By Harry Barton

Though the most acute phase of the global financial crisis may have passed, economic recovery remains fragile across many parts of the world. As a consequence, government revenues have reduced, levels of government debt have increased and ability to repay has been reduced through using fiscal reserves to rescue governments exposed to large financial sectors.

This is particularly the case in the United Kingdom where the coalition government announced in October 2010 the results of its highly controversial comprehensive spending review (CSR) setting broad limits of public spending to 2014-15. With total cuts amounting to £67b and spreading across all government departments, the impact of these cuts will be far reaching.

This need to reduce government debt requires a combination of measures – fiscal, social protection and monetary, and exchange rate policies that form a coherent public policy response but which in themselves create a direct challenge to public administration.

Following the CSR, the drive for efficiencies across public spending in the UK will accelerate with the need for fundamental reforms of the way services are managed and operated. In particular, improvements in service performance are consistent with the need to raise the bar to reconcile budgetary constraints with higher levels of productivity.

Police and Operations Management

For at least the last three decades there has been an ongoing debate about how to improve quality and reduce costs across the United Kingdom (UK) public services. In response, the last few years have seen an increase in the application of business process improvement methodologies and techniques across public services.

In terms of methodologies employed, the application of lean thinking has an emerging literature and coupled with the application of Six Sigma offers potential benefits to public organisations both enhancing customer satisfaction and reducing costs.

This has been highlighted in the police service in England and Wales. With a budget approaching £13b and employing upwards of 140,000 police personnel, the police service is a significant organisation in cost and in societal impact. The police service faces the dual challenge of reducing costs whilst maintaining levels of public confidence and trust in the services they provide.

According to the Home Office, the UK police service delivered savings of at least £100 million in 2010/11. Both police authorities (police and crime commissioners, November, 2012) recognise improving value for money and enabling continuous improvements in delivery will allow them to achieve the further savings of £545m by 2014 demanded by the UK Home Office. To accomplish this, there will be requirement to review how police services deliver both on the front-line delivery and in ‘back office’ functions being subject to significant reform.

Given the complexities of policing, it is unlikely even progressive and innovative developments in operational research will solve all the real life problems of police managers. Success is more likely to arise from a blended, multi-disciplinary exchange of ideas than from a single discipline of operations management.

The applicability of lean within the Police Service

The need for police authorities and their forces to do more with less requires adoption of value adding business processes. Policing organisations need to implement sustainable business improvement models capable of demonstrating performance success.

The Home Office sponsored process improvement programme adapted for use in the police service utilises “the combined experiences of the team to identify inefficiencies in key systems and processes and to acquire skills and techniques to prioritise and develop improved ways of working”. In addition, its application is identified as an opportunity “to engender and embed a culture of continued improvement, where culture change is the essence in successful process improvement work”.

To investigate the impact of such business improvement initiatives on individual police forces in July 2010, funding was secured to finance a pilot study of 5 police forces in England and Wales to identify the reality surrounding the nature, variety and scope of business improvement initiatives being pursued across the UK police service. In the first instance 14 chief officers and borough commanders (London) were contacted and five agreed to participate in an initial pilot study.

Case study 1

The chief constable in this case study area saw the importance of developing interagency co-operation to improve the criminal justice process as a key policing objective. To achieve this, the chief constable designated a formal representative onto the Local Criminal Justice Board. It was the board that decided to implement a lean review of the criminal justice area.

The board agreed in late 2009 a bottom up approach would be taken to work, with facilitated staff workshops being the primary tool for identifying process issues, areas for improvement and waste reduction. Performance improvement was considered a key objective for the review in light of national criticism and a hard hitting inspection report for the CPS. This was also a source of concern for the police. The agreed scope of the initial project was to review the process from arrest to summary trial readiness.

With few exceptions, all workshops were of a multi-agency format. After six months, a number of process changes were made with business benefits including cost savings. The lean approach continued to be supported through short daily team meetings and team information boards (TIBs) to aid these.

The strategic direction of the lean review was to focus on business change to improve performance through developing a culture of continuous improvement, and to tackle a blame culture. Identification of efficiency savings and cashable gains were not the driver for this programme being undertaken, however, there was a recognition this should follow if greater synergies amongst teams and agencies could be established.

Case Study 2

The borough commander (chief superintendent) had responsibility for over 800 staff and had operational responsibility for a diverse area that crossed several London Boroughs. His primary concern was levels of performance data and objectives to benchmark himself against on a daily and weekly basis.

Whilst understanding and accepting the reality of progressive business process improvement developments he was not wedded to the idea that lean was the answer. Whilst conversant with concepts of Six Sigma, business process re-engineering and process improvement technologies such as ISO9000; TQM and EFQM, he was as concerned about police and civilian staff morale in the wake of anticipated government cuts. In particular, bureaucracy and increasing paperwork was identified as a constant frustration amongst staff. Aware there was a continuous improvement initiative being undertaken across a number of London boroughs he had been unable, at the time of reporting, to secure funding from central Metropolitan Police resources.

Case Study 3

This small police constabulary in the south of England secured funding from the Home Office and was proactively engaged in a performance improvement programme entitled Operation QUEST. This programme was delivered to 17 police forces in England and Wales over five years and described as an approach to continuous improvement, not a solution. QUEST delivers benefits and supports senior officers to make re-investment decisions and seeks to build professional capabilities to deliver continuous improvement.

The lean implementation manager was a chief inspector and was supported by an inspector, sergeant and constable. All had been on the training courses provided and were keen enthusiasts of the approach. They were able to demonstrate initiatives that had improved processing times of persons arrested and had centralised custody suites within the constabulary area, creating a ‘super’ custody complex. Such successes were visually represented on display boards located within the police HQ. All teams were positive about the benefits of the QUEST introduction and saw it as a vehicle for securing additional funding from increasingly limited central government funding sources.

Case Study 4

This mid-sized constabulary in central England also secured funding for implementation of the QUEST programme. This was regarded successful by the chief constable and was alluded to in the Annual Policing Plan for 2010/11. Here the QUEST programme was used to support a key strategic priority: “to ensure people see us using people, budgets and all other resources wisely to deliver a value for money service.”

The force intends to review its structure to deliver its services, building on findings from QUEST. Such researched options will be discussed with the police authority to determine how to restructure the force to effectively and efficiently provide its services. To deliver value for money across services the intention is to use savings made from planned efficiencies to re-investment in seven targeted areas. Following a trial review, a new duty management system will be introduced and helping to manage police resources to more efficiently respond to needs.

Case Study 5

Whilst the previous case study illustrates a strategic, force-wide utilisation of QUEST, this small constabulary has been unable to secure further funding for the three police staff to continue their work as a team of lean implementation champions. The small team, consisting of one inspector and two uniform sergeants, were able to demonstrate some initiatives and make small savings during the project, however, senior officers concluded their knowledge would be better diffused throughout the organisation.

In discussions, the sergeants identified that the practical realities of the current budget cuts made such decisions inevitable and there was a feeling the notion of ‘continuous improvement’ within the constabulary was a stalled process. Significant concern was raised as to the sustainability of such initiatives like QUEST given the current economic climate.

Conclusion

The pressure on public organisations to improve productivity and performance has presented an opportunity for operations management scholars to engage in the development and application of business process improvement methodologies. Radnor identifies three continuous improvement strategies being used in the public sector, those are lean (64%), Six Sigma (41%) and business process re-engineering (BPR) (23%).

To this extent, the UK police service is not unique. Whilst it can be argued full scale implementation of rigorous continuous improvement methodologies have not been adopted, there is substantial evidence of individual police forces utilising specific tools and techniques to improve business performance.

One of the key difficulties is the sustainability of interventions. Lean implementation is expensive and although initial results may be encouraging, there is a danger of focusing on short-term gains. For the police there is need to focus resources on key priorities allowing them to meet public expectations. Policing cannot exist in isolation, it requires citizen participation and co-operation. Through public engagement and understanding of customer interface appropriate tools and techniques can be applied to create positive change for the police and the public. This is particularly so given the context of policing where operationally there is wide variation and demand for services.

There is a general consensus within the police that there is a no ‘one best fit’ approach. Within this first observation of five case study sites it is clear there is significant diversity in approaches to the utilisation of new business improvement methodologies. For example, in Case study 4 the chief constable appears to be using the Home Office supported QUEST approach to strategic interventions to support force-wide changes in organisational structure and performance. Whereas, in Case study 1 the chief constable is intent to participate in a broader Criminal Justice System (CJS) lean implementation project to drive continuous improvement.

It is clear the most successful adoption of operations management techniques are likely to be tailored to the appropriate needs of each force. Through a scientific approach, the benefits of increased involvement of operations management are likely to provide the most useful contribution to enabling the police to maintain their capacity to meet the dual demands of a reduced budget with increasing public expectations for better service delivery.

FURTHER READING:

Flanagan, 2008 Review of Policing – Staffordshire Police

Radnor, 2010 Transferring lean into government

Home Office report 2010