If you’ve seen some of the recent press coverage on the force’s Business Partnering proposals, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they amount to the following – the whole police force is to be ‘privatised’, officers are to be withdrawn from the streets and instead, we’re going to pay G4S to patrol, to detain suspects and to investigate crimes.
Is this really likely to happen and can the reports be true?
The first thing to keep in mind about working with the private sector is that the proposals – and they are only proposals – are at a very early stage. Firm plans are not in place and this is because at the moment we don’t know what the private sector is able to offer.
Late last year the Police Authority gave our force, in partnership with Surrey Police, permission to explore options for working with the private sector. This is to give them an opportunity to review how we currently do things and to see if they can offer suggestions and solutions as to how we can provide a better service.
There is recognition that there is always room to improve the way we operate and that if we fail to take advantage of new technologies, we’d become outdated and inefficient. This is based against the background of a requirement for us to work with less funding and fewer staff. But it’s not purely to do with cost issues though – it is about challenging the way we do things.
This list was kept deliberately broad as to repeat the tendering process again would be costly, pretty much every function that we carry out was listed.
This list had included carrying out patrols and investigations – not because these are areas considered as appropriate for private companies to take over but because by keeping the list as broad as possible, the attention of a wide range of companies would be attracted.
As it stands companies are approaching as to let us know how they can offer their support to allow us to do our job better. It’s an ‘exploratory’ process in that at the moment we don’t necessarily know what businesses can offer, in that we want them to approach us and let us know what’s available.
As an officer working on the much valued ‘front line’, I’m happy to say that there are indeed things we could do differently and that by embracing new technologies and methods of working, we could be far more efficient.
This isn’t a controversial statement – it’s why we’re looking to engage with businesses in the first place.
To give solid examples of the shape that Business Partnering might take is hard because as I have said, at the moment we are in the process of seeing what’s out there.
This said, there are examples of current practice which could no doubt be improved with a little private sector knowledge.
Take statements for example – it’s 2012 and we’re still handwriting victim’s accounts of crimes. Only the other day I was taking a statement and the victim expressed surprise that we didn’t use a tablet or something similar. I had to agree – the technology is there so why aren’t we making the most of it?
Crime scene management is another area highlighted as one that could benefit from private sector support. As a police officer, would you rather I be available to patrol and answer emergency calls or instead that I stand by a cordon for an entire shift? Do we really need a police officer or a PCSO stood by the scene tape or instead, could a company offer staff to do the job and so free up our time?
The arrest process too could potentially be improved by working with a private partner. Say we arrest a shoplifter – we have to transport them back to the police station ourselves and go through the custody procedure to get him ‘booked on’ and into a cell. We then have to go back to the shop to take the details. Could someone else not transport the prisoner on our behalf and allow us to crack on securing evidence at the shop more efficiently and effectively?
This means we would impact less on the shop owner who is already a victim of crime, detain the suspect for less time and better serve the public by allowing us to return to patrol more quickly – what we do best.
In all of these examples, benefit is gained to the police by taking advantage of services and technologies either not available ‘in house’ or that do not require the powers of a constable to perform.
As the Chief has said, the overall objective of Business Partnering is to be more ‘efficient and effective’. It’s about asking as a police officer what do I really need to be doing and as a force, what could we be doing differently?
Spending cuts are the reality and whilst I think the Business Partnering scheme has been somewhat misrepresented as amounting to potential ‘privatisation’, the consequence of not looking at our operation in the face of reduced budgets and staffing levels would likely cause a great deal of damage to the service we aim to offer.
As a police officer on the receiving end of the force’s plans to work with the private sector, I’d be unhappy if they represented a ‘privatisation’ process, if they amounted to me taking a step back from the front line.
The plans interest me because working inside the job, I know full well there are things we could be doing better and if businesses can provide the solutions and we were not to take advantage, it’s the public that’d be the ones to suffer – the same ones I joined to serve.
Today we’re dedicating tweets about the proposals which you can follow using the hashtag #wmpbpp and the following day there’ll be a live web chat. You can join in with it here between 12:00 and 13:00.
In addition you can check out the ‘Meet The Beat‘ interview I did with Chief Supt. Phil Kay, head of the BPP for West Midlands Police, in which he addresses some of the issues raised around working with the private sector.