Numbers Aren’t ALL Important – a Plea to Number Crunchers.

A wise man (named Roger Merrill) once wrote: “The degree to which urgency drives an organisation’s activities is the degree to which importance does not.” This is a foundational explanation as to why you, front line officers, are permanently busy. But not for the reason you might think.

“Urgency R Us”. We’m the police, as they say – an emergency service, therefore a service that deals with emergencies which are, by their very nature, urgent. Of course the truth is that (a) emergencies are not the only things we deal with, and (b) events that aren’t emergencies create just as many administrative and management problems as any emergency – possibly more.

Now, hear me out. I suspect this Urgency v Importance problem became particularly prevalent with the digital revolution, and with the immediacy of telephone access (and social media access) of Joe Q Public. Suddenly, things could be obtained with levels of immediacy that typists, telexes and faxes could never manage. But instead of thinking ‘Hey, we CAN do things a bit quicker than we used to’, the environment was created instead that shouted, ‘WE MUST DO EVERYTHING FASTER THAN WE USED TO.’

Suddenly, getting paperwork in with due haste became ‘by the end of the tour of duty’ for the front line officer (yet was only produced by the end of the month for the people who demanded it be submitted by the end of the officer’s day. Hm.). This automatically created a sense of urgency for bits of paper, which meant – bear with me – that everything else had to be done commensurately quickly in order to get the results in as quickly as possible.

Digitisation also meant that results could be fed into computers so that statistics could be created, adapted and monitored. And since (someone decided) they had to be constantly monitored AND programmes created that could measure everything, the data became more important than the work. And since knowing all this stuff was important, and obtainable immediately, it HAD to be.  

Unfortunately, all this data-immediacy failed, and still fails, to take into account that the work – conversations, crime scenes, arrest, interviews, statement taking etc – still takes as long as it ever did. As for the sheer stupidity of transcribing digital interview records – the interviews are quicker than pre-recording, but the courts, allied to the CPS, developed a system that then increased the time officers spend writing about them! (BTW, ever get the feeling that we have to work on a ‘by the end of the day’ cycle, while the Courts work on a three-week cycle. Not just me, then.)

Digitisation increased the demands – urgency – but no-one thought about how those demands would impact upon the importance of what we actually do. Yes, a lot of the data informs our response to events, but a lot of it is just numbers, does not represent in any shape or form the actual work that is done, and that is needed to be done, in order to create those numbers.

So I make a plea:

“Dear administrators and statisticians. The numbers aren’t all important, and they are rarely urgent. They serve our service: they are not the service. Our clients don’t give a monkeys about most of them – in fact, they are rarely even aware of them.

Making ‘submission by the end of play’ demands upon an officer who’s spent all day dealing with a paedophile predator helps no-one, least of all the victim. Having officers’ attention on delayed paperwork when they are dealing with crime scenes, RTCs, murders, rapes and missing children really isn’t helpful. Lower your timing expectations and cut them some slack so that they don’t have 6 months off for stress, because the number-crunching really didn’t help.

Love, David”

Published by policetimemanagement

30 year policing veteran and time management authority. Now I've combined the two.

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