Monday, 11 June 2018

Stating the Obvious

Taking advantage of a lull in the Napo General Secretary election, I've just noticed another of those really irritating briefing papers from the cottage industry spawned by the privatisation of public services. 

I might be a tad grumpy admittedly, but written by a young enthusiastic analyst, it just states the bleedin obvious that's come about due to privatisations and cutbacks in said public services. As far as I recall, in the wake of 'Care in the Community', the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester said years ago that he 'didn't employ coppers any more, just social workers'.  

Busy Bobbies?

How non-crime demand is impacting on the police

What's the fuss?

"Not the kind of shift we were expecting: 3 hospital guards, safeguarding an elderly lady, safeguarding a vulnerable child, a high risk missing 12 year old." The words of a nurse? Social worker? In fact a tweet from a Devon and Cornwall police officer just a few weeks ago, illustrating the sheer breadth of calls on police time. 'Non-crime’ demand is in the spotlight as many ask whether the police is the right service to be dealing with some of these issues.

Police and Crime Commissioners stress the impact the change is having on their ability to plan and deliver what the public need and expect. However, despite the concern of policing leaders, there is not yet a coherent picture about how much time and resource ‘non-crime’ demand is taking up, which have allowed some questionable myths to emerge about how the police spend their time. Clearly it's not enough to just count calls to the police - a domestic abuse case will take infinitely more resource than a vehicle offence. So what is the best way to do it? Crest has been testing the narrative that policing is increasingly the victim of 'mission creep’ - picking up demand as a 24/7 public service of last resort. What we have found is something more complex.

Why is it so hard?

The task of understanding police crime and non-crime demand is challenging for three reasons:

1. understanding demand means quantifying police activity. The evolving brief of police activity and the insufficient quality of police data make this difficult;

2. understanding police demand means taking into account hidden, or latent demand, which is, by definition, difficult to measure;

3. police demand means different things to different people depending on their perception of the mission of the police.

What is non-crime demand?

Our first task was to define what non-crime police demand actually was. Real life is complicated and the line between 'crime' and ‘non-crime’ demand is inevitably blurred. Nonetheless, working with police teams and policy specialists, we developed a list of the most common social issues triggering urgent police response, which did not necessarily relate to a specific crime. Issues included: mental health, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, homelessness and a large proportion of anti-social behaviour. Below we will look at some of them in detail.

Mental health related demand

Having been perceived as the 'cinderella service' for many decades, mental health is now recognised as an issue of national importance. An estimated 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems each year in the United Kingdom, so it is unsurprising that the police deal with people experiencing mental health crises in the most extreme situations. Furthermore, the Royal College of Psychiatrists have reported that as many as 9 out of 10 prisoners report some kind of mental health problem, which implies that those entering the criminal justice system (CJS) also disproportionately experience mental health issues.

Measuring mental health related demand is challenging. Police officers regularly report that they are dealing with individuals going through a mental health crisis instead of mental health professionals. Yet, there is currently no nationally consistent data on mental health related incidents the police have responded to.

Data does show that the total number of detentions under the Mental Health Act (1983) in England increased by 30 per cent between 2011/12 and 2015/16. Demand is going up as the number of self harm and attempted suicides have been increasing. We also know that the clinical provision for treating mental health crises has decreased, both in hospital and in the community. Adding grist to the mill, many also say that it can be simpler to access emergency treatment for mental health via the police. Crest's research has found some evidence to support this. When the police are called by the public in the event of mental health crises and attend, they act as a conduit for vulnerable people to then have access to treatment and care. Police respond to emergencies when other services do not. All of which has serious consequences: for the public who may need support from mental health professionals and do not get it; and for the police, who experience a drain on their resources that are already under significant pressure.

Missing children

Consistently emotive, the issue of missing children (many of whom are looked after by local authorities) is increasingly making the headlines, thanks to the growing interest in the phenomenon of 'county lines'. Our research shows that the majority of this type of demand is driven by children who go missing regularly, for example up to twice a week every week. It appears that demand on the police has increased significantly since 2016, when a new policy was introduced highlighting that every missing child should be considered at risk of harm.

The guidance issued to police officers states that although responsibility is ultimately shared, the police are entitled to expect parents and carers, including staff acting in a parenting role in care homes, to accept normal parenting responsibilities and undertake reasonable actions to try and establish the whereabouts of the individual.

In the case of local authorities with parental responsibility over looked after children, evidence from police officers suggests that care homes often call 999 when the child is late, even if their whereabouts are known and it is suspected the child is not at reasonable risk of harm. Moreover, our data suggests a small number of 'repeat cases' drive a large volume of total demand. Often, the police are called in to deal with the symptom of a missing child. Meanwhile, no one is addressing the cause of repeated behaviour.

When resources are stretched on all sides, there is a strong argument for police resources to be focused on cases where children are at serious risk. Crest's research reveals that police forces are regularly called upon to pick up children who are hanging out with friends a few streets away. For looked after children, care homes report lack of (legally regulated) authority or lack of staff in order to carry out basic local searches themselves.

In the case of those who go missing regularly, there may be a strong case for police intervention, particularly when a pattern emerges in which it is suspected that children are coming into contact with peers or adults who groom them, either to be part of a ‘gang’, or as prey to child sexual exploitation. However, the sheer volume of demand facing the police means this kind of analysis may be under-explored, leaving children vulnerable.

Redirecting demand?

It is a hard fact - police pick up emergency demand where others do not or cannot. Whilst the police will always need to respond to situations where mental health, addictions and other social issues are playing a part, Crest's work with police forces shows they are also picking up crisis demand where other, more appropriate, public services are not able to respond.

Here lies the crux of the debate: are the police doing what we, as a society, need and want it to do? If we decide that the police should be the emergency service of last resort, then the workforce and systems will have to adapt. If we think there is a better way to respond to (for example) mental health crises and missing looked after children, then all of the public services need to pull together in the same direction.

Crest’s research into non-crime demand and its impact on the police will be published in the coming weeks. With resources across the public sector, including the police, still under serious pressure, prioritisation and collaboration will be key to ensuring resources reach those at greatest risk of harm. To find our more about our research in this area visit the project page or get in touch.


About Crest

We are a team of policy, communications and brand specialists who care about building safer communities. We work with organisations across multiple sectors – helping them think, speak and act more clearly to improve criminal justice and policing. Unafraid to challenge, we take time to understand your needs and offer the right blend of support for you to navigate change and drive success.

Why are we different?

Because we know criminal justice and policing inside out, we provide bespoke advice tailored to your needs, rather than generic solutions. Our range of skills, perspectives and networks also means we are able to offer a unique blend of insight, analysis, communications and brand expertise. And with a team based across the UK, we are able to work alongside you in your communities.

About Harvey Redgrave, Managing Director

One of the UK’s leading experts on crime and justice policy, Harvey brings a wealth of experience from a decade spent working in government, academia and parliament. Prior to joining Crest, Harvey spent four years advising on home affairs policy for the Labour Party and was a deputy director at the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, where he led several major strategic reviews on behalf of a series of UK prime ministers affecting policy reform.

With overall responsibility for the performance of the business, Harvey also oversees Crest’s work on strategy and insight. With experience managing large teams, Harvey also works with government and law enforcement organisations to build strategic capability. Harvey is dedicated to putting effective policy into practice for a safer society.

Key achievements

Designed and delivered justice devolution strategies for six police and crime commissioners and co-authored the Police and Crime Plan for Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Commissioned by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change to lead TBI’s policy work on home affairs and immigration

Led major strategic reviews for the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit leading to changes in policy and practice, including troubled families (2011), police reform (2010, 2009), organised crime (2009), youth offending (2008) and mental health (2008)

Completed research on international organised crime as a Fulbright Scholar for Harvard University.


  1. Look at the Crest website to see who else they employ. Some names might seem familiar... Punditry is a new industry in itself.

    1. I guess you mean like this:-

      About Savas Hadjipavlou
      Savas has a wealth of experience in government and beyond. He worked as a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Justice, Department of Health and Home Office, leading reforms in the provision of prison health services and was Director of the ‘Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder (DSPD) programme across secure NHS hospitals and prisons.

      Since leaving government, Savas led the creation of the Probation Institute and more recently has set up ‘Justice Episteme’, which provides analytical services and computer simulations to support policy and service reforms in criminal justice. You can have a look at what he’s done here – it is remarkable.

    2. If you've been responsible for directing or informing criminal justice policy in the last 20 years you should be put in stocks outside Parliament and not be given a high paid job where you can claim expert knowledge and know all the answers.
      I have more trust in second hand car salesmen then organisations like Crest.
      The key words that spring to mind here is, Outcome, Sign off, and Payment.
      When the private sector become involved with social problems, wheres the incentive to find solutions?
      The more problems the more potential outcomes. The more outcomes the more payment.
      First rule of capitalism. Grow your market. Don't shrink it or you're out of business.


    3. And Troubled Families initiative went well.....

    4. There are no troubled families any more. 100% success and every penny well spent!
      Unemployment is at an all time low too. Work being the best route out of poverty I just can't understand why food bank use and homelessness are growing at the rate they are.
      Infact, Liverpool now have food banks for pets, and Devon and Cornwall have log banks for fuel poverty.
      Google care home closures. Its shocking, really shocking. But thats where the private sectors going to lead all public services.
      And the Not For Profit brigade are really no better.
      I used to be a Socialist, but now Viva la Revolution!


    5. Savas Hadjipavlou - former head of the Probation Chiefs Association and former head of the Probation Institute. They (former probation chiefs that sold us out to TR) just keep popping up and still can’t stop telling us how to do our jobs. They’re in the PI, in HMIP, everywhere even in these silly little organisations!

    6. It's corporate incest. Look anywhere and it's the same old faces.
      Remember Paul McDowell probation inspector who never spoke to his wife about TR despite her bidding for contracts for Sodexo?
      Now head of Transformation at MTC Novo.

    7. Well remembered! Yes what a farce that was.

      It’s the public school mentality. Whatever mistake you make you will be ok as you will be looked after by your connections. When ordinary working people make mistakes they are hung out to dry.


    1. The devastating collapse of Carillion has highlighted how dependent we have become on contractors for public services. Over £250 billion, a third of public spending, now goes to commercial or voluntary sector bodies for services. Some of these contracts have proved highly controversial. Both Serco and G4S have been forced to repay millions of pounds for overcharging for the electronic tagging of offenders, some of whom had actually died or were back in prison.

      A vast range of services are contracted out, including meals on wheels, care visits for the elderly, NHS diagnostic services, school inspections, leisure centre management, parking enforcement, court security and the running of immigration detention centres and prisons.

      The introduction of commercial practices has inevitably led to more secrecy. Contractors claim that openness threatens their edge over their rivals. Public authorities say it jeopardises their efforts to get the best deal when a new contract comes up. But ultimately such claims have to be substantiated under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

      Or do they? The Act suffers from a major loophole. Information which the contractors themselves hold about these services may not be covered at all. If the contract doesn’t give the authority the right to obtain that information from the contractor, the public has no right to it from the authority. The transfer of a function from the authority’s staff to the contractor’s, may signal the decimation of the public’s right to know under FOI.

      This loophole has prevented the public finding out how often complaints about court security staff have been made and how many of them have been convicted of offences. The staff are employed by G4S but the contract does not entitle the Ministry of Justice to the information – so the public can’t get it either.

      A report on fire safety at the CT scanner room of an NHS hospital was found to be outside the Act’s scope because it was held by a company providing services to the hospital under a lease and the lease did not permit the trust to see the report.

      My private member’s Freedom of Information (Extension) Bill would close this loophole. The bill, due for its second reading debate on June 15, has been drafted with the assistance of the Campaign for Freedom of Information. It would bring all information held by a public service contractor about the contract’s actual or planned performance under FOI.

      Requests would still be made to the public authority concerned, but the fact the information could be found in the contractor’s files not the authority’s would no longer matter. The Act’s exemptions would protect information whose disclosure was genuinely harmful.

      The Information Commissioner’s powers to see disputed information would be extended to contractors. So would the offence which applies to an authority which deliberately destroys requested information to prevent its disclosure.

      Housing associations would also be brought under the Act, ending the extraordinary secrecy often found. Tenants have been denied information about the cause of a fire in housing association premises or refused answers when asking whether potentially toxic lead pipes are used for water supply.

      The number of repossession orders served since the ‘bedroom tax’ was introduced and the number of those tenants with no previous history of arrears has also been refused. The bill would also bring electoral registration officers, returning officers and local safeguarding children boards under FOI.

      The FOI Act is a vital part of our system of accountability. My bill would help it keep pace with the way public services are actually being delivered.

      Andy Slaughter is Labour MP for Hammersmith. The second reading of the Freedom of Information (Extension) Bill is on Friday 15th June.