Centre researchers explore police demand at knowledge exchange conference

Members of the ESRC Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre have teamed up with the UCL Centre for Global City Policing for a conference on the complex challenges of modern policing.

The conference brought together academics, senior police leaders and the voluntary sector to examine pressing problems facing UK police forces. It was organised by Professor Ben Bradford, Director of the UCL Centre for Global City Policing and Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre Co-Investigator.

Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre Deputy Director Dr Dan Birks and Co-Investigator Professor Martin Webber delivered talks at the conference with Co-Director Professor Adam Crawford chairing the event.

Demand Management: Addressing Vulnerabilities to Reduce Non-Crime Pressures on Police Time

Dr Birks’ talk explored the potential of linked data to assist police. He demonstrated how data can be visualised to map police call-outs, including when responding to vulnerability-related incidents. This work could allow police to anticipate vulnerability-related demand and target areas for crime prevention.

Professor Webber spoke about different approaches to addressing mental illness and reflected upon the ambiguity about how much police time is taken up by mental health non-crime calls. He explored the differences in definitions and figures used among police forces.

Professor Webber also highlighted that mental health calls to police take up a significant portion of police time, and that the police are not the most suitable agency for these calls. He talked about how improved multidisciplinary triage and diversion services have reduced the number of mental health calls to police. Professor Webber went on to demonstrate the potential impact of mental health training for police officers when it comes to recording and identifying mental health issues.

Operation Soteria Bluestone and relational models of crime

The conference also featured talks from Professor Betsy Stanko, OBE, and Professor Katrin Hohl, who spoke about their work on Operation Soteria Bluestone. They reviewed the project’s findings, recommendations and progress on how the police tackle sexual offences.

The event’s final session saw Dr Paolo Campana (Cambridge University) and DCI Lewis Prescott-Mayling (Thames Valley Police) explore relational models of crime. The conference was concluded by three young people working with the Violence Reduction Unit who spoke about the ways police can work with, and for, their communities.

Professor Ben Bradford, Director of the Centre for Global City Policing, summed up:

“In an ever more connected and complex world it is imperative that police organisations learn not only from one another but also from academic and other researchers working on issues of crime, (dis)order and policing. And as the social and technical problems faced by police organisations change and develop, and as the geographical boundaries of those problems become more and more fluid, there is a pressing need for new evidence, insight and practice to be developed at international as well as national scales.

“Yet, while there are many formal and informal structures linking police organisations in different countries, relatively few of these embed police-academic partnerships, and none do so in ways founded on bottom-up approaches that allow practitioners and researchers to work together to develop programmes of work tailored to meet new and emergent problems.”

Professor Adam Crawford, Co-Director of the ESRC Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre, said:

“The police are often drawn into responding to a range of social problems, such as homelessness and assisting people with mental health problems, sometimes with insufficient regard to whether the police are the most appropriate or best placed organisation to address such issues. Moreover, these vulnerabilities cut across the competencies of many different agencies in ways that frequently result in disjointed, fragmented and siloed service provision.

“This requires us to ask some fundamental questions about the purpose, role and limitations of the police within a wider system of public safety and highlights why knowledge exchange events such as this conference are so important. We need to shape the future of policing to one in which the role and mission of the police is to minimise harm through effective, ethically sensitive, joined-up services for vulnerable people.”

The event showcased some important research and practice collaborations and stimulated some valuable conversations between people from different organisations about how we can do that and best address current issues of legitimacy and trust in policing.