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COVID-19 – an unlikely opportunity to redefine how Police Forces operate

Joy Shepheard-Walwyn
4 May 2022

Whilst the pandemic has had a devastating effect across all industries and services, it’s also stimulated innovations in the way our police forces work. This article explores some of the opportunities that police forces face to reset how they work.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, ways of working have changed drastically for many police forces. The nature of ‘place-based’ and virtual communities have changed the service delivery models that forces must now deliver, with ever more constrained resources. However, out of great challenges come great opportunities; across the country, there have been many successful adaptations and innovations made by regional police forces and local communities, which could be replicated elsewhere for the betterment of us all.

The ways of working adaptations seen across the country are diverse in nature and include an expansion of community ecosystems participating in policing, an increase in strategic partnerships to share delivery of vital services and more creative approaches to the use of technology in policing. Furthermore, during the period of the pandemic, there has been increased focus on sustainable practices. The pandemic has offered a kickstart to more remote working and environmentally friendly practices, and therefore an opportunity for forces to become more environmentally sustainable.

These successes should be recognised, celebrated and scaled up across the country. However, implementation has and will continue to come up against a series of challenges that go beyond the typical monetary and resource constraints we hear of in the press. These may include:

  • Organisational Challenges: This includes siloed data systems that do not support the breadth of information sharing needed for sustainable operational collaboration across local services; a workforce resistant to change and broader political environments that make change harder to implement and legacy technology that does not provide a solid foundation for transformation.
  • Legislative and political constraints: The political environment within which policing operates means that it is difficult to adopt an agile and adaptive approach. Police forces are often bureaucratic organisations with many layers of decision making necessary, leading to a lack of innovation and creativity in service delivery.
  • Police Officer Mental Health: Police Officer mental health has been adversely affected as a result of the pandemic. The Police Foundation reported that “1 in 3 officers surveyed… felt more anxious when responding to standard emergency calls compared to before the pandemic”.
  • Public perception of policing: According to YouGov polls, the proportion of the public with confidence in local policing decreased from 57% to 42% between December 2019 and Nov 2021. Throughout the pandemic, challenges with incorrect rapid translation of central policy led to non-existent public policy being enforced. This led to, in many instances, the destruction of relationships with citizens and a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” spiral.
  • Increased vicious and hidden online crime: Demand has increased for police officers during the pandemic, both as a result of many traditionally “normal” activities becoming criminal offences, and the increasing online nature of crime.

Is it time for policing to reinvent itself?

Despite the challenges in the structure of policing bodies, there should be more effort to try and change ways of working. The pandemic has provided a clear case for change and has highlighted the difficulties in adaptive and agile policing, as well as the negative perception and the politicisation of policing.

Forces across the UK, should maximise on the increased prevalence of community ecosystems and new-found strategic partnerships, and focus transformation activities on improving public perception and decreasing demand by:

  • Joining up and using the wealth of data they have available to support other local services in better targeting interventions, thereby reducing demand across the system.
  • Defining their value proposition and their purpose, and how this sits alongside that of other local services, including where handoffs with other services need to take place and where good contact and communication needs to support.
  • Using focus groups, social media and other engagement platforms to understand the local public perception of policing and the reasons behind this by engaging more openly with communities and, in particular, vocal individuals.
  • Continuing to invest in innovative ways to tackle online crime, maximising on the opportunities posed by ‘problem solvers’ and those who want to use their technical or coding skills for the betterment of society.
  • Continuing to identify and adopt environmentally sustainable practices by leveraging the ability to adapt quickly to new ways of working, particularly as climate change is a major concern across the general public.

Capgemini have supported organisations across public safety, including central government, regional forces and the defence sector to transform and become joined-up, proactive and data driven bodies. With a breadth of capability in data analytics, user research and innovation, Capgemini can support regional forces to fully maximise the opportunities for ways of working posed by COVID-19.