Shaping the future of policing by capturing ideas from the front line

Rob Flanagan, Innovation and Knowledge Sharing Manager, Knowledge Research and Practice Unit, College of Policing.

Today, the UK finds itself in a unique position due to the Coronavirus pandemic – we have to adapt to new circumstances at an unprecedented pace, changing the way we work and police in order to respond to COVID-19 swiftly and effectively.

Words: Rob Flanagan, Innovation and Knowledge Sharing Manager, Knowledge Research and Practice Unit, College of Policing

Last year, we launched the National Map of Police Ideas, an initiative that led to the successful collation of almost 400 ideas from officers across the UK, on the different ways in which we can improve how we protect the public. Over the recent months, we have seen some great examples of how individual officers, staff, police forces and partners have come together to inform, support and protect people during the Coronavirus pandemic. Our ability to capture these examples and ideas, as well as the suggestions for how we can continue this good work, is key to shaping what the future of policing may look like.

When we talk about ideas, it can often be the smallest changes that make the biggest difference. As we continue to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic, we are constantly finding out what works best and what has the potential to work, as well as finding new ways of bringing some of these ideas to life or scaling them up quickly and efficiently. Part of this work involves opening up the lines of communication to all officers and staff, so they can contribute, be heard and, where possible, have their ideas acted upon. We fundamentally believe that we should be here for police officers and staff as they work tirelessly to protect the public from COVID-19, and giving them a platform to be heard is one of the best ways of doing this.

Another piece of work that we at the College of Policing are proud of, is the network of innovation brokers we built across the 43 police forces in England and Wales, and beyond. This network has grown awareness of the value that innovation can bring into policing at a local level, and promoted the College of Policing as the home for these ideas.

When it comes to innovation, we often forget that the most innovative approaches are those that require us to bring in new ways of working quickly and efficiently, even if the final product doesn’t appear to be an innovation in itself. In these instances, the improved pace of the process is an innovation, which is something we’ve been working hard to deliver on during the Coronavirus crisis. Providing officers and staff with relevant and up-to-date guidance on how to implement new Government legislation has been the result of a fast-paced, innovative approach by the College, and one I’ve been proud to support. Legislation and guidance is changing rapidly, which presents new challenges to police officers and staff. Our responsibility is to make sure that information, support and guidance is readily available and easily accessible to those that need it.

In recent weeks, technology has been another key enabler to policing and we have seen solutions delivered at scale and at an unprecedented speed. This is largely down to the commitment and drive shown by support staff, who work tirelessly to ensure that departments have the ability to interact with partners, view data in real time and forecast issues, such as demand, in new and creative ways. Many successful solutions have already been put into place, such as the rollout of the GoodSAM app to forces, allowing for self-administered interviews and more universal enquiries, where physical meetings tended to be the norm. These innovations are providing policing with the tools it needs to be more resilient, to identify future risks and respond faster than ever before. As we focus on technology, the role of partner agencies was another important consideration for policing, and while we cannot direct how others respond, we can play our part by engaging, collaborating and influencing the decisions they make to support wider policing during this time.

We are quickly realising the benefits of changing some of the ways in which we work, and we are actively looking at the potential for sustaining these changes in future. This includes technological solutions, delivering briefings or, as seen across all sectors, the increased opportunities for home working where possible. As policing increasingly starts to shift its focus to the recovery phase of the Coronavirus pandemic, innovation will take centre stage in shaping the future. What has become clear over the recent months is just how innovative every force, police officer, staff member and partner can be when working together in order to best protect our communities.

Finally, and reassuringly, as Mike Cunningham, CEO for the College of Policing, points out, none of us will get this right every time and we recognise this, but we will all continue to learn from this ever-changing environment and to support policing.

The College of Policing Ideas Hub can be found here