In the media

Finding policing’s ‘Moneyball Moment’

Neil Amos

By Neil Amos

Police Professional

25 February 2021

This article first appeared in Police Professional

In 2002, a US baseball coach and a radical thinking young economics graduate transformed elite sport with a ‘moment of inspiration’, and Neil Amos believes policing must now take advantage of its own ‘moments’ of change to deliver lasting, beneficial, transformation.

Moneyball, the 2011 film, brings to life a step change moment in sport. The film depicts events at the Oakland Athletics baseball team in 2002. The team’s coach, Billy Beane, was tired of leading an uncompetitive team hamstrung by its wage budget. His seasoned scouts, mainly former professionals, supplied a stream of signing recommendations based on their experience and professional judgement, yet success remained elusive.

Then Beane met Peter Brand, a young economics graduate with no experience of playing professional sport but with a data-driven and evidence-based methodology for assessing player value. Defying conventional wisdom, Brand steered Beane away from traditional approaches and recruited teams able to compete on equal terms with the elite, despite their larger salary bills. It marked a fundamental change in the way elite sport assessed talent in the pursuit of success. The ‘Moneyball moment’ had changed sport forever.

There have been similar conversations across policing and other public services during the Coronavirus pandemic. Tackling long term weaknesses – such as keeping pace with developments in online crime and exploitation of vulnerable people – have come up against urgent requirements for different delivery. A difficult financial future has blocked off the road back to the former status quo. How can recent changes to policing – such as the rapid adoption of MS Teams and the emergence of systems for managing and sharing digital assets and evidence – deliver permanent change and policing’s own Moneyball moment?

We’ve been at the heart of Government activity to respond to the pandemic and have experienced close-up this dramatic year in public services. Based on what we’ve seen we believe there are four areas of renewed imperative to deliver the lasting, beneficial, transformation to policing that Beane and Brand drove in the world of sport.

1. Speak and act with greater collaborative impact

At times of financial constraint, cross-agency and cross-sector approaches can be among the first casualties. We’ve seen policing struggling to cope with consequence of reduced mental health provision and forces continue to invest in disconnected innovations. But a whole public system approach, supported by strong system-level leadership, as set out in the National Policing Digital Strategy, can improve the way policing, working with other agencies, tackles complex public safety issues.  It can also ensure it shares data insight, not just in policing but with other agencies, in a cost effective, joined up, and ethical way.

The response to COVID-19 has seen the public sector win hearts and minds of the public, stirring a sense of pride and purpose with its attitude to collaboration. This is what drove the delivery of ventilators to the NHS at record speed. And it’s the approach taken in the design of the UK Vision for Space Flight, in which satellite companies, broadcasters, broadband providers, start-ups and a host of other participants were encouraged and incentivised to come together and enhance the UK’s strategic player status. It can happen in public safety and criminal justice, too.

2. Radically re-imagine to meet evolving priorities

It’s not just the public sector that has proven its adaptability in the pandemic. Society has too. Citizens have rapidly taken to remote working and new information sources. And their expectations around digital delivery and engagement have been recalibrated. It’s the biggest leap forward in technology adoption since the mobile phone, making this the perfect time for every sector to reshape its relationship with its citizens.

New thinking can help policing move on from the challenges of transformation, but this requires some frank conversations. It raises the question of how policing can adapt from a default delivery mode of ‘you call, we come’ to one where digital tools, such as the adoption of technology to warn potential victims about those partners with abusive pasts,  or chatbots to route demand to the right service, can increase the speed of response, improve citizen outcomes and drive efficiencies. We’ve seen this approach, for example, in the way robotic technology has been embraced in adult social care settings, alleviating pressure on scare and valuable resources and freeing carers to focus on where they offer most value.

3. Unlock resources and harness new talent

For almost a decade the civil service has been reforming itself to be an employer and service provider fit for the 21st century. Now the last few months have driven change at unimaginable speed. Projects and collaborations that would have appeared impossible have been realised over and over, such as the rapid increase in virtual health consultations. Joint working was achieved in weeks instead of the usual years. Leaning on science is becoming the norm and working closer to the front line has made outcomes all the more effective.

In policing, while 20,000 police officers are being recruited, the Moneyball question remains: will it be used in the right way? Policing needs increased capability in digital forensics, data analysis and AI technologies, and resources that can be mobilised to tackle online and other crime that is often independent of organisational boundaries. Recruiting and training for traditional policing capabilities and within force structures may not be the best way to harness the opportunity.

4. Encourage and incentivise greater collaboration

Recent events have broken silos and allowed for greater mobility of skills and innovation. Public sector workers have stepped outside of their confines to deliver against a clear purpose. In our new world it’s no longer conceivable that a single public sector entity can operate independently. Whatever the aim, every effort requires skills beyond any one individual, team or organisation.

Take UK defence and national security, for instance. Keeping pace with new threats – let alone getting ahead of them – requires the ability to pool resources and use data, information and knowledge more effectively. It calls for new ways of working to make the best use of scarce skills and build trust among colleagues across defence, intelligence, counterterrorism, organised crime, ‘blue light’ services, cyber security, national resilience, diplomacy, international development and aid. Our understanding of just how big the collaborative team behind policing is will need to expand dramatically if we are to do the best we can for the citizen.

Back in Oakland in 2002, Billy Beane’s renewed imperative was simple: he was fed up of losing and being uncompetitive. That’s what led to his ‘Moneyball moment’ of inspiration and transformational change. It’s critical we take advantage of policing’s Moneyball moments wherever, and whenever, they appear.

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