Western U. study questions why police are pushing so much paper
Too much paper work and not enough police work, it's been a constant lament from police.
Now new research out of Western University has shown that much of the paper work police are doing has little to do with policing.
Western Sociology professor Laura Huey was doing research on an entirely different policing issue. That work took her into a police detachment where she saw a clear problem.
"The one particular officer, he had 17 motor vehicle reports in his queue that he had to clear out. He had one week to do it. By Friday, he had 18."
Huey says that officer spent many hours in the office instead of tackling what most people would want him doing, front-line policing.
That prompted Huey and her two co-authors, Lorna Ferguson and Jacek Koziarski, to research and write a report called The irrationalities of rationality in police data processes.
The information comes from field interviews and analysis from police services in two different provinces.
Huey says what they found is that police are doing extensive data collection and report writing that often has no use to police. The study also found that much of the data produced is questionable, because data collection is not what police are trained to do.
"We put so many demands on them. Most of those demands are not reasonable or rationale," said Huey.
It's a point London Police Association Executive Director Rick Robson has been trying to make for years, "If you identify an efficiency that is the equivalent of one police officer, that's one more police officer on the road."
Robson says there are many times when officers are writing reports that assist in investigations or in court proceedings, but often the reports they prepare are never utilized by police but are primarily used by insurance companies or agencies like the Ministry of Transportation.
He cites traffic collision reports, which are also noted in Western paper, "There's information about road markings and the weather and the width of the roadway. There's about 50-odd questions to that effect.”
Robson says the information may have value but it shouldn't be police who are collecting that information and writing reports.
“At no time are police going to go back to that and say, 'Ah, a year ago at that intersection what were road conditions like?’"
Over the summer, the St. Thomas Police Service raised concerns about what is called ‘catch and release.’ Individuals who are taken into custody for crimes like vandalism and shoplifting. They're quickly given bail and they're back on the streets.
Chief Chris Herridge says writing reports on those events also takes time away from other community police work, "Court disclosure today requires so many documents. It could be 15, it could be 20, depending on the complexity of the case."
Herridge believes technology could help address some of the issues, pointing to a body camera pilot currently underway.
"To do electronic notes in our notebook and to do electronic speech-recognition reports for general occurrences," he said.
The goal would be to record witness statements and upload them through the docking station where voice recognition could convert them to document form.
Herridge says they’re just beginning to work on the logistics of that process, but he’s hopeful it can address some of the issues.
Robson believes a police services and various levels of governments need to do a comprehensive review of the data collection and report writing process.
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