A shared mission for the police, public services and the people - RSA

Blog: A shared mission for the police, public services and the people

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  • Institutional reform
  • Public services

About a year ago, the RSA was asked to look at - on an independent basis - how The Metropolitan Police could adapt to the many changes and challenges it was going to face.


Read our report: 'Safer Together - policing a global city in 2020'


Met Police 2020 project


It was The Met itself who asked us. We then engaged 500 of the most senior Met officers as well as others throughout the service, more than 70 people in external organisations, looked at the available academic literature and reviews on the current state of policing from bodies such as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and the College of Policing as well as a number of independent reviews in the recent past such as Newlove, Angiolini, and Adebowale. The result is today’s launch of ‘Safer Together: policing a global city in 2020’.

The context for the report is two-fold:

  • Firstly, heavy cuts are coming down the road– not only to policing but to other public services and local authorities. The risk is real that this will diminish essential capacities.
  • Secondly, the police face constantly shifting demands – whether that is through our changing expectations and convictions as a society, including our laws. For example, we are seeing an increasing and rightful willingness of rape victims or victims of domestic violence to speak out and the rapid spread of crime and disorder through the Internet – encompassing fraud, harassment, child exploitation and global crime networks. Indeed, crime figures due out are expected to show a rise as a result of cyber-crime.

Traditional crime has declined over the past two decades – and this is one measure of the Met’s success. But that often obscures the pressures that are placed on the police. Over 80 per cent of calls to the police are not related to crime per se. As the complexity of demand and pressures on the service increase, it would not be surprising, as you do sometimes hear, for the police to ask ‘what will we not do?’ But in their heart-of-hearts they know the Met will always be London’s front-line – its first responder. 

The police are often thought about in terms of public safety and crime fighting alone. This is critical of course but the Safer Together report argues the police are much more than that. They are part of the critical infrastructure of a city – a global city – such as London. There is a very strong correlation between a place’s perceived safety and security and that city’s economic success as measured by the Global Competitiveness Index. A global powerhouse requires cohesive community safety and low crime. The Met takes a leadership role in ensuring the safety of this city –that matters both for its economic success and for the welfare of its people. 

The report makes a simple case: London needs a ‘shared mission’ to ensure the safety of its citizens and those who visit or work here. This shared mission challenges the Met, its partners and, also, the public in a number of ways.

  • For the Met, the report proposes a very different organisational approach to enable it to collaborate most effectively. Information must be collected, analysed and knowledge applied more rigourously. It must become a ‘Total Information Organisation’. There must be the same willingness to share responsibility that we have seen when the Met is at its best, applied uniformly. Also, the Met needs to break down unnecessary internal barriers - between staff and officers and between ranks where they are an obstacle. It needs to adopt a more open voice that is always willing to engage with Londoners and those who serve them. This matters when it comes to the critical decisions the Met makes both locally and on a London-wide level- especially when it comes to prioritisation.
  • For the Met’s partners – the Boroughs and other public agencies including the NHS and other emergency services – we ask that as their resources are also cut that they don’t turn away from the hard work of partnership. There is no suggestion they will but it’s always a risk. In fact, we want this work of shared responsibility to go much further. We have come across many examples of great work that has had collective impact on mental health, domestic violence, community safety, and combatting gang activity – they are in the report. It’s essential that the police have strong and deep long-term relationships that are two-way and working towards a common cause with each organisation contributing their capabilities and assets. The worst possible outcome of the next few years’ challenges is that public services step away and leave responsibility to one another.
  • For London’s public – you are right to have very high expectations of your police. But we all have to consider what we need as well as what we can demand from the police. The police need to engage with us more closely whether we are in the unfortunate position to be victims (or witnesses), or to keep us informed about community and personal safety, and to listen to the public's concerns. They need to engage in mature conversation about priorities. If the police are open and transparent about how they prioritise in a context of intense resource constraint, then we need to appreciate that ‘everything’ can’t be the answer to police priorities. There will be tough decisions to make – better they are made together.

This is an ethos of shared mission. It requires many challenging reforms. At the very least, it seems reasonable to ask that the Government supports the Met and its partners as they seek to make these transformations – and that requires investment.

Our specific proposals include:

  • A Community Safety Index for London that will combine objective measures of crime and incidence of risk and harm to the individual with subjective measures such as feelings of safety, absence of anti-social behaviour and neighbourhood quality. Every borough will have its score published – as they do in Rotterdam. That will encourage all agencies to work together.
  • A London Policing Impact Unit – housed in the Mayor’s office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) and extending its current work – would combine operational, academic, and strategic knowledge. The Impact Unit would analyse data and learn from on-the-ground experience of ‘what works’. These lessons would then be applied in the Met and beyond. A representative Citizens’ Panel would inform its work from an ethical and community relations standpoint. These structures are very common in the NHS – we would like to see them in policing too.
  • New forms of collective impact to focus on particular challenges should be extended. These will broaden and widen the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub or Youth Offending Team approach where agencies work in close cooperation. This means a permanent engagement on shared issues of concern – domestic violence, mental health, anti-social behaviour, gang-related violence, irresponsible licensing premises, vandalism, threats to particular communities, management of public space, drug addiction and more besides. It requires continuous and ongoing collective working with others in the public, commercial and voluntary sectors.   
  • We propose a deepening of the Met’s engagement with victims and witnesses, for example through greater deployment of restorative justice and greater analysis of victim needs and more continuous communication with them. Only through devolution of more powers over the criminal justice system to London can this take place continuously.  And there is a need for deeper community engagement – especially through the Safer Neighbourhood Boards and through the smart use of social media and public engagement tools. 

This all sounds straightforward. But it’s not. It constitutes a huge organisational challenge for the Met - and we spell out what that means in the report. It requires a sense of common purpose and a city pulling together to ensure its safety and continued global success. That’s the nature of the shared mission we propose. It will be tough, but the benefits to Londoners and to London will be worth it. This is an invitation to engage in an active discussion about the future of London - and public services more widely. If it’s a lively yet mature, informed yet open, aiming towards a common end rather simply seeking to apportion blame in an environment of genuine complexity, then the Met will be even stronger for it. And so will London.

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  • Whilst I agree wholly with the sentiment of the report it is hard to see much of it being implemented when the police and other statutory agencies are paying more attention to core purpose and less to collaborative working. 

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