#024/2012 Taking Time for Crime: A study of how police officers prevent crime in the field

HMIC has today published a study looking at how frontline police officers are supported and enabled to prevent crime in the field. It was conducted in collaboration with six forces which represent the breadth and depth of the policing challenge. The study is intended to inform discussion about the development of policing into the future.

Recognising the impact the financial pressures are having – with less officers expected to do more – HMIC has examined how frontline officers are supported and enabled to fight crime through a preventive approach: one which anticipates, whenever possible, the risk of crimes happening and acts to prevent them or reduce their impact on victims.

Re-establishing the central importance of prevention in the police mission is important as chief constables in this study indicated, because it reduces crime and the demands on public finances that go with it.

HMIC’s study found that uniformed officers and detectives spend at least 80 percent of their time on crime, a figure supported by analysis of the incidents reported to police. However, it found that there is an array of barriers to the majority of constables in preventing crime, in particular:

  • an absence of clarity around the mission for policing – all forces use different mission statements and these vary even across departments within a force.
  • weaknesses in operational and technological support to officers in the field – out of the 19 basic technology operating systems now required by a constable to carry out frontline roles away from police stations, only one was consistently available and was not always effectual; and
  • limitations in training – crime prevention is only one out of the 190 modules constables receive in their initial training.

Next Steps

HMIC suggests that the role of the frontline officer, the most precious asset in the delivery of policing to the public, should be at the forefront of the professionalisation of the police service through the creation of the College of Policing. Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) and chief constables should consider how they can support officers to operate effectively as independent professionals in the field by providing them with a near real-time intelligence infrastructure linked to better application of technology and by making sure officers have the knowledge of evidence based policing practice necessary to successfully prevent crime.

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Denis O’Connor, said:

“No longer can the police operate as they have – in a predominantly reactive way that chases increasing demand for service. This is especially true in these times of austerity where more is needed from less. Now is the time to return to a preventive policing approach; one which was the foundation of modern policing in 1829, but was lost in the 1970s – as the service invested new technology in a predominantly reactive system of policing that is no longer sustainable. To achieve this shift in approach, the service will need to be clear about its mission and provide its frontline officers the operational support, technology and training that empowers them to operate in the field as independent professionals. This is not simply about technology, pay or accountability. The character and direction of policing really matter too – that is what first Commissioners understood all those years ago.”

HM Inspector for the National Team, Stephen Otter, said;

“This study has found that even without the best infrastructure to support them, frontline officers are outstanding at getting-by to deliver an effective service to the public. But in this period of reducing budgets, there is a need to enable frontline officers to operate in the field as independent professionals. This study sets out some ideas to trigger a discussion across the service and beyond about how the role of the frontline officer is placed at the centre of the development of the professionalisation of the service in the form of the College of Policing.”


Notes to editors

  1. The study ‘Taking Time for Crime’ can be found at www.hmic.gov.uk
  2. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Denis O’Connor presented a valedictory lecture earlier this month. The lecture, entitled ‘The Importance of a Plan to Win’, is available at www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk///hmicfrs/announcements/
  3. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and authorities to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects and regulates all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing bodies. For more information please see www.hmic.gov.uk
  4. For further information or to place an interview bid please contact: HMIC press office: call 020 3513 0600 or email hmicpressoffice@hmicfrs.gov.uk