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Targets 'must not hinder policing'

Published 01/06/2015

Chief Constable George Hamilton said the money available for the PSNI to keep people safe was going down
Chief Constable George Hamilton said the money available for the PSNI to keep people safe was going down

Hitting targets should not come at the expense of everyday policing, Chief Constable George Hamilton has said.

The number of performance measures has increased and the senior officer said he planned to discuss the matter with the Policing Board and Audit Office.

He warned the amount of resources for inspecting his force was increasing while the money available for the PSNI to keep people safe was going down.

"I fully accept that information is critical to managing performance and scrutinising policing, however, there is a need to ensure that policing does not become about hitting the target, but missing the point."

The Policing Plan that sets targets for the force contains 11 outcomes and 49 associated performance measures, 32 of which include numerical targets.

Mr Hamilton said: "Accountability in Northern Ireland is currently taking a more quantitative approach to policing following an earlier Audit Office inspection of the Policing Board.

"I welcome the ongoing debate around target-setting in policing and look forward to further conversations with the Policing Board and the Audit Office on this issue."

Recently the Home Secretary called on police authorities and chief constables to take a radical approach to cutting the number of targets and bureaucracy.

Mr Hamilton said: "It is important that there is a shared strategic understanding among inspectorates of the policing service that they want to see. Individual inspection reports conducted in isolation can have unintended consequences.

"This is perhaps a particularly pertinent point, given the ongoing debate about the use of quantitative targets to measure performance in policing."

He also stressed the importance of genuinely involving police in the inspection process.

"This includes engaging police officers and staff from the outset and ensuring there is a clear and well understood set of standards, based on the best available evidence, against which the inspection will take place," he said.

"Inspections should take care to distinguish between evidence and opinion or anecdote, which can help bring a report to life but can also be taken out of context and have a habit of grabbing headlines.

"To maintain the confidence of the service, which is necessary if the outcomes are to be lasting improvements in delivery, the inspection cycle must be built on fairness.

"Without undermining the independence of the inspectorate, sharing key findings during the review will ensure police take the maximum amount of benefit from each review and allow us to address issues prior to waiting for the inspection report to be published."

Mr Hamilton said if accountability bodies and inspectorates were to truly deliver on their goal of improving public services, their work should support a culture of learning and continual improvement.

"Inspection is about taking a critical look at service delivery with a view to making improvements. But, in a society of increasing public expectation there is, perhaps, an increasing pressure on inspectorates to emphasise the role of critic rather than of improver.

"I am not saying that inspection should not provide criticism. Far from that, because no one can learn without an honest review of what worked, what didn't and why.

"But a haste to apportion blame can be counter-productive and must be resisted if public service delivery is to develop a positive culture of learning, development and improvement such as can be found in the very best organisations."

He said it was his responsibility to listen to inspection conclusions and ensure that lessons are learnt.

"But there will also be times when my voice will be heard on behalf of those I lead. A degree of tension between these positions can be healthy," he said.

Mr Hamilton said service providers should be encouraged to innovate, challenge existing norms and try new approaches.

"Very few great innovations came into being perfectly formed at the moment of their conception. Inspection must play its part in fostering a culture in which it is okay to try new ideas, to regard failures as learning opportunities and to accept risk.

"These are skills that we cannot afford to see smothered in policing, nor, I would contend, any other public services.

"Policing in Northern Ireland would not have progressed in the way that it has if it had not been for leadership and bravery demonstrated by police officers, working together with the community, taking informed risks, challenging existing norms and trying new ways of working."

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