Policing on the frontline – observations from an evening on patrol

There is no denying that as a society we face many issues, at a macro level we are tackling issues around immigration, organised crime and drugs. Locally, our police forces find themselves dealing with petty criminals, knife crime, drug misuse and domestic violence. Police officers find themselves trying to operate in the face of increasing bureaucracy, stiffer scrutiny, decreasing funding and dwindling officer numbers. 

A survey undertaken by the Police Federation earlier this year revealed that smaller numbers of officers were on patrol and in some cases working alone, with nine in ten officers saying they don’t feel there are enough of them to manage demand. Officers find themselves having to be more reactive than proactive, yet continue to work tirelessly, with the resources they have, in order to keep the public safe.

I say this because recently I experienced many of these issues first hand. As a long standing technology provider to South Yorkshire, assisting them in their emergency and crime response, I was interested to experience the realities of being on a patrol shift.  I joined two PCs Simon and Kieron of South Yorkshire Police on an evening patrol shift.

The police continue to do a great job despite depleted resources and increased pressures

During patrol Simon showed me what technology and communications they routinely used.  He was honest about the positive and negative aspects of what technology was delivering both to the front line PC and the command and control staff who support them. The picture is mixed and there is certainly more that technology can do to give front line officers better situational awareness, control of resources and better intelligence on which to base operations. 

After only a short time on patrol, we responded to a shop lifting at a major DIY store. Intrinsically not a serious offence, but dig a little deeper and you find that the perpetrators were part of a wider group of people, which would constitute an organised crime network. 

I was told that groups target various aisles in various stores and steal either to supply themselves or to sell on for the cash. They target large stores and stores with a ‘no challenge’ policy (in place to protect their staff). I can only imagine the cost to business of this endemic problem.

Our patrol decided that these particular culprits should be arrested. By making that decision it meant five officers and three vehicles were needed to arrest the offenders and take them into custody – female officers were required to attend due to some of the offending group being female.

This is a prime example of an issue that affects society at local and macro level, and one that our police officers have to contend with as a part of their day-to-day efforts.  

It’s not as simple as we need more police on the streets

In the example of the patrol shift I was on, what struck me are the systemic issues facing a Police Officer nowadays. After the arrest of the shoplifters, the two officers on patrol then returned to the station to complete paperwork for the remainder of the shift.

In a seven hour shift, the officers I was with were only able to respond to one incident. The rest of the shift was spent doing the required reporting, paperwork and chain of evidence needed to process these three people, all of whom were released later the same day to face charges again at some point in the future.

There are wider systemic and societal issues at play

The criminal justice system can at times exacerbate the issue. In crimes similar to the incident I witnessed, there is a cycle of re-offence, short term incarceration and then release to begin the cycle again.

With no threat of serious consequences, criminals will continue to offend in this way without the threat of their lives being significantly altered. This results in officers time and time again, having to focus their efforts on the arrest of re-offenders and the resource that comes with it.

Huge societal pressures coupled with lack of funding and suboptimal use of technology is making life harder for our police on the ground.

What also struck me is the disrespect shown to the police, and the wider criminal system. Due to changing attitudes and in the knowledge that they will not face severe consequences, some people feel it is OK for police officers to be disrespected, taunted and verbally and physically abused. It isn’t right, and although the police take it in their stride they really should be better protected.

Being on patrol for only a few hours felt like a microcosm of today’s society. With serious organised crime, as well as knife and gang related crime plaguing our local communities, our police officers are under unprecedented pressure to keep the public safe and combat crime, while being subject to abuse themselves.

Technology can help if maximised

My reason for going on patrol with an officer was to gain frontline insight into why we do what we do at Sopra Steria.

We are long term supporters of the public sector and law enforcement in the UK – providing digital transformation and critical technology to our emergency services, including information and communications technology to aid control room and incident response through our SmartSTORM and SmartContact systems. 

Policy changes to keep PCs out of the station and on the streets are a welcome development. However to do this right, officers and their vehicles have to be equipped with the right information and communications technology. For example, cars need to be transformed into true mobile operating units, with high definition screens integrating the full suite of information and communications technology which aid officers in quick and effective response.    

It is easy to cast over-simplified assertions on the realities of how safe our streets are today. My experience on patrol demonstrates a very complex landscape in regards to frontline policing.

In the quest for more proactive preventative policing, maximising current technology, and striving for continued innovation will go a long way towards helping our police forces run more effectively in serving and protecting the public.

Vern Davis, Managing Director, Aersopace, Defence and Security