PCCs to set out their thinking and show the public, partners and those who want to do business with them what they want to achieve. Secondly, some PCCs remain reluctant to be bold in their priorities and performance measures. This may well reflect a deeper problem - their limited ability to hold other parts of the criminal justice system to account. If PCCs are to truly become police and crime commissioners, they need to be able to join up the constituent parts of the criminal justice system based on local need, while holding each part to account. But they can only do this by bolstering their democratic credentials. They may be democratically elected but many have a limited mandate to corral, cajole and compel due to the patchy nature of their consultation. If PCCs can demonstrate their ability to connect with the public, to educate, inform and get their support for tough choices, then perhaps greater responsibility and greater devolution will be more forthcoming.