Everybody Fights…

Developing Tactical Policing Reserves

The concept of maintaining a reserve isn’t new. In military circles factoring in a reserve into planning is crucial to provide the commander with flexibility to ensure mission success.

Over the last few weeks I’ve watched from the side lines as cops from around the country have switched to 12 hrs shifts, combined with multiple cancelled rest days in order to meet major incident demands.

 We are now seeing an increase in concerns raised by commanders on social media with regards to the effect of these long hours on sustainability and resilience. It reminded me of a concept I had been considering last year – how we develop tactical policing reserves.

What is a reserve?

To make it clear, in this instance I am talking about reserves not in terms of part time resources such as SC or auxiliary forces. A tactical (or operational) policing reserve in this case is:

A group of policing personnel who are initially not committed to frontline operations that are available to address unforeseen situations or exploit sudden opportunities. Such forces may be committed to reinforce existing operations or to serve as relief for officers already committed.

Reserve Tasks

Policing Reserves can be used to reinforce standing operational officers for planned or exigent operations or relieve in place standing operational officers that require rest and recuperation. They can be used for short term, regular deployment (generally with minimal impact on their own daily operations) or for longer term deployments, acknowledging that this can impact on the policing services that they normally provide, which are prioritised against the greater operational need.

Where can they be drawn from?

All police forces have uniformed officers that undertake duties that whilst important, are not necessarily operationally essential. If I was to use as an example from my own force construct; our Corporate Headquarters on the West Coast of Scotland likely contains up to 100 uniformed officers. These officers resource departments such as licensing, organisational development, project offices, human resources etc.

Additionally when I look to Divisional headquarters, and our national and regional training centres again we see officers involved in various similar functions that keep the wheels turning but may be able to be reduced temporarily to support regional operations. We also have officers in various stages of training. 

Deployment Model

Generating a reserve like this can be done by organising identified cops from these departmental areas into regional resources based on standing reserve teams. Teams of Inspectors (and above), Sgts and Cops can be taken from across functional areas in a manner that doesn’t strip a single area necessarily of its entire capability. 4 such ‘shifts’ of multiple smaller teams can then undertake one week a month as the designated on call regional reserve, able to be deployed by local commanders to both short and longer terms tasks in the numbers required to complete frontline duties to manage contingencies.

To quantify the potential for such a reserve, take my own force of 17,000+ officers: the ability to identify say, 80 all ranks officers per command as a tactical reserve gives each regional command 4 shifts of 20 officers per week to be deployed within the region, or in our terms, 10 additional crews per command available if the ‘on call’ reserve is to be deployed, or 40 additional crews to be deployed on a ‘full’ regional reserve call out, concentrated or spread by shift and locality as required.

There are opportunities for smaller forces already cooperating across operational lines to pool regional reserves to generate efficiencies.

The deployment scale and methods are numerous and can be tailored to the circumstance and task required. The mechanics and methodology of call out are not insurmountable, relying on local ICT where it is available and looking at local policies to cover areas such as reporting, carriage of PPE, transport and terms and conditions of service. 

Police Federations can participate in the formulation of terms and conditions knowing that the outcome is better resilience for their frontline officers

Examples of Reserve Deployments.

A tactical reserve can be used for both planned and exigent operations at the discretion of the commander and in line with local policies, with the express intent of supplementing or supporting existing frontline resource. Some examples might be:

· Reinforce local areas for a single shift when local tasking exceeds response capacity.

· Major incident reinforcement over a specified period of time.

· Relieve in place of frontline teams for long term sustainment of major incident resourcing in order to allow those officers to rest and recuperate – with the potential to even temporarily redeploy those frontline officers in rear supporting tasks from which the reserve was drawn once rested in order to increase opportunity to recuperate prior to engagement back into the frontline.

· Planned reserve deployment to cover events / marches.

We have actually completed operations like this on an ad-hoc basis for major events such as the London Olympics and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. This would put that concept on a firmer footing and likely make planning future operations like these easier.

In my own force these duties would replace the current Local Day of Action / Campaign Against Violence one a month shift that non-operational officers complete at this time.

It might also be argued that more regular exposure to frontline duties ensures that non-operational officers retain suitable skills currency and a better perspective of frontline conditions which positively influence policy making. 

To quote one of my favourite movies… Starship Troopers:

‘Everyone fights…. Nobody quits’

– Jonny Rico, Mobile Infantry

All cops should remain a potential operational asset, regardless of their current post.

If we do what we always do we will get what we’ve always gotten…

….and in this case that is tired and broken officers trying to do all of their traditional taskings whilst resourcing major incident after major incident. It is unsustainable and as leaders it is our job to work out how to do this better, make the most of our uniformed resource and, where required, make the tough calls on what tasks temporarily take the hit.

If your force is not already doing something like this then you have to ask why it hasn’t been considered. 

The wellbeing of our officers and the effectiveness of sustained policing operations depend on us finding a solution to this problem. We are not going to be any less busy in the coming years.



Author: West Coast Response

I'm a Police Sergeant here on the West Coast of Scotland. I love the job and the folk that do it. I enjoy polite debate on policing and criminal justice and am particularly interested in the practical impact of policing policy, police leadership & making the job better for frontline officers.

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