There has been lots of discussion for some time on frontline policing, and what it actually is. The Winsor report published this week on Police terms and conditions talks about “what much of the public would still consider to be core policing, namely the more visible 24-hour response and neighbourhood policing, accounts for only 43% of the police ofﬁcer workforce”. I thought therefore it might be useful to pull together why the use of frontline as a measure is as flawed as previous administration’s focus on police officer numbers.
- ‘Frontline’ is at first glance a tempting easy to understand concept – but actually is rather complex. Neighbourhood policing teams are frontline, but what about staff behind enquiry desks in your local police station? What about covert counter terrorist teams, or kidnap and extortion teams? Most forces have dedicated staff working on child protection, domestic violence and other vital areas of public protection that are hidden from the public – are they frontline?
- Frontline is a measure of inputs – very similar to numbers of police officers. More frontline police officers does not automatically mean better policing. Without support for operational teams (whether neighbourhood policing or specialist public protection teams) those teams cannot function effectively. What matters surely is the outputs – crimes detected (or as Robert Peel said the absence of crime itself)
- The terminology as usually expressed just counts total numbers of people on the ‘frontline’. It fails to account for how they are used, and how many are available at any one time.
- Frontline assets can still be used poorly – either in the wrong place or for the wrong priorities. Lots of frontline staff based in the wrong place or doing the wrong things does not equal effective policing.
- Frontline assets often exclude wider resources that are hugely effective in delivering safer communities. In the age of big society when the government is trying to get more special constables and other volunteers such as streetwatch, street pastors and others involved in policing, a focus on frontline police resources (which usually excludes these groups) is less than helpful.
- Frontline has unhelpful militaristic overtones to it – this is a personal view, but confrontational language which seems to say we are at war in and with our communities is not what modern policing is about.
So what should be used in its place?
I think that a common understanding about the core functions of policing (with clear links to public expectations and outcomes) would address these areas above. The public are relatively unaware of many of the hidden aspects of policing – they simply expect us to tackle terrorism, be there for victims of domestic violence and tackle serious criminal gangs.
A proper debate on what makes up the core business of policing, and what does not is long overdue, along with some clear decisions on what happens to those areas that are not core – do they get abandoned, or passed on to another organisation?
These debates should be held at both a national and local level, to allow communities to shape their priorities, whilst still providing services that are joined up at a national level. Simply focussing on ‘frontline’ fails to achieve much more than a ‘tabloid headline’ level of debate.
Agree? Disagree? Think I have missed something? Tell me below or on Twitter (@jiiiii)