Evaluation of police and fire reform: partnership, innovation and prevention year three case study

Findings from a thematic case study from year three of the evaluation focusing on issues of partnership working, innovation and prevention.

The Practices of Prevention

Making sense of prevention: definitional issues

To understand how the services are defining and implementing prevention, a framework has been adopted which was developed by the Institute for Work and Health [13] . This framework uses three categories of prevention which help better understand different types of prevention activities:

  • Primary prevention aims to prevent a threat/risk before it occurs through, for example work in schools.
  • Secondary prevention aims to reduce the impact of a threat that has already occurred by introducing initiatives to prevent the threat/risk reoccurring, for example work to tackle anti-social behaviour.
  • Tertiary prevention aims to soften the impact of an on-going threat/risk through for example rehabilitation initiatives.

Across the four case study areas there is evidence of primary, secondary and tertiary prevention work taking place involving SFRS and primary and secondary prevention involving Police Scotland. The following section will examine examples of prevention activities provided by both services in each of the case study areas.

What we know about prevention in practice: examples of primary, secondary and tertiary prevention

Primary prevention: The Christie Commission (2011) outlines that all public services need to reduce demand through prevention and early intervention to tackle root causes of problems. Primary prevention exemplifies this as it aims to prevent a threat or risk before it has happened by early intervention and education. There were good examples of primary prevention activity in three of the case study areas where the police and fire service worked in partnership with other organisations to deliver road safety programmes. These programmes focus on delivering advice to young people under driving age and include talks in schools and in one area the opportunity to drive a car with supervision, contributing to long-term early intervention strategy to increase road safety (see Vignette III for more details).

Secondary prevention includes introducing an initiative to prevent a threat/risk from reoccurring. Many of the examples provided by Police Scotland and SFRS fall into this category of secondary prevention, as much of their preventative work appears to be focused on preventing certain groups from continuing to offend, for example, young people engaging in anti-social behaviour. For SFRS examples were provided across the case study areas of fire safety and fire reach programmes being delivered in off-site schools, young offender institutes and specific courses with young people identified as engaging in anti-social behaviour. These courses are delivered either in partnership with other organisations such as the Police, Army, Prince's Trust or other organisations such as schools providing them with access to young people.

As well as these courses, Police Scotland also conducted secondary prevention through co-location and multi-agency tasking and coordinating groups where they worked with partners from the council, anti-social behaviour teams, housing and fire service to identify potential issues in the community and work together to tackle them (see Vignettes II and III). An example provided of a secondary prevention strategy included housing and the council providing the police with addresses where there is risk of anti-social behaviour, such as noise at night, and the police would attend the house and warn them not to engage in noisy behaviour. Similarly for SFRS, they have taken a more targeted, risk based approach to home fire safety visits.

Tertiary prevention aims to soften the impact of an ongoing threat/risk through for example rehabilitation initiatives. There were no examples found of tertiary prevention strategies carried out by Police Scotland in the case study areas. For SFRS there were examples of tertiary prevention in three of the case study areas, in relation to fire safety in the home for elderly community members suffering from dementia. These approaches include supporting vulnerable community members to continue to live in their homes with extra safety measures in place such as signs to remind them to switch off their gas cookers. In one of the case study areas this approach has been delivered in partnership with British Gas.

The lack of tertiary examples of prevention are not surprising within Police Scotland, where it could be argued that providing on-going rehabilitation is not within their remit and that this arguably should be the responsibility of other services such as social work or health.

Impact of reform on the prevention agenda

For SFRS, in each of the case study areas, being a national service meant that the activities are more coordinated and resources better shared throughout the country than under legacy arrangements. There has also been a move towards a more risk based approach which has led to them taking more time to assess who is more at risk in the community and as such they are conducting more preventative work in the home environment. Across the case study areas, SFRS identify the benefits of having new national strategies for prevention and the guidance which is provided by the Directorate for Prevention and Protection [14] , which appears to have led to greater clarity about their role and increased accountability.

'A big positive for the service nationally is the guidance for Prevention and Protection. It is very gives a clear direction as to what to do. And…it's monitored and it's audited, and reviewed….every month so you get a report every month.' (C11 fire)

New roles have also been created in Prevention and Protection which highlights organisational commitment to the prevention agenda.

For Police Scotland, there is a perception among partners that in the initial period following reform there was a dip in prevention work across the case study areas due to the focus on large scale structural changes required to establish a single police service. However, there is now a stronger focus on prevention and an understanding of the importance of working collaboratively. In particular, there appears to be a strong desire to conduct prevention work amongst the middle-managers in the police service in the case study areas: 'it's not about how many things we've detected. It's how many we've reduced.' (A04 police)

Overall for both SFRS and Police Scotland, reform was a factor impacting on the prevention agenda but it was not the only one. Other factors identified included the implementation of the Christie principles, the Scottish Government's 'Justice Vision and Priorities' [15] and the need for more joined up working due to funding cuts across all organisations due to austerity.

The Benefits of Prevention

While the primary benefit of prevention for both police and fire and rescue is seen in terms of reduced demand, a focus on prevention is also associated with a wider set of changes of benefit to the services and local communities. These include targeting the most vulnerable, forming different types of partnerships, re-defining the remit of SFRS, using police and fire and rescue resources more efficiently and the opportunity to develop long term solutions to local problems.

Focus on vulnerability – One of the strategic focuses of both services is on vulnerability. The 'Fire and Rescue Framework for Scotland 2016' and 'Youth Engagement Framework 2016-19 [16] ' outline the need for SFRS to identify the most vulnerable community members in their prevention work, as a means of targeting activity where it is most needed and to make an effective contribution to tackling inequalities. Policing 2026 states the need for resources to focus on preventative support on high impact issues such as vulnerability. There was evidence in each of the case study areas on preventative work taking place with identified vulnerable community members for both services. This was demonstrated on the focus on children and young people in the road safety initiative in a rural area (discussed in Vignette III). There were also examples in each of the case study areas of the police and fire services taking part in preventative work with community members with dementia, young people engaging in anti-social behaviour (both in the community and in residential settings), looked after children, young offenders, migrants, those at risk of suicide, the elderly, violence against women and those with mental health issues. The focus on vulnerability is also highlighted in the innovation chapter in the vignette of mental health triage.

Forming different types of partnerships - In each of the case study areas, fire and rescue could identify multiple examples of prevention activity, which all included working in collaboration with other agencies. The shift in focus to vulnerability also led to the forming of different types of partnerships in the case study areas. For example, in area A the fire service formed a partnership with British Gas to support those with dementia to live safely in the home by installing gas valves to prevent the risk of fires. In the road safety initiative discussed in Vignette III, this included a partnership between the police, fire and ambulance services with private business owners. These business owners provided both cars and use of an airfield for the young people to drive on, because they had a concern about young drivers. Initiatives had been taking place in this area to try and tackle the issue, but were deemed to be ineffective. Partnering with local business owners provided the resources to move away from their traditional methods of delivering PowerPoint presentations and showing hard-hitting films in schools, to a hands on driving experience for pre-driver age young people.

'And you could see it genuinely is prevention. It's getting guys before they're old enough to get their licence to say, "This is the kinda the dangers of driving, and the impact it can have on people's lives, so think about it, guys."' (A21 partner)

In area A the police also discussed reaching out to private businesses to help them in secondary prevention activity to divert young people from anti-social behaviour. The example was provided of the police approaching the manager of a fast food restaurant to provide some funding for diversionary activities to prevent young people congregating outside the premises and engaging in anti-social behaviour. These initiatives were viewed as an important means of freeing up police resources from needing to respond to anti-social behaviour calls from the community.

Reconfiguring the role and remit of SFRS – In each of the case study areas, there are examples of SFRS joining partnerships to carry out prevention work in fields not traditionally viewed as the responsibility of the service. For example, they have been delivering fire reach courses in young offender institutes in Area B and working with a Violence Against Women partnership in Area D. The latter is a good example of SFRS taking a risk based approach to prevention activity in areas that traditionally they have had less involvement in. They recognise that by tackling the causes of violence, they could also indirectly reduce fires, as domestic violence and fires in the home have similar risk factors.

'…was approached by the Councils to be on the Violence Against Women partnerships. And at first, I thought it was .. it was a good idea just because…. we could do our bit to help…we're still predominantly a male organisation, and, if I can promote that within … But, after receiving training from Women's Aid, who gave … some stats that helped reinforce that message for me ….and it was that women who suffer fae domestic abuse are I think 15 times more likely to have alcohol problems, 9 times more likely to have substance abuse problems, suffer from mental health issues, and also be living chaotic lifestyles….And when you look at the contributory factors for fires, they are the same kinda broad headings….So if you can help actually prevent the root cause, which is the violence, then you are actually inadvertently also reducing the chance o' fires.' (D10 fire)

Trust was also identified as an important factor for the fire service in being able to develop their role within the community and in their work with other agencies. There are examples of SFRS providing training in fire risk to organisations such as health and social care, and housing who are often first through the door in hard to reach community members homes.

'And we train them up on what to look out for in relation to fire-risk, so that if they then establish that people have maybe got cigarette burns on their clothes, on their bedding, round about their carpet, on their chair – that type o' thing – then they then know that they can then make a referral through to us, and we can do either a visit ourselves, or, probably more likely, we'd maybe do a joint visit so that we can maybe like build on the trust that's maybe already established through the relationship of the, say, the Housing Support Worker.' (D10 fire)

Longer term approaches – Though fewer in number there were also examples of longer-term approaches used by the police service, for example, the use of campus officers in schools and colleges. In areas with campus officers this was viewed positively by both the police and partners, as a means of building relationships and trust with young people. This is also highlighted in the literature where the wider benefits of building trust are identified, such as young people seeking advice on issues ranging from drug taking to bullying and campus officers having enhanced intelligence of the area as the young people shared information with them [17] .

There also appeared to be more opportunity for longer term approaches due to the use of co-location in each of the case study areas. This was discussed in more detail in the partnership section of the report, however, in relation to prevention this was seen as a positive means of building relationships and trust with partners, sharing data and having more opportunity to problem solve and find solutions together for prevention activities and potentially some longer term approaches.

Enablers of prevention

The interviewees in each of the case study areas identified two key enablers of prevention: the prioritisation of prevention in partnerships and organisational support.

Prioritisation of prevention in partnerships - Policing 2026 and the Fire and Rescue Framework for Scotland 2016 both demonstrate a strategic commitment to prevention approaches and partnership working. In each of the case study areas prevention was viewed as a high priority for Police Scotland, SFRS and the local partners, with all of them being able to describe some form of preventative collaboration work. For some interviewees the SFRS framework had helped provide greater clarity about their role and increased accountability. For Police Scotland, senior officers in two of the case study areas discussed how Policing 2026 had led to a change in philosophy in the service towards prevention, partnership working and focusing on inequalities. The prioritisation of prevention in partnerships in the strategic documents appear to have helped clarify the role of the services as well empowering the interviewees to work collaboratively in preventative work.

Organisational support – Prevention being outlined at a strategic level has helped to provide clarity and empower the interviewees to be proactive in preventative work locally. The interviewees also discussed the importance of feeling supported in prevention on a day-to-day basis.

In SFRS there has been a clear shift towards a more prevention orientated culture, with senior officers in two of the case study areas stating that prevention is seen as 'the normal now' (A14) amongst all partners and that blue light responses are viewed as a last resort or even a failure in the system 'If somebody is dialling 999 there's something went wrong and we need to go back to the beginning of that cycle and prevent that wrong from becoming a right' (C10). In area A in particular, prevention was viewed as being engrained not only in legislation and strategy but there were also focused roles dedicated to both partnership and prevention. The use of community safety advocates with a specific remit in engaging with hard to reach community members was believed to demonstrate the services commitment to prevention. Partners in area A also viewed SFRS as providing leadership in the prevention agenda and moving away from crisis to prevention.

For Police Scotland in the case study areas prevention was viewed by senior officers as a core element of their role. One of the local policing commanders explains that he tries to create an environment which encourages good practice, creativity and innovation. This highlights the importance of leadership empowering officers to focus on prevention. According to this officer, this is achieved by providing staff with divisional responsibilities to strengthen their sense of ownership in prevention work and creates resident experts that partners can contact. But, as well as creating 'experts' a key element is also about all officers feeling that prevention is a part of their role not just performed by particular officers. All of the officers interviewed in the case study areas had a remit for prevention work, for some it was their main focus, for others it played a part but was not their sole focus.

Barriers to prevention

Feeling supported and empowered by their organisations was viewed as being essential to prevention activity. There were however, barriers identified for prevention working. These included limited resources, meeting reactive demands and the sharing of resources amongst partners.

Financial constraints were believed to be impacting on the preventative work the services are able to do. One local senior officer in SFRS explains it would be useful to have some extra money for prevention, so they could financially contribute to partnerships for prevention activities rather than just providing staffing and available resources.

'I mentioned budgets before, and, you know, some seed corn money would be absolutely useful because it's amazing what you can achieve by throwing £100 in a pot if you like.' (A14 fire)

This senior officer goes on to explain that he would like some funding to be made available to provide to the partnership, even just as a 'gesture' (A14). This was also the case for other preventative activities such as the road safety initiative in a rural area (see Vignette III) where the police and fire services were only able to provide staffing and resources but no financial backing to the initiative.

Reactive demands on time also led to a general sense amongst the services that there is a fine balance between operational work and prevention, and due to a lack of staff there are restrictions on the prevention work they can do. This may suggest that prevention is yet to be mainstreamed and has not yet become core business for all of the interviewees. Another common barrier identified by both services was other demands within their roles such as response, impacting on their ability to develop preventative work, as demonstrated in the following extract:

'Well for all middle managers and strategic managers you've got the response element where you're on call, you drop everything, you're getting phoned from Fire Control having to disappear to wherever when you're on call' (A10 fire)

Some Interviewees suggested that responding to out of hospital cardiac arrests in some areas has also increased demand of their time, impacting on prevention activity.

Buy-in from partner agencies was another area of concern for both the police and fire service, with capacity, funding and resources in partner agencies impacting on their ability to work collaboratively on prevention work. However, one issue identified by the council in one of the case study areas was the need to define prevention work and to gain a better understanding of what each of the partner organisations can contribute. The following quote highlights an important point about being able to disentangle different preventative activity and assess what made an impact:

'If you prevent a road accident happening, it saves, you know, so many millions'…Yeah, but what actually contributed to that road accident not happening? Was it the Safe Drive Stay Alive which the Fire run… or is it the road alterations that we've put in place as the Council, or was it the Police stopping some dangerous driving in that area? …that creates that really difficult thing to say, "I have done that, and that has prevented that occurrence happening.' (C21 partner)

Evaluating prevention

As explained by the council worker in area C, it is important to be able to evaluate the impact of specific prevention activities. This was a common theme in the case study areas for both police and fire. There were a few examples of initiatives being evaluated both internally and occasionally externally, most notably in three of the areas the road safety initiatives were being externally evaluated. In one of the urban areas, a partnership unit had been formed in SFRS which was carrying out evaluations of new initiatives. However, on the whole many of the initiatives were not being evaluated and the interviewees demonstrated a lack of knowledge and skills in how to carry out evaluations of preventative activities, as highlighted in the following quotations.

'And arguing the toss if you remove that prevention work how many would you really have? And as usual who knows? So how many fires have we stopped? We don't know, you can't measure that. But if you measure how many we have and they're reducing there's an assumption you can make with that.' (A11 fire)

'That's the problem at any prevention activities like this – educational stuff in particular. It's very difficult to measure.' (B11 fire)

Despite the lack of knowledge and skills of evaluating preventative activities, there was an understanding of the benefits and how they would fit into the direction of the services. For example, a group manager from SFRS discussed how evaluating initiatives would lead to increased sharing of good practice throughout the service.

'I think the direction the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service want to go in. If you're doing an initiative, you identify an issue, you will just take something off the shelf, it's all ready to go and you're able to run with it. It'll tell you what partnerships...what partners you need to get involved to make it worthwhile, and it will all be there for you.' (A10 fire)

The strategic documents for Police Scotland [18] and SFRS [19] clearly outline their commitment to evaluation as a means of learning from 'best practice' as stated by Police Scotland and 'continuous improvement' specified by SFRS. However, as shown in the four case study areas, there is some evidence of evaluation but it is not embedded in their practice.


Back to top