The College is supporting police forces across the country who are seeking to improve how they prevent crime and reduce demand. There are two key strands of work detailed below:
- Setting out a public health approach which emphasises prevention is always better than cure.
- Developing a problem-orientated policing method that helps officers and staff to analyse a problem, establish its underlying causes and implement solutions that prevent the problem arising in future.
Public Health Approach
The College of Policing signed up to the policing, health and social care consensus in 2018, committing to implement preventive and early intervention methodologies that embody a public health approach. Principles for the approach were drawn up and published in a discussion paper in 2019, defining public health approaches in policing as encompassing five key areas:
- A population focus1
- The causes of causes2
- Data, evidence and outcomes
- Partnerships, communities and systems
Activities and Results
The College has conducted surveys for leads and practitioners across the 43 forces to understand current ‘public health’ police initiatives, what the enablers are and how they are applied. 40 forces responded to two different surveys, which revealed a wide variation in maturity of public health approaches across the forces. Although, one commonality is that trauma-informed practice has become a central element of police training. Results are included in the recently published landscape review.
Working with the college, the Knowledge Hub provides a platform bringing together partners, academics and researchers to facilitate collaboration, evidence collation and data sharing. So far, there are 126 individual members facilitating ongoing research and workforce development through webinars focusing on how to bring a public health approach embodying prevention to issues such as, knife crime, modern slavery, and gambling. The four nations webinar hosted 1500+ attendees spanning over 5 days where each nation presented a different issue. Overall, the feedback was positive.
There are several challenges with implementing public health approaches in policing. For example, the lack of shared, coherent definitions for aspects of public health approaches such as ‘trauma-informed practice’, have made it difficult to define the key changes required. There is also still a live debate about how far policing organisations should be leading (versus supporting) work that focuses on addressing early years causes of crime and vulnerability.
Additionally, the current culture and performance measurements in policing are not structured to incentivise long-term prevention – and policing and partners are struggling to measure the impacts of public health-oriented approaches. Although building awareness of the public health approaches and the benefits through leadership briefings is helping to tackle this.
Alongside applying public health approaches to policing, the College is focused on problem-orientated policing. This involves a systematic approach to problem solving analysis and decision-making using the SARA3 model. Officers and staff are encouraged to work through a specific crime problem by analysing it, developing a targeted intervention, and assessing the response to understand the impact.
Activities and Results
Part of implementing this approach is the development of the ‘What Works Toolkit’. This practice sets out the evidence base for supporting choices on how to tackle different problems (e.g. knife crime, domestic abuse). In addition, the college is establishing new guidelines to support forces to implement and sustain a problem-orientated approach. In most cases, this will equate to moving upstream from a problem to work out how it could have best been prevented, rather than solely focusing on the investigation.
To facilitate implementation of guidelines, the College is employing insights from Behavioural Science such as the COM-B model of behaviour change to encourage adoption of problem-solving methodologies and use of evidence. This approach involves a particular focus on enhancing motivation and opportunity to implement guidelines.
Many forces have commissioned or delivered training on problem-solving either for all officers or a sub-set (for example for neighbourhood officers where problem solving is a key element of the College 2018 Neighbourhood Policing Guidelines).
A key challenge for problem solving approaches is that they usually require investment of time and effort beyond what is often required to investigate individual cases. For officers, staff and volunteers, this can be challenging to manage given current caseloads. Also, significant problem-solving projects often require dedicated teams.
While problem solving work often has a very strong return on investment in terms of improved safety or other outcomes, many policing organisations do not have systematic ways of resourcing problem solving efforts – and/or are restricted by the lack of processes in place that demonstrate how to measure the cost-effectiveness of problem-orientated policing.
The College of Policing’s activities demonstrate how preventive policing is being considered and facilitated on a national scale. Although the approaches are still developing, they pave the way for a nation of forces that prioritise crime and harm prevention with the aim of improving societal issues in the long-term.
- Part of the approach delivering interventions at a populational level.
- The causes of causes represents understanding what are the underlying elements driving an issue
- Also called OSARA (Objective, Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment).