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Where Are All The Police? – An Analysis of Police Resources


Many officers described regular and time-consuming searches for individuals who had run away from psychiatric wards which were meant to be secure. In practice many wards are not fully secured or allow patients an hour a day out of the ward without supervision, even where there is a clear likelihood that they will not return.


Providing security back-up to other agencies or individuals. For example, mental health teams frequently require officers to attend when interviewing patients.


The police also attend the vast majority of 999 calls even where one of the other emergency services is required.


Unclear responsibilities for certain incidents. For example, a suspicious death will frequently trigger a range of activities from contacting relatives to caring for pets and property. Currently these tasks are performed by police officers. Similarly the police are also responsible for dealing with stray dogs, wounded pets and lost property.


Miscellaneous public assistance. Analysis of police incident logs and interviews with officers reveal that the police get asked to help with a variety of requests from the public which have little to do with crime and disorder. These may range from queries about MOT and vehicle excise rules, civil disputes over property, what to do when someone has locked themselves out and concerns about minor nuisance. While this might be considered as part of reassurance policing, often those most prepared to place such demands on the police are the least vulnerable. In practice, the police screen out a large number of questionable claims on their time but our research suggested that more could be done to assist this.


In summary, there are a number of activities that arguably could and should be dealt with by someone other than the police. Making a change is not as simple as it sounds, but could be achieved with a mixture of public education, better task management and clearer definition of boundaries with other agencies.


However, it does require widespread understanding of why the police should not become involved. The police rely on community support to be effective, and this could be damaged should they be perceived as withdrawing from certain service provision.


Possible solutions Police officer time may be released for high visibility operational policing by changes to the demands on their time, either by substituting other agencies or support staff, or by changing the requirements on officers within the police force or from the public.


WHAT SHOULD THE POLICE BE RESPONSIBLE FOR? A. Deter false alarms Intruder alarms are false in over 95% cases. In many force areas there are no schemes in place to deter repeated false alarms or incentivise proper use and maintenance. It seems reasonable to ask a firm which has an arrangement with the police for immediate response to an alarm to pay a charge where that alarm is activated inappropriately (for example, because the equipment is at fault or an employee has inadvertently set it off). B. Consider transferring responsibility for prosecuting certain shoplifting offences to shops This suggestion is controversial but recognises that dealing with a shoplifter by arrest and charge can take an officer the best part of a shift. We noted earlier the time following arrest spent processing the prisoner and arranging a caution or preparing prosecution papers. In many cases the defendant has already been detained by a store detective and admitted the offence. There are various options for reducing the burden on the police of this high volume crime4


. One option would be for the police simply to attend the store to ensure reliable identification of the shoplifter and to establish that the offender freely admits the 41


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