Dr Muir’s seminar began by highlighting that societal developments have demanded a radical change in the requirements and expectations of the police. He provided two reasons for this shift: austerity and complexity.
In terms of austerity, the police are experiencing substantial budget cuts, which unsurprisingly are having a significant impact on the quality of the service they can provide. This lack of investment in the police is unlikely to change in the near future, and so it is essential that the police adapt their position accordingly. In terms of complexity, the police are facing two demand shifts. The first one is the move from traditional crime to a focus on crime affecting the vulnerable. For example, Dr Muir highlighted the increased reporting in sexual offences against children, bringing to the forefront a previously under reported crime. The police also need to respond to an increasing number of mental health related incidents. The second challenge that the police face is the increase in internet and transnational crime. The localised, Peelian ‘bobby on the beat’ method of policing is simply unable to tackle offending of this kind. So, in addition to the lack of resources, the police are required to engage with issues and crimes that were traditionally not within their purview.
The question then remains, how can this changing landscape be managed? Dr Muir outlined three ways in which it is possible to organise public services: through bureaucracy, markets or networks. However, he argued that the former two are not well suited to address the aforementioned challenges, and as such, the answer lies in adopting a networked approach. This would involve increased integration and collaboration with other professionals such as healthcare and mental health workers, as well as social workers. He highlighted how it is essential that the collaboration move beyond the current risk assessment approach, which is presently the focus in any existing multi-agency collaborative approaches. When it comes to tackling internet and transnational crime, the same increased collaboration is necessary. In this instance, it would involve data sharing beyond national borders, joint investigation and legal cooperation, as well as more preventative measures including educating and increasing awareness of the risks associated with the internet.
For initiatives such as these to be successful, there needs to be a definite move towards a “supportive infrastructure around integrated working”. Strong leadership is a necessity, as are appropriate feedback loops that enable effective communication between the leadership and those on the frontline. Dr Muir also stressed the importance of increased sharing of information between organisations (while still meeting the requirements of the Data Protection Act), as this would enable a better-informed approach towards the protection of vulnerable individuals.
In all, Dr Muir’s engaging seminar made it clear that the police must adapt to today’s globalised and technologized society. Although this is evidently not going to be an easy endeavour, the presentation stressed that the answer to more effective policing lies in increased collaboration between the police and other agencies. Hence, with most of the seminar focusing on possible solutions to the challenges, the picture painted by Dr Muir was hopeful and anticipatory of police reform.
The Police Foundation is an independent think-tank that conducts evidence-based research into policing with the aim of contributing to its improvement. For more information and further insight into the work of The Police Foundation see here.