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Early Action is what police work should be all about

By David Robinson

Andy Rhodes is the deputy Chief Constable in the Lancashire Constabulary. I first spoke to him three days after we released “The Triple Dividend” – the first publication of the Early Action Task Force.  He’d read it from cover and cover and wanted to meet. This blog is Andy’s account of what happened next.

We talk in various Task Force publications about the relationship between systems, culture and leadership.  Really significant change in the ways that big organisations work cannot be achieved without simultaneously attending to all three. For many organisations, but perhaps particularly for an emergency service, early action is a really significant change. I remember listening to Andy introduce the idea to a senior team that was more accustomed to measuring performance on numbers of arrests made than on trouble prevented. I saw how he was beginning to  redefine both the deeply entrenched cultural expectations of a “good police officer” and the multiple demands of a rigid and complex structure. Three years on the remarkable progress in Lancashire shows what can be achieved with  bold and tenacious leadership directed equally and consistently at custom and practice, structures and systems.


A few years ago I saw an email land in my inbox entitled ‘Triple Dividend’ and rather than deleting it thinking it was the latest government savings plan I opened it. Now I am a police officer and one can be forgiven for thinking that Early Action hasn’t been on the top of my list for the last 24 years, in fact I’ve probably made a few decisions that have prevented a  more sustainable solution being put in place. So what is it about Early Action that I passionately believe is so compelling for the police service in 2015 looking ahead 10 to 20 years?

The police spend 90% of their time, money and effort on fewer than 10% of the population. This is how it is, it has always been and always will be. In fact with reducing resource we will become even more focused into the high intensive users of our service because this is where the vulnerability is most severe and where the demand exists. All too often we get caught up in a purely reactive cycle and have only committed to longer-term work with partners and community if it has been additionally funded, now the funding has gone what is left ? The system. That’s been there since 1945.

Most of us joined policing to make a difference and to help keep people safe. I recall once seeing a police officer to congratulate them on passing their two year probation only to hear her say ‘we aren’t making any difference … it’s  the same sh*t just a different day’. This is not in any way where we ever wanted to be. It’s bad for the public, bad for the officer and bad for society overall. Don’t let anyone tell you the police don’t make a difference … they do and Early Action, when integrated into daily business at a strategic and tactical level, IS the future of UK policing.

We know the police are but one small part of a very complex system involving that most unpredictable of factors – human behaviour. We like to think we are in control , that we do A and we achieve B. This is the philosophy of New Public Management, outdated and defunct in 2015 yet still promoted as a legitimate way of delivering public services. It isn’t working because it never worked and what got us to here will most definitely not get us to there. Public Value Leadership on the other hand … that is a whole new blog for another day suffice to say – it’s where we need to be.

So, in Triple Dividend language, we are running around at the bottom of the cliff feeding the beast. At best putting a daily sticking-plaster on some of our most complex social problems, at worst making things even more complex.

We have a great track-record of problem solving and neighbourhood policing, yet in times of reducing budgets this is being seen as a luxury we can no longer afford. Wrong. The saviour of local neighbourhood policing is Early Action and I’ll explain why.

This is the police triple dividend

Dividend 1 – Tackling vulnerability We are seeing unprecedented rises in high victim  impact crimes such as child sexual exploitation , historic abuse, vulnerable adult abuse etc. Mental Health is now our number one area of demand and crime now only accounts for 17% of what we do. The rest is all about vulnerability which is Early Action territory. Austerity is making the most vulnerable in society more vulnerable, added to which we know people are living longer and this will continue to increase as a percentge of what we do.

Dividend 2 – Reducing demand Police budgets have been hit hard and will be hit hard again. Understanding demand must avoid knee-jerking towards demand diversion or the setting of thresholds to reduce work.  Crime prevention is no longer just about more locks or more security lights , it’s about early intervention. 64% of prolific offenders in my force come from households with a domestic abuse marker. In Glasgow, Karen McClusky (incredible woman) put ‘violence’ on the Scottish Governments policy priorities list as a public health issue not a policing issue. She took a stand against a culture of violence that has it’s roots in childhood experience. ‘If you bring a kid up in a war zone why are we surprised when he turns into a warrior?’ is her powerful wake up call.

Dividend 3 – Meaning & Purpose Nobody wants to spend their life adding no value and making no difference. Police officers are, by-and-large, ordinary folk doing an extraordinary job, just like paramedics, mental-health workers, social-care workers and teachers. We do it because we care about people. Early Action is what we joined to do because it’s hard, it’s complex but it makes a difference.

So we know  this will not be solved through traditional collaboration or multi-agency working. We need integration not collaboration. This is because a) we can’t afford to keep paying 18 different professionals to sit in the same room and talk to each other and b) if I had 18 different professionals knocking at my door every week I’d be utterly confused and so are our most complex families. We need one public/community sector asset not 18. Step out of your silo , be prepared to give to receive and start thinking more radical thoughts.

What are we doing about it here ?

The first step was to talk to all our key partners to clear up the language of Early Action … language is important to get right from day one  and we did this by holding a conference / workshop. This resulted in massive support and formal sign-up (yes a signature on a piece of paper!) to an EA commitment, a locally tailored version of the Early Action Task Force principles.

We then commissioned some specific research through The University of Central Lancashire to build on the national evidence base, specifically focusing on joint outcomes. All organisations are going through massive change and we were determined to avoid prevention being the victim of short-term budget saving. We have developed Early Action into our policing delivery model which means we have dedicated resource allocated and most importantly a plan that will ensure neighbourhood teams focus on EA as their fundamental purpose. We are NOT just adding EA on as another silo, it’s everyone’s job.

We have some amazing examples of partnership working that ’walks the talk’ on EA , Transforming Lives in Blackburn is a fine example. Across Lancashire we are seeing a new energy for partnership, huge increases in volunteering and more progress than we have seen for decades. Why? Because people across the partnership share values. People who share values can move mountains!

By using hard demand data to convince people that EA can reduce demand with purpose and compassion we are seeing numerous cases where our most complex, vulnerable people are being supported so that they move from being viewed as a problem to being viewed as a fellow human being.

Arthur was excluded from every GP surgery and had called the police over 900 times in three months resulting in 140 deployments. A paramedic ran a pilot to case-manage Arthur’s vulnerability; which originated from mental health, alcohol and isolation. She negotiated with him and the Clinical Commissioning Group to gain him access to a GP and all responders contributed to his plan. Result: Proper care for Arthur and huge reductions in harm and demand for the partnership. EA can deliver public value and financial savings as well as helping those most in need.

We are on a journey that has no end … you have to accept this as part of the challenge. I reviewed our plan last week and the complexity of the system multiplied by the complexity of the need can seem daunting unless you begin with the fundamental question ‘why?’ Many great people from Ghandi to Churchill have urged us to consider that ‘any society is judged by the way it treats it’s most vulnerable citizens’. Policing is a profession that often  sees the tragic reality of system failure. We see the consequences of short-term thinking, silo working and inside-out thinking. Early Action is what police work should be all about.

Andy Rhodes, Deputy Chief Constable, Lancashire Constabulary.

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