Yesterday’s report and the data behind the headlines
The more time passes, the more intrigued I am about why Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) decided to go so hard on their message about police performance when they published their annual report yesterday. The top line data in their report actually shows stable (in fact very marginal improvement) in forces – as I discuss in this article – but the overall message was quite critical and challenging, with talk of ‘rationing’ services and a ‘red warning flag’. The cynic in me wonders whether the hardline message is in any way linked to perceptions of the likely Home Office response to any news linking cuts with consequences – a perception that might have changed with the arrival of Amber Rudd as Home Secretary. But I hope (and on balance think) that HMIC is simply sharing a strong impression from their work that we are seeing early warning signs of a serious performance dip – parallel perhaps to what we are seeing in prisons. Developing the evidence
The problem, however, is that HMIC can’t back up their message with data, yet, and so I think if they’re going to follow up on themes they raised yesterday they have to do a few things fast:
- Define ‘rationing’. The language is inflammatory but the implication is that this is the ‘very unacceptable’ face of prioritisation. It’s entirely unreasonable not to tell forces where sensible prioritisation of scarce resources ends and ‘unacceptable rationing’ begins. Let’s have this debate and fast!
- Identify ‘leading indicators’ of future problems. HMIC has a lot of data and I imagine it could use it to develop a form of early warning system for force performance. Staff absences/ vacancies might be one such area – the shortage of detectives has worrying parallels to problems that emerged in prisons following their recruitment crisis and staff cuts. Policing is not prisons, however, so this will take some high quality work.
- Open up the books. There is a lot of data that the HMIC use that I can’t interrogate. It’s a relief really because I don’t have the time right now but someone would… and it could help HMIC to gain insights on the two questions above. I know there will be issues around confidentiality and data quality but for some data, we’ve learned that the only way to improve the data (which if it is used for decisions must be good to help forces manage themselves!) is to release and then take the flack on quality from the independent analysts.
- Visualise. The Inspectorate reports contain great qualitative information and some quantitative support, but a picture tells a thousand words. Can we compliment the historic approach with something more modern? I love the Performance Tracker from my colleagues at the Institute for Government. It’s very high level but really gives a great overview fast.
HMIC will need to steel itself if it is going to continue giving hard messages. It should never be afraid to speak truth – and it will do so more effectively when it can prove beyond any doubt that it’s messages are as well evidenced as possible. As an aside, I’m fascinated in the question of how inspectorates and other arm’s length bodies are judged and held to account for their performance – but that is a subject for another day. I also heard Rob Wainwright (Europol Chief) speak yesterday evening at the UCL and asked myself whether they were inspected at all. I found his talk interesting but it felt a bit like a sales pitch at times and I craved some data and evaluation. I discuss the problems of organised crime and our responses in my book which I was delighted to see come out in funky paperback format this week.
Criminal: The Truth About Why People Do Bad Things was a Times ‘Thought’ Book of the Year and described by the Guardian as “A richly researched, supremely sane discussion of the causes of and ways of preventing crime… Gash’s important book may well change your attitude to criminality and the justice system.” It is available in paperback on Amazon here