2 Annex 2: The local experience of police reform in Scotland: perspectives from four case study areas
2.1 Area A
Area A is an urban environment out with the legacy Strathclyde Police force area. The local station where interviews with police officers were carried out covers an area with a range of levels of deprivation and is responsible for a geographical area that is larger than it was prior to reform.
2.1.1 Delivering a local service
The view among local officers is that compared to the period before reform their resources are more stretched. The reasons given for this include the loss of civilian staff resulting in additional administrative roles, an increased geographical area to cover due to the closure of neighbouring stations, and officers moving to national specialist teams. Officers describe having to fulfil additional roles such as covering the front desk, implementing new protocols that lead to extra paperwork and the centralisation of support functions that has made it more difficult to access administrative resources. Officers feel that there is too much time spent being office-based rather than being out in the community:
'There seems to be...we spend most of our time in an office typing at a computer as opposed to being out there and patrolling and dealing with people proactively, searching people and proactively dealing with things. We don't do that as much...' (Area A - police officer)
Local officers are particularly concerned by what they see as the reduction in community team resources as officers have moved to national specialist teams and have not been replaced. There is also a view that more experienced officers have also moved to the specialist teams, leaving a lack of experience in the local areas and a reduction in capacity for mentoring probationers.
The role of the local community police officer is felt to have diminished leading to a loss of connection with local communities. This is in part related to the increased geographical areas for which individual officers are responsible compared with the previous beat system but officers also describe not having enough time to attend local meetings or meet with local businesses, or to undertake proactive preventative activities, resulting in little difference now between community and response roles:
'Community officers are only community officers in name. I would say there's very, very few officers that would actually go out and do the role of a community officer, so albeit they're called community officers, they probably shouldn't be, coz they're not' (Area A - police officer)
This is a view shared by some local councillors and members of community councils who feel that the role of the community police officer has changed since reform and these officers are not as engaged with the local community. The perception is that this affects the amount of local knowledge and intelligence that the officers have as the public are not passing on information to them:
'They would also help in terms of intelligence gathering. I think that might have been lost slightly, local officers don't necessarily know all the troublesome families or also the points of contact that might be useful for them and I think hopefully we'll get back to that. As I say with some further tweaks to the force that maybe take account of more of that local context' (Area A - councillor)
While councillors recognise that officers do regularly attend the local community planning partnerships and attend and report to the council committees, their attendance at more local meetings, such as resident association meetings and community council meetings is seen as being much less consistent since reform, although there is a view that this has started to improve in the last six months:
'There has been a consistent feedback that the police haven't been attending those meetings in the same consistency that they did under the various forces that did exist previously' (Area A - councillor)
In terms of physical resources, there is a perception that officers do not have access to enough vehicles to perform their role effectively and the quality of the cars is described as poor. There is also a view that having a single IT system for all officers would be beneficial in allowing them to quickly share information.
2.1.2 Accessing specialist support
There are mixed views in Area A about access to specialist teams. Many see that the area now has access to a broader range of services compared with the period before reform and that accessibility to certain specialist teams and resources has improved, particularly for pre-planned events where there is a straightforward process to follow to request resources. Officers have also had positive experiences of working with the specialist teams, in particular the murder investigation, rape investigation, missing persons and dog teams. The resources that the specialist teams bring with them means that local resources can continue to be used to maintain business as usual.
Those more critical of the arrangements for specialist support point to a lack of knowledge about what the specialist teams do and how they operate and how it can be difficult to know who to contact for specific incidents. There is also a view that, as the teams are now a national resource, they may be deployed elsewhere when local officers want to access them. In addition, the centralised nature of the specialist teams is seen as leading to the local officers becoming 'de-skilled' as well as specialist officers losing the skills needed for local policing:
'…we're never getting the chance to be involved in [major investigations], or getting the chance to investigate that to sharpen my skills and really put myself to the test' (Area A - police officer)
'…to me it's a waste of an officer they're getting de-skilled by staying in that unit for too long' (Area A - police officer)
'…the organisation needs to have a look at the structure and speak to the officers and find out you know how bad the resourcing is at street level and then whether they slim down the resources in departments to get people back on the street that's...that's the way it has to be. Uh...otherwise the way it is just now it will just continue to be that way' (Area A - police officer)
As these quotations indicate, there is some frustration among local officers that they are not able to be involved in a wider range of incidents as these are passed to the specialist teams which also has implications for their future career opportunities.
2.1.3 Working with communities
The public interviewed in Area A generally have a positive view of the police and describe feeling safe in their local area. Those with direct experience of the police are complimentary about the way officers have handled emergencies. However, the public are aware that the police are now covering larger geographical areas than previously and they feel this means officers are not as aware of what is happening locally compared to the period pre-reform.
Much of the negative perceptions of local policing relate to the introduction of the 101 non-emergency number and the closure, or reduced opening hours, of local police stations. The inability to contact the local police station directly in person or by phone was viewed as particularly problematic when trying to contact the same officer who had dealt with an incident to find out what was happening:
'You know even in, in the past if you were in a police station there was always someone behind the counter that could take some information and get somebody to come out to you or, or point you in the right direction, but now as you said you can't get into a police station' (Area A - public focus group)
Local officers describe very positive experiences of working with partner organisations. They highlight being able to refer people to local third sector organisations with specialist skills in relation to issues such as homelessness and drug and alcohol dependency, and working with the council community wardens who tackle anti-social behaviour:
'…they sometimes know the kids better than us to be honest so it's just...a case of sharing information with them. That's probably done as and when we see each other rather than you know communicating with them through email or anything like that. It's more...sort of chance meetings and you could speak to them and what not at the side of the road' (Area A - police officer)
Council staff also describe working closely with local community officers in community engagement activities, for example visiting schools or attending gala days. Communication with these local officers is felt to be very effective and they see them on a regular basis. Both council staff and councillors also feel that the police play a key role in partnership working, bringing different agencies together to tackle crime and they feel this is working well. Police are involved in initiatives to try to prevent crime, for example, working with other agencies to signpost young people to services, working as part of the alcohol and drug partnership and developing initiatives to inform the public of local incidents, such as bogus callers. The role of the police in these partnerships was praised as they are open to working towards supporting people as well as fulfilling their enforcement role. For example, in relation to tackling drugs, they are receptive to working with partner agencies so that the appropriate support services can be in place for those with drug dependency who may have no access to drugs after a raid has taken place. However, some partner agencies often felt that the police wanted things to happen at a faster pace than partners were comfortable with given the need for consultation and dialogue.
The co-location of representatives from a range of different local agencies, including the police and council staff in one building to work together on community safety is seen by council staff to have improved partnership working and communication on joint initiatives with the police. However, the council staff and community groups feel that in more day to day matters they no longer have a personal relationship with the local community officers in their area which would facilitate sharing intelligence and assist in asking for advice and support. There is also a view that information sharing between the police and the council, in general, has declined, as they are not as aware of local crimes being committed and issues that have occurred locally compared with the position pre-reform leading to speculation that this is due to changes in police protocols around information sharing.
The perceived reduction in resources in other local statutory agencies is described as impacting on policing as they take on roles which they feel should lie with other services. In particular some local officers feel that there is an over-reliance on the police as a resource by other agencies. Examples include officers being tasked with responding to noise complaints and dealing with those experiencing mental health problems. Officers describe feeling that social services are 'passing the buck' to the police and not taking on incidents which the police feel they should be involved with:
'For example, a domestic incident where there are children in the house we will get in touch with social work and let them know and there are occasions where they're aware of the family, however, it just seems to be they're quite happy to just pass the buck and say just take them to a family member where I feel that they should get more involved and maybe attend to deal with the children but that doesn't happen a lot' (Area A - police officer)
In particular, officers describe assisting people with mental health issues as having a negative impact on policing resources. They describe both social services and the NHS as passing on responsibility to the police to assist people with mental health issues, which officers also feel they are not appropriately trained to deal with:
'We're not trained how to diagnose mental health so all I can do is deal with them as a police officer and take them to the place that they need to be, a place of safety and we look after people you know but we're not babysitters' (Area A - police officer)
2.2 Area B
With relatively high levels of deprivation and high levels of crime, Area B is located within a large urban environment which was part of the former Strathclyde Police area. Some local police stations have been closed since reform resulting in a larger geographical area now being covered by a single station.
2.2.1 Delivering a local service
Across all the groups interviewed in Area B, there is a shared perception that local police resources are stretched more thinly than they were prior to reform, impacting on the visibility and presence of officers within the community and the capacity to respond to non-emergency calls. Officers interviewed attribute the diminution in local resources to a combination of factors. In some cases they are now undertaking tasks previously done by civilian staff including dealing with public inquiries at the front desk, preparing citations, and carrying out person and vehicle checks. Officers are also dealing with the local impacts of centralisation and consolidation. They perceive the new centralised support functions as having been 'cut down to the bare minimum' leading to some administrative tasks taking longer. The consolidation of custody suites into fewer stations is also of concern to officers because the process for 'booking' in prisoners is perceived as taking longer due to having to travel further to the nearest custody suite and waiting longer to get detainees processed. The deployment of local officers to specialist teams is also seen as reducing the numbers available locally for undertaking community and response roles. Finally, officers also raised concerns about more difficult access to equipment and physical resources as impacting on their efficiency, ranging from uniforms to computers and vehicles and the lack of a single IT system across Police Scotland:
'I feel that the priority has changed a little bit. Like before it was focused on the community and you were told "In your downtime, go in this area and patrol it, and ..", you know, do all these sort o' things, now you're getting pressure for your paperwork, so, whenever we get downtime - which is very rarely - we're .. We're coming back to... to clean up our paperwork or go round doing enquiries for stuff we've dealt with, you know? and, that said, there's definitely no .. From a Response perspective, definitely no focus on the community whatsoever' (Area B - police officer)
2.2.2 Accessing specialist support
Local officers' experiences of working with specialist teams are positive. They are seen as professional and helpful and will proactively offer support on occasions (for example, if the helicopter is already airborne and becomes aware of a local incident over the radio, the crew will ask if the team on the ground need assistance). However, some officers still feel that they do not have a good understanding of the range and remits of different specialist teams and there are mixed views about the process for accessing specialist resources. Some officers describe the new process as working well, particularly for pre-planned events. Others view the process as overly bureaucratic, particularly in dealing with immediate incidents when time can be lost due to the process of filling in forms and gaining the correct permissions:
'When a spontaneous incident happens, you've got Sergeants…, or inspectors, trying to get these resources, and sometimes you just cannae get them. You're left wi' yourself to deal with it' (Area B - police officer)
Local officers also raised some concerns about the capacity and capability of specialist teams. In terms of capacity, there is a perception that roads policing, dog, and scenes of crime teams are all experiencing high levels of demand relative to their resources. In terms of capability, the relocation of specialist investigative units away from the local policing teams means that officers feel they have lost the day to day connection leading to a potential lack of local intelligence being passed to investigating officers:
'…there would be links being made...in passing which would inform lines of enquiry that's lost. That's totally gone because you don't have that...day to day contact with these departments' (Area B - police officer)
2.2.3 Working with communities
Although officers feel that they are less visible in Area B and that their interaction with the public has reduced, the view from local councillors is more positive. As levels of crime have reduced in the local area, they see police as having more time to engage with the community, be out on patrol and be involved in prevention work. Councillors also describe having good direct access to the police officers if they want to report to the police concerns raised to them by the public and they feel that the police respond well. The police are seen as role models in the local community, in particular, through their involvement in youth work.
The view from the public and local third sector organisations is more mixed. Many view the police positively and appreciate that they do a difficult job in challenging circumstances and third sector organisations in particular praised the increased police use of social media as a way of engaging with the public in different ways. Others feel they have lost the local connection with individual officers that they had prior to reform and when they report incidents it is not always a local officer who knows the area who attends. Some members of the public in this area perceive a 'them' and 'us' culture has developed, and they highlighted in particular the intensive stop and search policy which is viewed negatively due to the way people are searched in public and younger people are targeted by the police.
The public are aware that there are local police stations which have been closed, meaning that the areas which officers cover are far larger than in the past. There is a view that there should still be somewhere local in the community that the public can have direct access to police officers and although the public in Area B are aware of the 101 number for non-emergencies, they also have concerns about getting access to a direct number for the local police station:
'…if they're shutting down the local police stations then they should - they should still have a place, even if it's not as big a place, but somewhere where the local community can go and see a couple of police officers and whatever.' (Area B - public focus group)
Community engagement and partnership working
There are diverse views on the nature and extent of community engagement in Area B. From a positive perspective, there is a view among council staff and third sector organisations that the level of consultation about the local police plan has been good and that the police are interested in hearing the views of both the public and the third sector. Consultation is described as taking different forms including a survey of the public, focus groups and local community events where local priorities are discussed. Although councillors expressed some concerns that the local policing plan is actually agreed centrally, they acknowledge it does seem to be fairly reflective of issues in the local area.
However, the capacity of the police to engage with local community organisations is seen by some to have diminished and it is felt they have less commitment to work with them. The informal interaction that the third sector had with officers is perceived to have reduced and staff do not know who the officers are as there is a larger pool of them who respond and the high turnover of officers is making it difficult to build relationships. However, on more strategic bodies with a senior police presence there is a more positive view of engagement. Councillors describe senior police officers regularly attending a range of different committees and making positive contributions. Councillors have contact with local officers through their attendance at community councils where local concerns from the public are discussed and officers feed back to the community on local policing issues. Local officers, however, feel that they are unable to prioritise such engagement in ways they would like:
'It's sometimes hard, as much as we are community officers we don't always get to be community officers a lot of the time because the response police are quite often so small in numbers that a lot of the time we are missing community meetings. We don't get to…pop into schools we should be visiting the schools every couple of weeks. We don't get to do it a lot of the time due to all the other factors covering front bar, police officers covering prisoner watches, just doing different things that a lot of the time it does feel like you're not a police officer' (Area B - police officer)
Council staff report very good partnership working across a very wide range of initiatives with a high level of police involvement. The perception is that the role of partnership working and community policing has been supported from local senior management and is given a high priority. The view is that the police are committed to joint working as they acknowledge it as an effective way to reduce crime levels. Council staff feel that there has been a greater sharing of information at the local level since reform and increased strategic partnership working based on working together and agreeing solutions based on intelligence.
Council staff also describe good partnership working at the local level, particularly between the police and housing associations and the police's involvement with the local community councils. Council staff have regular contact with senior officers, perhaps several times a week by email or phone, as well as meeting face to face on a regular basis. Council staff also agree that there is good engagement with the local community to understand concerns and that the police are responsive to local intelligence, by providing additional resources to tackle specific local issues that are identified. The police are also viewed as good at providing feedback to the community when they have investigated concerns raised by the public. The area has several local joint initiatives with the police targeted at local crimes and anti-social behaviour as well as at early intervention with offenders to prevent them becoming involved in more serious crimes. Police also do joint patrols with council staff to local areas to target anti-social behaviour and issue fixed penalty notices.
Although overall the view on partnership working with the police is viewed very positively, there are some concerns raised by council staff and third sector organisations. First, where there is a high turnover of local police officers this can lead to a lack of consistency, delays as new officers familiarise themselves with initiatives and it also takes time to build up a good working relationship with members of partnerships. Second, there is a perception that the police are under-pressure to deliver to targets in the shorter term leading to situations where the timescales that the police want to work to are seen to lead to projects not being given enough time for the planning process. Council staff express a view that they would like the police to see the initiatives as long-term and based on strong foundations which would require fewer changes in local officers and less of a focus on short-term gains.
A good example of positive partnership working was described by the third sector in relation to domestic abuse in Area B. The perception is that new procedures around dealing with domestic abuse cases have led to great improvements in the support given to victims of domestic abuse and an increased ability to convict offenders. The police are described as very open to working with and listening to the experience of third sector organisations in this field and that the changes introduced by the police have also had a positive impact on the approach of third sector organisations.
In terms of working with statutory agencies, the local police are very much aware of the resource pressures being experienced locally by other organisations, such as the NHS, social services and the ambulance service. This has important implications for policing, ranging from delays in communication and information sharing to the need, on some occasions, to provide additional police resources to assist the ambulance service. With regard to the latter, officers describe taking members of the public to hospital themselves, performing first aid when required or being taken away from their policing role to perform a medical role assisting ambulance crews.
2.3 Area C
Area C is in a remote rural, low crime location, at some distance from the central belt. With the closure of several local police stations following reform, officers are now based in one station in a small town covering a large geographical area.
2.3.1 Delivering a local service
As in Areas A and B, there is a general view across all groups interviewed that the police are operating with fewer resources in the area than before reform. As in other areas, response and community officers attribute this diminished capacity to deliver a local service to a combination of factors. They are undertaking tasks previously provided by civilian staff particularly in relation to firearm enquiries, having to cover the front desk and take responsibility for aspects of managing the custody suite. The loss of officers to specialist teams is seen as having had a negative impact on the number of officers in the local area:
'The biggest thing for us is staff, since Police Scotland came along are the specialist units up here that we never used to have before, taking frontline officers and putting them in there, and never ever replaced them on shift' (Area C - police officer)
This is not only perceived as having decreased the skill set in the local area but also raised questions about equity on service delivery given the area does not get the benefit from these specialist teams due to the low levels of crime in the area. The impacts of centralisation and consolidation have also raised concerns locally with officers feeling that it now takes longer to undertake some basic tasks due to the centralisation of administrative support functions. Officers views about the impacts of the consolidation of command and control functions is more mixed. Some believe this has led to improvements in response, as there is a clear system of passing on the details of calls to the local team while others express concern that call handlers do not have local knowledge of the area and that reliance on postcodes in rural areas can be problematic because of the large geographical areas. Finally, in terms of access to equipment and IT , officers rely heavily on access to vehicles due to the rural nature of this area and while this is adequate, the lack of a single IT system across Scotland, continues to affect officers' ability to work efficiently.
2.3.2 Accessing specialist support
When specialist teams are deployed in the area, local officers view them as highly skilled and helpful. Improvements are also being seen in the relationship between specialist teams and local police, so they are working better together in the local area, rather than the national teams working in the area independently.
However, there are mixed views on the process for accessing specialist support: some officers view this as straightforward, others as overly bureaucratic. Given the remote rural location, some officers feel that specialist teams would not be routinely sent to their area. This leads to a feeling that the area does not get the full benefit of the specialist teams:
'…probably a kind of feeling that the likes of the major investigation teams, unless something really, really major goes on, we don't get any benefit from them' (Area C - police officer)
(In relation to the helicopter) '…the requests I think have been in before, and they don't …nothing happens… it's not gonna come all the way…here to give us help' (Area C - police officer)
2.3.3 Working with communities
There is consensus among all groups that rural policing relies on people working together and the police receiving information and intelligence from the community. Officers feel that they are respected by the local population and that they have cooperative relationships with local people. Councillors agree that the public have a positive view of the police and that there is a good relationship between the police and community. The public in the area describe positive interactions with the police when they have had to call them although they describe not knowing the local officers. The public express concerns that when using the 101 number, the staff answering the calls are not familiar with the local area which may make it difficult for police officers to know where an incident has occurred.
However, sustaining a visible and accessible police presence in the local community is seen as being under pressure. Officers feel that the closure of some police stations has a negative impact on the level of interaction with the public and the amount of intelligence they gather from the public. Many officers are also not based locally, leading to a lack of local knowledge and the loss of an informal off-duty connection between officers and the community.
The move from the public being able to go to a local police station, or call their local police station directly, to using the centralised 101 number is also described by officers and members of the local community councils as impacting on the level of crimes and intelligence being reported. Officers feel that the public are less likely to give the police information on local issues through the 101 number and are more likely to report issues if they know a local officer. Members of the local community councils in particular said they feel more confident that they will receive feedback after reporting an issue to a specific officer than they do if reporting through the 101 number. These concerns and challenges around communication are very much recognised by community respondents and local officers:
'So it's just you've lost the kind of...I think the police have lost a source of information you know they're not in...They're not in touch with the grassroots if you like...the people, because they're behind call centres, or...you know?' (Area C - community organisation)
'…And then they'll tell you something like this guy is selling drugs, or this guy is doing that or whatever. And uh...they say ah yes this is 2 weeks ago but I just can't get hold of the front counter staff to let the police know and I don't bother with 101…' (Area C - police officer)
Communication with partners is viewed positively in this rural community. Officers feel they know who to contact to address different types of issues. Officers identify that living in the same area as you work improves communication between the police and partner agencies as the officers have links both personally and professionally with partners. However, fewer officers now live locally since the restructure into a single national force and officers feel that having less time and resources leads them to have a reduced capacity for either phone or face-to-face interaction with partner organisations.
Councillors and members of the local community councils view the local police officers positively, knowing the local officer who is assigned to the local community councils, working closely together with them and feeling that there is an effective partnership. Communication between the councillors and the police is direct, either via email, face-to-face or use of a direct phone number. They contrast this ability to contact the police directly with the situation for the public of relying on the 101 number, which their personal experience of has not always been positive.
There is a lack of knowledge amongst local officers about more strategic partnerships, such as the role of the community planning partnership, and other strategic planning groups and committees as these are mostly attended by more senior officers, at Inspector-level or above. Councillors do attend these strategic committees which they describe positively, feeling that they have very good working relationships with the senior police officers and that there are successful local partnership initiatives.
Council staff feel that since reform there has been an increase in partnership working by the police and that they are no longer just focused on the traditional role of policing in terms of investigating incidents and catching criminals. The police now sit on a range of different committees and community planning forums, and are involved in joint initiatives, where they work closely with the council, and other agencies, and give regular reports on progress against local priorities.
There is public consultation on local priorities that feed into the community planning partnerships, so that they respond to the public's concerns. Council staff are most likely to have regular contact with Inspectors and Chief Inspectors, and only occasionally with Sergeants. They feel the communication at this level is very clear and that senior officers communicate what is, and what is not, possible.
However, there have been problems with communication between the national Police Scotland and the local area. For example, when dealing with incidents that require a media response, council staff have found coordinating with Police Scotland has been challenging. This is particularly a problem when it is about smaller, local incidents, whereas if it is a major incident, which is of national interest, the communications process is much more effective.
In terms of working with statutory agencies, the police regularly work alongside other statutory agencies in carrying out their duties. Officers describe cutbacks and reorganisation in the partner organisations as having an impact on their ability to work with other agencies, in particular statutory agencies such as the NHS, social services, youth services, fire and ambulance services are mentioned.
Information sharing between the police and these statutory agencies is also regarded as problematic by officers. Formal requests for information are viewed as taking too long to be useful in informing their work, and some information is not seen as freely shared. For example, the social work department used to be locally based and officers knew the local social workers and could phone them up directly to ask for information on a particular individual's personal circumstances. Officers feel that this local, personal connection has been lost.
In addition, the police feel that they respond to incidents that should be dealt with by other agencies. As they have to respond, they are often left to deal with cases when no other agency will step in to assist. For example, officers were called to attend to an elderly person who had fallen, but the GP was not available to attend, NHS 24 would not deal with it as it was during the day time and the ambulance service would not attend as it was not an emergency. However, the two police officers felt that the elderly person needed a medical assessment and they did not feel they could leave the person without passing the case to another service.
Members of the public believe that when they call the police to respond to an incident, officers may not come from the local area, so the officers may not know the area and it may also take longer to respond to a local incident.
A councillor view is that the public feel there are not enough police officers on the street which means that low level crime does not get picked up and dealt with and that resources are seen as focused on the more populated areas to the detriment of the more remote areas or villages. The public expressed concern that the police would not necessarily deal with certain types of crime, for example, vandalism.
Officers feel that the reduction in resources means that, particularly in local towns where stations have closed down, there is often no police presence, particularly at the weekends when there might be trouble on the streets. This leads to the perception that people are 'getting away with it' as there are no police around to intervene.
There was concern expressed by officers, local councillors and community council members about the lack of local autonomy of the police in their area. The perception from officers, councillors, members of the local community councils and the public is that the rural element of policing has disappeared since reform and that the centralisation of the police service has led to issues that are important to the central belt being prioritised and issues relating to rural communities being ignored. There has been a consultation on local policing priorities which the local community councils took part in but they have not been kept up-to-date with progress with the findings. The standard ways of operating across Scotland are perceived as not fitting with the different needs and priorities of rural areas.
2.4 Area D
Area D is a rural location outside the legacy Strathclyde Police force area. The area has low levels of crime but has seen local police stations closed and officers are now based in one station in the town.
2.4.1 Delivering a local service
There is a general view among officers, councillors, council staff, third sector organisations and the public that policing resources are stretched. Officers describe a lack of personnel to cover the large geographical area they have responsibility for and this is seen by officers as having an impact on their ability to provide a local policing service. Officers mention having less time to do prevention work, to be proactive to gather local intelligence through talking to local groups and to engage with members of the public. Officers attribute this to a combination of factors including undertaking tasks previously provided by civilian staff (in particular firearms enquiries, staffing the front desk or answering the station door when the front desk is not staffed); the local impact of centralisation and consolidation (particularly in terms of access to custody suites which are now fifty miles away from their station); and the allocation of officers to specialist teams (with officers having moved to take on roles within the national specialist teams and not been replaced as well as local officers taking on roles which previously have been done by locally based teams, for example investigating minor crimes). As one officer observed:
'We need to rein in our specialist services, and have local officers dealing with local issues' (Area D - police officer)
A further concern is accessing equipment and physical resources. Officers mention the lack of available cars for officers to fulfil their duties, which they feel are especially needed in a rural area with large distances to cover. There are mixed views on the IT systems. The IT support helpdesk is seen as a useful resource and the introduction of mobile devices is seen as helping to speed up their work. However, there are concerns about not being able to log in to the system and the lack of a single IT system across the force is raised as a concern and the need to still fill in the same information into different systems taking time away from other activities.
2.4.2 Accessing specialist support
Specialist support teams are seen as willing to help and accessible, particularly if officers are seeking advice from a team by phone. However, local officers also feel that there is a lack of resources available in the specialist support teams and that there is a high demand for their services. This leads to the perception that there are often long waiting times for specialist teams to respond and that local policing teams have to pick up demand that cannot be met centrally. There is also a perception that the national specialist teams may lack local knowledge of the area and that their lack of geographical responsibility means they do not have the same desire as local officers to sort out local issues.
2.4.3 Working with communities
The public, local councillors, community council members and third sector organisations generally view the local police positively. Although they feel the police are less visible in their local area than before reform and they are less likely to know the local officers, there is an awareness that officers are engaging with the community through school visits, attending community council meetings and meeting with third sector organisations. In addition, the police are using channels such as producing newsletters and using new media such as text messaging alert services.
However, councillors, community council members, third sector organisations and police officers also describe negative impacts of the closure, or reduced hours, of local police stations alongside the introduction of the 101 number. They feel that these are barriers to crimes being reported or intelligence being passed to the police as the view is that the public find it easier to talk to someone local. The perception is that long delays in waiting for a 101 call to be answered and the time it can take for an officer to follow up on a call means that the public do not report incidents and it leads to people 'giving up'. In addition, the perception that the staff in the centralised 101 control centres do not know the local area leads to concerns that it is difficult for the public to describe where an incident has occurred. The local police echo some of these concerns:
'And I think 101 would be an issue for, you know, getting through to the Police, getting to actually speak to Police. And sometimes jobs are dealt with by the call taker at 101, and they get put in a pile, and then, by the time it gets filtered through, it could be a month later that the call's a … you know, the complaint's coming through - which could be a vandalism - but chances are if…you know, say somebody's spray-painted your door or something, you've washed it off within a month, so there's nothing there' (Area D - police officer)
The public and councillors also perceive an increase in police officers who come from outside the area to work in the police and that this has had a detrimental effect on policing in their local area, as the police officers do not know the community in the area they work:
'I'm not saying there's none but it's more and more...not locals. So they're no' aware of the area, they're no' aware of where there is trouble' (Area D - public focus group)
Officers describe having regular contact with social work departments, council staff, including housing officers and local wardens, ambulance and the NHS. Close working relationships are also described between the police and council staff in housing on initiatives to tackle anti-social behaviour and resolve neighbour disputes. Constables also have contact with third sector organisations, such as Victim Support. Council staff describe a wide range of initiatives that the police are involved with which focus on particular issues of concern in the local area. The police are described as being proactive in initiating programmes of preventative work. However, for the third sector they feel that there is a lack of partnership working with the police as they do not have the resources available to attend meetings or take part in preventative work. Third sector organisations, in particular, feel that the loss of contact with specific officers is having a negative impact on their ability to work together with the police.
There is direct contact between locally elected councillors and the local police, both with constables, sergeants and inspectors. One officer describes conducting 'walkabouts' with the local councillor to highlight local issues, and others have direct contact through the local community council meetings. Councillors and officers describe councillors contacting the police directly, either by phone or email. Officers also have access to councillors' contact details to make direct contact with them.
In terms of working with statutory agencies, cutbacks across other public services, in particular NHS, ambulance and social work departments, are seen as having a negative impact on the police's ability to provide a service to the community. There is a view that, contrary to other agencies, the police have to respond to all types of incidents. This can leave the police dealing with incidents which they are not best placed to deal with, for example assisting people with mental health problems.
Information sharing is highlighted as an issue, specifically in relation to working with hospitals and social work departments. There are information sharing protocols that are in place between the local hospitals and the police to facilitate sharing information for crime detection or prevention. In relation to sharing information with the social work department, officers describe the positive introduction of the Vulnerable Persons Database. Among third sector organisations and community council members there is a view that the police do not share information, for example, on incidents of crime with the community and that they are not consulted adequately in relation to local policing priorities.
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