Over 10 years ago, Durham Police began to incorporate a problem solving approach to policing under the leadership of Chief Constable Mike Barton. Today, with DCC Dave Orford leading the approach and CC Jo Farrell overseeing the force, Durham Police has been credited with multiple international awards for their initiatives focused on prevention and harm reduction.
In Durham, the problem-solving approach is observed through two lenses: how it can be focused to deal with local issues using local knowledge, and how it can be scaled or generalised to apply to more high-level strategic problems.
In addition, this approach balances evidence-based practice and value-based practice. The force encourages adoption of evidence-based practice by celebrating interventions via an annual conference. During the event, problem solving initiatives proving significant harm and demand reduction, and prevention, are shared across the force, demonstrating the positive impact of problem-orientated policing.
This approach is demonstrated in the ‘Problem Solving Pivot’ (See appendix 1).
Activities and Results
There are a number of flagship initiatives focused on prevention:
1. Checkpoint – an initiative aimed at breaking the cycle of repeat offending. The programme works by diverting offenders away from the traditional criminal justice pathways such as magistrates courts. Instead, they are enrolled on a four month programme that helps identify the underlying drivers of their criminal behaviour. The programme was evaluated using a randomised control trial, which found a decrease in reoffending rates by 16% compared to those who went through traditional pathways. The initiative won the 2019 international Goldstein Award for problem solving in policing.
2. Community peer mentor scheme – an initiative focused on improving the lives of individuals by addressing vulnerability and mental health. The scheme helps to identify the root cause of an issue, before trying to tackle it. The overall aim is to make people feel safe and reduce demand of the front line staff. The programme received the Tilley Award and saved millions of pounds.
3. The ‘Stamp it out’ initiative focused on tackling antisocial behaviour. This intervention involved the use of a chalk based stencil of a footprint to highlight the issue in areas with high ASB, acting as a deterrence. See appendix 2 for an image of the stencil. The results lead to a positive impact in reduced ASB and improved safety in the relevant areas. A full evaluation report is being conducted externally.
Every officer and member of staff is required to spend two to three hours with the chief constable on a problem solving workshop to continue embedding the approach across the force.
Officers are also encouraged to pursue academic studies such as Master’s degrees. The knowledge gained conducting research on these courses is then applied to the force on return.
Officers need to break the habit of going straight to the response phase focused on ‘fixing’ issues. This transition is not aided by current performance measures which focus on short-term outcomes, whereas problem solving and prevention-focused policing often realise more long-term outcomes. Alternative markers, such as public trust in police, should be considered as key performance indicators, as such factors notably impact officers’ ability to intervene early, preventing the escalation of issues.
Durham provides an example of a more established approach to problem-solving, demonstrating the substantial results that can be achieved through innovative preventive interventions. Their emphasis on the importance of celebrating best practice has helped to build confidence in evidence-based practice, establishing an example of how a force can enhance the mindsets of its officers and staff to embed preventive thinking.