The Value of the ‘Frontline Impact Assessment’ for Policing Policy Development
I note today the Scottish Government chose to shelve plans to allow officers to search children for alcohol. I’ve written previously on the operational impact this will have on officers dealing with related calls for service here in Kids and Carry-Outs.
The announcement today, and on a lighter note learning a couple of days ago that I will be transitioning from a 3 character to a 6 character call sign on my Airwave radio (try saying something like A27 out loud then contrast it against saying ADS161 to get the idea of how that will pan out) got me wondering how we can ensure we get up to date and relevant frontline feedback to better inform policy decisions.
It occurred to me that for every policy and procedure Police Scotland develop we undertake an Equalities Impact Assessment. We go to great pains to consult widely and review the impact on communities that represent protected characteristics to ensure we first, do no harm and preferably, make policy that has a positive impact on these communities.
So why don’t we do that for frontline officers (or any other officer for that matter) to whom the policies will impact on? The ones that have to put the new policy into practice?
It seems a bit of a no-brainer to me. Undertaking such a Frontline Impact Assessment, preferably on a wide scale, allows policy makers to get up to date and specific advice on how any new policy will impact on officers and their ability to get the job done.
It may be argued that these policies are often designed by officers whom have had a myriad of operational policing experiences. With the greatest respect to these officers (and I have been one) they aren’t doing the job right now.
Let me explain this further. Have you ever been away from your frontline work for a few months? When you come back how much has changed? How many new policies, nuanced policy changes, new practices and new forms have been implemented in your absence? You get where I am coming from….
In a past working life we used to have a saying that if you have been away from an operational theatre for 2-3 months you really aren’t in a position to comment effectively on what is going on in theatre. This isn’t a bad rule of thumb for policing either.
Getting the feedback fast. It doesn’t have to be a difficult process either. The easiest way would be to identify user groups to get the feedback off and Survey Monkey it (other survey websites available). Groups across the country could be targeted by team in each Division to ensure there is not an overload on the same crews. Getting wide cross-Divisional feedback is critical in our merged force environment as Divisions still do a lot of things differently and have different operational cultures.
Publishing the results. If officers know that their feedback can positively shape policy they are more likely to contribute. Just like we do with partner consultations, it’s important to provide feedback to the teams consulted directly, as well as the wider force to show that they have had an impact on policy development.
My force has done something like this recently in identifying areas to reduce the administrative burden on Sgts as they reduce the ratio of Sgts to Cops. They have come up with a dozen odd areas to focus on that will have a positive impact on efficiency without losing effectiveness.
Developing an efficient process to gain up to date and relevant frontline information to inform policing policy is a potentially huge source of qualitative data that can have a positive impact on policy development. It comes at very little cost in time and effort and shows frontline officers that policy makers care about their role and value their advice.
The Frontline Impact Assessment should be standard for all new procedural and policy development. Perhaps I can get my 3 character call sign back…….