What do they really do in those great big buildings?…… “they should be able to catch local louts and criminals faster, my daughter can find them on social media without looking, theyre online showing off while committing offences….” . As I trawl through hansard reading elaborate protestations and propositions interspersed with assertions of the kind of capabilities and capacities police forces should have I am intrigued and thrown into thought. Something also grabs my attention. 

A large volume of political and apolitical discussions are postured on the assumptions that police forces are ably funded, remarkably well equipped and serviced with state of the art technologies and tools. Besides this the questions, demands and requests all motivate arguments for efficacious use of the extensive innovative tools and methods of surveillance and capture police forces have.

Are they perhaps referring to tools and equipment never mind capacities that I missed out on seeing somewhere or perhaps what is being asserted exists in a parallel universe….?

But ….back to the question, what do they do in police stations? Well, most police force buildings house custody suites, a plethora of specialist function teams, spanning operational, tactical, and strategic policing. Investigatory teams, surveillance teams, control centres, report rooms, interview and or briefing, meeting and training rooms and offices for police officers and policing staff . In some cases there is not even enough space to accommodate every specific role so some of the office spaces serve dual purposes .

Those familiar with the rubrics of public service organisations will understand that policing is not a profit bearing enterprise, and unlike organisations such as local authorities , they do not have the scope to derive income locally. The bulk of policing funding is centrally allocated by government with a small proportion of income devoted to local policing needs being derived from local authority precepts. 

On the face of it , it appears each police force get quite a bit of money, however the funding serves to maintain buildings, pay wages, train staff, fund equipment and tools, acquire, maintain and fuel vehicles, and provide and maintain technologies and information systems necessary for ensuring the business of policing to legal and statutory standards can be conducted effectively and efficiently.

In recent years, many police forces have had to reevaluate the needs of their communities vs the financial and resourcing capacity to maintain round the clock physical presence in emergencies and contact desks for members of the public. With funding formulas that remain the subject of much debate, the reality is that police forces are being asked to perform more and more roles, some falling outside the scope of what would ordinarily by considered ‘prevention of crime or interruption of crime.’. The upshot of this includes downscaling/downsizing of offices, closures of some police stations and a migration to self serve options such as telephone calls, online chats and web based crime reports.

This means that police forces are expected to operate intelligently while adopting blended ways of working and avoidance of waste. The result of this is a policing organisation that is relatively cash strapped being tasked with working in unpredictable conditions according to lean principles adopting innovative approaches to understanding the communities they police and operating an intelligent led policing approach. 

On paper this sounds like it should be an easy task , police forces have great big buildings with lots of important looking vehicles and plenty of staff and equipment right? So it shouldn’t be that difficult to task them with serving as a law enforcement principal doubling as an information exchange, data management, analysis and review centre. Police officers and staff record, respond and manage crime, detectives investigate the more complex crimes, strategic thinkers and analysts are tasked with converting nominals and details of crime, events related to crime and criminal activity and associated crime and intelligence indexing into meaningful structured information. 

These micro-groups altogether motivate the policing information around risk, decisions and incidents to inform and  support business leaders and strategic leaders who need to backcast, forecast and make decisions regarding how  to put policing efforts to the  best and most effective use in an efficient way in alignment with intelligence led policing approaches.  

This means business leaders are tasked with combining the  information generated in all areas with their awareness of their teams and staff activities, scope and limitations including financial constraints into building a business case for how they plan to use the funding they receive in a lean way and meet policing activities in an agile way, incorporating innovation and technology. 

Image credit – Mark ESV on Flikr

The bigger picture of these big police station buildings is then that they are involved in administrative duties required for the effective management of crime and containment of criminal activities in the localities that they serve. They provide spaces for policing staff to field and respond to enquiries from members of the public. 

They also provide spaces for thinking groups to evaluate intelligence and information from multiple sources to enable interception, interruption, disruption and or containment of dynamic and complex, multifaceted criminal activities. Additionally, they  provide spaces for tactical and operational groups to proactively fulfil other responsibilities which include preserving life, safeguarding vulnerable people, preventing harm and economic loss, maintaining safety, and supporting other public services and emergency services with the task of upholding the execution of legal directives or orders. Finally they provide spaces where safe custody can be offered for individuals who are suspects of crime or found engaging in criminal activity.

Many police forces maximise their funding by investing in training response officers who are dedicated to responding to crimes on a daily basis and the responsibility for managing phone calls and dealing with non urgent calls falls to policing staff who man the urgent and non urgent call lines, review and respond to crime reports via web and crime reports via web chat. Trained officers are supplied with web enabled laptops and phones with capacity to connect to web, body worn cameras, airwave radio kits, boots, handcuffs, batons, an array of enabling tools for  the job and uniforms including anti stab vests and visibility clothing. The average uniformed officer is likely to be carrying about 7kg of body worn equipment. Police officers who respond to crimes and or intervene in immediate response are additionally tasked with maintaining records of their activities requiring various forms and  booklets which they carry with them. 

As we navigate through residential estates, business hubs, colonnades of shops and  leafy neighbourhoods I cannot help computing the cost of reaching, policing and being present and visible everywhere to satisfy exacting demands and requests and although I don’t have the exact figures, it appears to be quite clear that shoestring, spartan and on a budget feature strongly but everyone is determined to do the best they can to police as best they can. 

Spending as much time as I do out there with frontline officers and staff, There is definitely a lot going on inside police stations as I have learned. In my quiet moments, I almost always wonder if I wouldn’t simply keel over wearing 7kg of stuff or go doolaly from sirens and beeps if I had it everyday. Now for the going at speed, I have stopped craning my neck to look at speedometers and I make sure I am wearing my strong girl undergarments.

Then again considering I haven’t weighed the boots as well, I reckon it’s a good thing there are barefoot shoes out there and I can generally choose what shoes to wear and whether to run after someone or not. As for the noise, 6 years on, I have adapted…. After a while, I actually learned to associate specific noises with specific actions. Reflectively, when I consider the work that is being done and the complexity, diversity and critical thinking involved in it all, I find that it definitely is a worthy duty.

But more to the point, the average officer really does not want to chase anyone or arrest anyone, it just so happens we don’t live in utopia and people do things you would not even imagine that hurt others creating the need for law and order.

The inspiration for this article came from a variety of experiences and hearsay as it were, and at the fore of that is the notion that too much money is wasted on policing, that police officers enjoy careering around after every crime suspect and largely that we live in a big brother state. Considering I knew little about crime, criminality and policing except what I see in the media or hear from others or know from limited experience, my journey over the last six years has been one of learning and it has been a unique experience with no two minutes of the same thing. 

My research has a lot of affinity with the notion of  a ‘policing state’ or ‘big brother’ policing, however my focus is largely on understanding the job of policing, risk evaluation and decision making alongside the coaxial relationships policing and police officers have with technologies and technological tools, particularly in the context of very diverse needs, complicated processes interspersed with a lot of legalese. Reading PACE has been one of my less preferred tasks although thankfully, learning pace while hanging out with some cool people has been a good but challenging experience. What has however been really important and beneficial has been the continued opportunity to learn about policing from those who do the work, particularly as their voices are generally not very well represented in mainstream media. 

Someone asked me what I was doing with ‘them’ the other day while reminding me I was black (which wasn’t helpful because charcoal is black and I am not) and although I found the question funny, never mind the fact that I almost always wonder why ‘them’ is enough of a way to refer to something or someone without saying what it is, I will say that crime is not colour coded and every tribe hath its eedgits.

That does not mean that I do not recognise the difficulties and dangers of bias and unfairness, rather it is that I recognise where my abilities and strengths lie and I have gradually been learning to pick a mission pro com battle a bit more carefully. I hope as I round the corner and start counting weeks to the end of this journey that I will like the me that is after all of this and that I would have done justice to this topical area of work that chose me as much as I chose it.