How unit's problem solvers are sharing 'invaluable' expertise to tackle crime trends
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The idea was to centralise established specialised teams who are able to ‘problem solve’ crime trends and come up with early long-term solutions to reduce incidents.
And last year, after more than 18 months of discussions, Staffordshire Police’s Early Intervention and Prevention Unit (EIPU) – the first of its size in the country - sprung into life.
“We decided to launch it despite the coronavirus pandemic as so much work had gone into getting it ready,” said Strategic Manager Di Malkin. “But we saw some of the original objectives having to change as we went into crisis management with the outbreak.”
Their big launch was put on hold and they have spent the past year establishing practices that have led them to now – the start of a “problem-solving culture change” across Staffordshire Police. It aims to increase knowledge within the force of how they can help Neighbourhood Policing Teams, and other units, ensure that fewer crimes are committed and problems do not reappear.
“There are 28 in the team - a mixture of police officers and police staff,” Di added. “There’s the licensing unit, the volunteers such as the Specials, cadets, and police support, and what are known as problem solvers – 17 of them each with a thematic area such as hate crime, mental health, exploitation etc.
“We work with the Neighbourhood Policing Teams to put strategies in place for reducing crime and vulnerability. We undertake research and scoping that helps units to develop long-term strategies to work on and we will be using volunteers to get prevention messages out to the communities we serve.
“It utilises a holistic approach, dropping a problem in the middle of the table and saying ‘everyone take a look at this’ until we find a solution.”
For those working within the unit the benefits are clear. Specialists in different fields all working in the same place and able to bounce ideas off one another to solve problems.
While Covid-19 might still be affecting their working practices and preventing the number of heads in the office at one time, it hasn’t stopped the team forming a strong initial bond.
“It’s good to be in an environment where everyone is together,” said Grace Bowden, the unit’s Specials co-ordinator. “I can work with other members of the team to support any vulnerable people applying to be a Special.
“It’s helpful having specialised roles together to give guidance and ask questions of them like, ‘how do we best support people’?”
Those sentiments were echoed by Hannah Thompson, a Problem Solver working with adults considered at risk.
“I’m still learning every single day, but having this experience around me helps massively,” she said. “I couldn’t do my role without the support and knowledge of all my colleagues around me. A lot of our thematic roles overlap and asking for help when stuck is invaluable. We team up and work together on different things.
“We collect data on the jobs that come through and try to get an overview of trends. We try to learn as much as possible.”
Claire Fernyhough, the EIPU’s Problem Solver for missing adults, pointed out how new roles within the team like hers are already changing the way Staffordshire Police helps the communities it serves.
“This was a brand new role when I joined the team and was a completely different direction in my career,” she said. “One of the specialist investigative teams used to find a missing person and then that was it, they were left to get on with their lives.
“We now step in to try and help them. We provide ‘return to home’ interviews, if the criteria is met, to see what we can do to support them and stop them going missing again.
“A lot of thematic areas overlap in this team so having us all here helps to thrash out any problems and you can get involved in other areas of crime with your colleagues. It’s absolutely brilliant.”
Samantha Simpson, a Problem Solver looking at drugs and alcohol, added: “The EIPU enables partners to come together, raising awareness, sharing ideas, and identifying problem areas to discuss and resolve.
“The team within the EIPU have so much experience in various areas it is amazing to collaborate together to get the best possible outcomes. I have been given the time and support to be able to reach out to other departments, agencies and networks in order to learn from them, build connections and work in partnership.”
And Annette Powell, a Problem Solver for mental health and suicides, said: “There’s a partnership approach in the north and the south of the county to best suit those communities. We look at all reported incidents and try to spot trends – what can we do in terms of preventative work?
“One of our recent successes is having Samaritans signs put in at key locations for suicide attempts such as bridges. We also look at priority locations that might be hotspots and work to reverse those trends.
“We’ve also linked in with the Professional Standards Department looking at how we can re-work both the complaints and praise processes for the public.”
Keeping the county safe is what Staffordshire Police is here to do. And by using these specialist problem solving techniques, the EIPU hopes it can better link units together to combat any rising trends and stamp them out before they become a more complex issue.