Earlier blogs have commented on the austerity measures that the police have faced and whether leaders within policing have the necessary skills to cope. I am constantly coming across occurrences where the answer to that question is a resounding 'no' .
Perhaps the recent discussions on Twitter relating to the outsourcing of police services highlights this fact. There has to be differentiation between outsourcing general roles with a view to saving costs and outsourcing specialist services that may also save costs but have the added advantage of bringing greater expertise, flexibility and crucially a better service to customers.
As part of the austerity measures the department that I used to lead was disbanded. Three professional, motivated subject matter experts lost their jobs and the remaining thirty odd staff were redeployed. Nothing was outsourced and the loss of key skills was highlighted within a few months after the department folded. Other forces are making administration staff redundant because the same function can be outsourced at a cost saving, but once again you lose expertise and people who are committed to the organisation.
However, there is another option for the police in terms of outsourcing and that includes specialist services. There are two that immediately come to mind. A former colleague of mine has fully researched the option of outsourcing the Family Liaison Officer (FLO) role. For those who are unfamiliar with this role it is often undertaken by a detective or traffic officer who liaises with a bereaved family. Broadly speaking the FLO updates the family in relation to the progress of the investigation into a murder or death from a road traffic collision or some other fatal incident. The FLO plays a crucial role in the investigation and is highly trained, however, extensive research shows that this role does not need warranted powers.
With the right protocols and service level agreements this role can be carried out by individuals who have had the same training and have had the same, if not more, experience than warranted FLOs. These people exist. They are often retired detectives or traffic officers who have played their role as an FLO in protracted and high profile investigations. The beauty of using such people is that they are able to undertake this role at a cost saving to using a warranted detective or traffic officer thereby releasing that officer to undertake the investigative processes. In other words a police officer is released to return to his or her core role.
There are some large personnel companies and some small consultancies that offer this service, however, ACPO and forces are reluctant to let go of this role. The feedback from many serving and retired senior officers is that this idea is 'a runner' and would prove useful. However, it seems that the usual risk averse attitude is prevailing. What many say in private is not being translated into action. ACPO representatives are precious about the role of FLOs and cannot see the value in outsourcing this role, and yet how many cold case reviews are undertaken by former detectives?
Here is another example. When conducting an early morning ‘knock’ it is often the case that a warranted officer conducts a survey of the property to establish the best method of entry. I know for a fact that this role often incurs a great deal of overtime and is a role that with proper protection through contract could be outsourced. This would result in a cost saving and the release of an officer or at least a reduction in the requirement for the officer to work extended hours.
In short, there is merit in taking a good hard look at outsourcing services, but there should be an emphasis on releasing staff to undertake their core role rather than just looking to save costs. A review of procurement within policing is long overdue as there is a vast cost saving to be made by looking at how the police purchase services and provisions. But that is a story for another blog