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Guest #3: Demanding performance, by PFNDF

Police Federation
National Detective's Forum
When Diet Justice asked me to write a guest blog, my thoughts turned immediately to the working lives of detectives. With current crime figures showing a rise in serious offences, the pressure on CID officers is mounting.

And this is at a time when forces across the country are actually reducing their CIDs because of political pressure to put as many officers as possible into so-called ‘front line’ roles – and HMIC consider that only a percentage of detectives are ‘front line’ (although nobody has come up with an agreed definition of ‘front line’).

In most, if not all, CIDs, it is therefore inevitable that more is going to be asked of less.

I want here to examine specifically the consequence for my colleagues when this increasing pressure leads to mistakes.

The review and investigation of serious and acquisitive crime falls usually to a trained detective officer. I say ‘usually’ because unfortunately many forces – although by no means all – have investigation units in which only a third of the staff are trained detectives. The other two thirds comprise either individuals who have yet to complete the relevant training or those who are still waiting to start it.

Clearly, this can make supervision and management very difficult, with standards extremely hard to maintain.

Consider also the workload shouldered by these individuals. Sometimes they are required to handle 20, 30 or even more investigations at the same time – a work rate which is virtually impossible to maintain, especially when some of the investigations become extended and complicated. Inevitably, mistakes happen. They happen at the start of investigations, in the middle and at the end. And they happen too often.

And there is a problem over how we deal with these mistakes because at the moment we almost always resort to hunting for someone we can blame and punish. This process often involves a protracted investigation of its own.

When eventually an officer is shown to have missed an investigative opportunity, failed to pursue one, or chosen the wrong one, then blame is attributed and the individual is often disciplined. If the issue is high profile or the mistake has been made before, they may face the sack. Even if the officer keeps his or her job, they will, as a rule, be moved out of investigative work.

I say this is all wrong. Why do we not approach mistakes as a performance issues?

Police have regulations governing performance that mirror the discipline regulations but allow for periods of monitoring, training and reviewing.

Police forces spend thousands of pounds on training an officer. If that officer is dismissed, the investment is lost. If, however, under-achieving officers can be coaxed to raise their game, the money will not be wasted but will provide a dividend which can be expected to grow and grow as the redeemed individuals help their forces deliver a quicker and more efficient service to the public.

Of course, this approach will not work with everyone. But I believe that, more often than not, it will provide vastly better outcomes than does the blame culture which is so prevalent at the moment.

We need ACPO and the Home Office to properly inspire and demand implementation of performance regulations while moving away from the crime and punishment approach.

It cannot be right that the fastest growing area of complaints is investigative failures. Let us instead make investigative work the fastest improving area and start to drive our performance forward – and, at the same time, provide a bit of good news for crime victims.

Police Federation National Detective's Forum, General Secretary

From Ollie: PFNDF, in practice, represents a particular group of specialist police officers who involve themselves with the bringing to court of offenders involved in the more serious and complex crimes. This being a small group, by comparison, it can be easy to forget that they actually represent the a skill set that is core to every member of the police family...the detection and investigation of crime. Detectives are a group of experts that can often go unseen, often literally, and therefore their contribution can be underestimated. I chose PFNDF to be a guest blogger because i think its important that the police service continue to invest in the expert investigators, as otherwise a lot of the high profile cases will remain undetected, and the minority of society free to harm the majority. Thanks for being part of the celebrations mate!