Chapter 3 Understanding and assessing policing risks
- Understanding and assessing risks, both those to the general public and those to the police service itself, is fundamental to effective policing.
- The range of risks currently facing the police in Scotland is increasing. We have categorised those risks most relevant to the remit of the review into five groups - operational, organisational, national, professional and programme/infrastructure risks.
- Our findings indicate that only operational risks (and not all of these) are currently assessed systematically, through the National Intelligence Model ( NIM); 4 other types of risk are assessed on a more ad hoc basis by different parts of the service. The strategic risk assessment at the national level is currently primarily undertaken only by the police, although at a more local level joint working is more commonplace.
- At the moment there is no mechanism or place where all the risks that policing must consider are brought together and considered collectively, either nationally or locally, by the tripartite structure that underpins the service.
Understanding and assessing risk - context
3.1 If the Scottish Government's purpose to "help local communities to flourish, becoming stronger, safer places to live, offering improved opportunities and a better quality of life" is to be achieved, then we need to understand the likelihood and impact of all the different factors ( i.e. risks) that affect our safety and our overall quality of life.
3.2 In other words, there is a need to assess both the risks facing our communities and the risks facing the police service in terms of its ability to address them. The successful management of policing risks is fundamental to effective policing, and the first step of that management process is risk assessment.
3.3 The police service, perhaps as a direct consequence of its emergency response role, has built up a wealth of experience and expertise in crisis management. To an extent though, its effectiveness can only ultimately be tested when incidents actually happen and so where the risks and consequences of failure are at their highest.
3.4 It is not surprising, therefore, that the service puts significant effort into ensuring that the proper preparatory arrangements have been made to manage such incidents as effectively as possible when they occur. These incidents may be (and often are) critical to our safety, sometimes only within local communities, at other times nationally, more commonly, both.
3.5 Success in this kind of preparation relies on a clear understanding of the likelihood of such events occurring, the level of impact they may have and what resources are required to deal with them.
3.6 Experience provides us with a series of lessons where the response to a significant incident has highlighted deficits in the ability of the police to recognise risk. Many of the improvements that we now see in how vulnerable witnesses and victims are dealt with, in how information across police areas is managed and how those commanding high-risk events or investigations are selected and trained, arise from lessons learned or good practice developed following such failures or shortcomings.
3.7 The risk of such failures cannot be removed completely, but all policing stakeholders can and should continually strive to reduce the opportunity for them to occur. The assessment and mitigation of risk is therefore an essential component of policing. It is an area in which there is a greater reliance today than ever before on expertise both technically, e.g. through analysis, and in terms of the professional judgement and decision-making based upon this analysis.
Range of risk
3.8 Through this review we have identified five different categories of risks which, in our view, are most relevant to our terms of reference and are illustrated in Figure 2. We acknowledge that there are many other risk areas, for example, health and safety and business continuity, which police services also need to manage, but for the purposes of the review we shall concentrate on these five.
Figure 2. The different categories of policing-related risks in Scotland
3.9 In a policing context, the most obvious category of risk from Figure 2 is that of operational risks. These relate directly to the fundamental role of the police and span the range of police activities, from major crime investigations to volume incidents such as vandalism, road collisions, housebreaking and missing persons. Most crime and disorder risks are assessed and prioritised through the different levels of the NIM, with the more significant risks outlined in the Scottish strategic assessment ( SSA). However, the NIM has not yet developed to take sufficiently into account non-crime operational risks such as road casualties and long-term missing persons.
3.10 Nevertheless at least some of the risks which may have significant impact on widespread parts or all of the country, whether or not they are crime-related, are assessed by the UK and Scottish Governments and comprise the national risk assessment. These we have termed national risks, and currently the following are identified as the most significant:
- pandemic influenza;
- extreme weather events;
- terrorist incidents/chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear accidents ( CBRN); and
- utilities failure.
3.11 We also propose that within policing, as with many professions, there are some enduring risks related to organisational activity that may affect public confidence if there are perceived to have been service failures. In policing, these activities might include the deployment of armed officers, the care of substance/alcohol abusers in custody, or performance in relation to diversity - we have termed these enduring professional risks. Whenever these risks transcend force boundaries or have implications for national policing policy they too become national risks.
3.12 Further, there are the risks common to non-completion or slippage of major tranches of work. Such risks are apparent in the information and communications technology ( ICT) convergence strategy being overseen by the ACPOS Business Change Board and in the work to assess the business benefits anticipated from the Airwave Programme. Both are programmes designed to deliver the essential infrastructure required to enable the police to operate efficiently. Slippage in these areas - what we have called programme risks - would have a detrimental effect on the overall efficiency of the police. Programmes limited to a single force can be risk-managed within that force's management and governance. But again, whenever national risk is involved it has to be managed nationally (as currently with ICT convergence and previously with the introduction of Airwave 5).
3.13 The final area of work that needs to be brought into the holistic assessment of risk is that of organisational risk. This refers to the management and development of associated demands on policing resources, e.g. financial issues like the costs of maintaining the police estate, or the risks arising from major policy, such as implementing Summary Justice Reform.
How these risks are assessed
3.14 Police forces and services, both locally and nationally through the NIM strategic assessment process, have become accustomed to assessing risk arising predominantly from crime and disorder threats (operational risks).
3.15 The investment in NIM over recent years has resulted in analytical processes and products providing a much greater understanding of crime-related risks such as those arising from organised crime or anti-social behaviour. However, we found limited evidence to suggest that there is a systematic and overall consideration of national and high risks facing the service and its partners. For example, the number of outstanding arrest warrants at any one time across Scotland, or the threat from bogus workman/official crime, is not being considered nationally to any consistent degree.
3.16 Risks are currently addressed differently. For instance, much of the organised crime threat is tackled via the Scottish Strategic Tasking and Co-ordinating Group under the auspices of ACPOS. In addition, many policy issues such as training are also considered by ACPOS but under its Personnel and Training business area.
3.17ACPOS is well placed professionally to make sound national judgements based upon the limited data available and increasingly welcomes Scottish Government and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) representatives to its business area meetings. Nevertheless, it makes these decisions as an individual body and with varying levels of input from other elements of the tripartite structure. Respondents to the stakeholder survey also identified the importance of enhancing current risk assessment processes and more effective co-ordination of intelligence and data-sharing between organisations.
3.18 Even where there is risk assessment, a lack of comparative data on the high level costs of different delivery options means that decision-making is not well informed.
3.19 In addition, we found little evidence of any risks being assessed jointly with the other two parties of the tripartite arrangement, namely the Scottish Government and members of police authorities/boards. As responsibility for funding police services lies with these organisations, there is currently no direct link between decisions on funding and assessment of risk.
3.20 Our overall view is that currently policing risks at a national level are being assessed by ACPOS alone and on the basis of a significantly incomplete picture.
3.21 The full range of risks needs to be considered at local and national level if decisions about the resources needed to manage them are to be properly informed.
3.22 While there is some assessment of forces' capacity and capability to respond to the operational risks identified through the NIM process, it is generally underdeveloped. Some of this is because non-crime operational risks are not yet fully identified, but mostly this is due to a lack of analysis of cost. Costing has to be applied to both the options to respond to the specific risk and the other policing activities against which responding to the specific risk must be balanced. The remit for this review is specifically intended to seek ways to avoid resources being diverted from local and community policing when dealing with regional or national contingencies. At the moment these have neither been properly risk assessed nor catered for as a result of any assessment. The majority of respondents to our survey expressed the view that the provision of specialist and expert policing from outside the local force would help maintain consistent levels of local policing (Graph 1).
Graph 1. [Q18 In-service Survey]
If some specialist and expert policing were provided from outside my force it would be easier to maintain consistent levels of police officers working in our local communities
3.23 As well as a lack of understanding of the true costs of policing activity, there is insufficient analysis of the effectiveness of different policing approaches.
3.24 One force developing a systematic way of looking at risk management is Grampian Police. Here, work is being undertaken to bring together various forms of operational and organisational risks. While at an early stage, practitioners spoke enthusiastically about the greater level of oversight that this allowed. HMICS has previously commended the force for its broad approach to risk management. 6
3.25 However, in most other forces gaps in knowledge and understanding remain. Although some of these gaps are local, the resulting aggregated national picture inevitably has greater shortfalls and is therefore potentially the more acute issue. We therefore conclude that a broader and more detailed analysis of risk is needed. In our view, it is possible to do this, though we accept that some of the key data on the impact of service standards and the development of high level costs, as discussed elsewhere in this report, will not be available immediately.
3.26 We believe that bringing all these matters into a single forum will help to establish a better overview of what is being done, what needs to be done and, from that, how best to prioritise and provide resources for subsequent actions.
3.27 In our view, if those charged with statutory responsibility for funding policing in Scotland are to make sound judgements on balancing resources between visible policing in communities and ensuring equal access to specialist expertise, they will require a more holistic understanding of the risks in these two areas of policing than is currently possible.
3.28 In addition, in the absence of a national forum where matters that pose significant risks to policing Scotland can be properly assessed and mechanisms for their management agreed, Scottish Ministers will continue to be accountable for risks of which they are not fully apprised.