Security Lancaster Seminar Series V

The Lancashire Constabulary Vulnerable Callers Initiative

• This is a part of the following series: Security Lancaster Seminar Series.
• This piece was written over a year ago. It may no longer accurately reflect my views now, or may be factually outdated.

Insp. Christina Shorrock of the Lancashire Constabulary and Prof. Stuart Kirby of the University of Central Lancashire’s School of Forensic and Applied Sciences came in to give a presentation about their work (performed along with Ms Christy Frampton of the Lancashire Constabulary, who couldn’t attend) on co-ordinating multi-agency responses to vulnerable callers, or those superusers who are responsible for a disproportionate number of emergency service calls.

Herman Goldstein, in Policing a Free Society, outlines eight objectives for the police force of a modern, democratic nation. These tie in to a broader debate on whether the police should be content to be crime fighters, or more a force for the alleviation of social harms. The objective of Goldstein’s that Shorrock and Kirby chose to focus on was that the police should assist those who cannot care for themselves.

Society is undergoing changes, and only 17% of calls to the police in the UK relate to crimes. The remaining (and rising proportion of) calls are largely to do with public safety or welfare incidents. In addition, 43% of anti-social behaviour incidents involve mental health problems. In Lancshire, the crime-call rate is 19% and 48–49% are related to social issues such as drugs, alcoholism and mental health. In 2015, HM Inspectorate of Constabularies argued that those at the greatest risk of harm required police protection and support.

Research has apparently suggested that the Pareto principle—that roughly 80% of any given effect comes from 20% of the available causes—applies to emergency service calls. 4% of victims suffer 40% of crime, and police focus resources on a small pool of superusers who make a disproportionate number of emergency service calls—the story of Million-Dollar Murray was used as an example, with over £1m having been spent on him over 10 years to no apparent benefit.

The theory behind the trio’s work was that if they could co-ordinate a multi-agency response to alleviate the issues of even a small number of these superusers, the impact on the overall demand for police resources used would be disproportionately high. In Defining Vulnerability: From the Conceptual to the Operational, Kirby and one of his Ph.D. students developed a framework of vulnerability following meta-analysis of multiple studies. This divided the sources of vulnerability into the categories of physical/personal, social/family/assocational and environment/situational.

Decided to target their interventions midstream, the researchers applied the SARA methodology to the issue, with Goldstein’s idea of problem-oriented policing in mind. Taking the top 100 callers each month (each of whom made an average of 17 calls to police), contact details were passes on to local Early Action Teams to research further. 87% of vulnerable callers, it transpired, had been previously highlighted, but no responses had been made or plans put in place.

In their analysis, with an $n$ of 866, the researchers found that the most common risk factor leaving to vulnerability was mental health issues (36.3% of cases), with being at risk of child sexual exploitation the least (5.8%). Other factors included alcoholism, Alzheimer’s & dementia and self harming. Applying smaller space analysis, the researchers took each behaviour and checked them with the others for rates of co-occurance, eventually grouping them into the three areas of youth factors, elderly factors and vulnerability risk factors. As youth and elderly factors are largely static, the team focused on the remaining (and largest) group of factors.

The response was good. Early Action Teams were the Lead Professional Agency in 41% of cases, largely due to the fact that they took on all cases that failed to meet more specialised agencies thresholds and criteria for assistance. Some of the solutions used to reduce vulnerability were ingenious—one woman suffering from dementia, for example, had a sign posted by her landline phone telling her not to call the police if she woke up confused, and to call her sister on the number provided instead.

The study was only conducted for a 6-month period, so some of the findings had a lower confidence than the researchers would have like. However, calls reduced by 26%, deployments reduced 6.2% and mental health-related cases specifically dropped 21.5%. In the opinion of the researchers, many of the vulnerable callers lived lives so chaotic that they didn’t need specialist support (e.g., they shouldn’t have to wait until they worsen enough to hit whatever thresholds they have to to qualify), but rather just need someone to sort them out. In conclusion, the results showed that police demand and individual lifestyles can be positively affected through well-targeted proactive interventions.