'Positive customer engagement is central to community confidence' says Inspectorate

The need for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to deliver against its stated intent of delivering personal, professional and protective policing to local communities has been highlighted in a new report by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI).

The PSNI Customer Service inspection published today (25 May 2011) focused on how service users were dealt with by the PSNI, how their needs were met and how this could impact on the outcomes for both the individual and the organisation.
"The way in which the Police Service engages with its various customers is a cornerstone of community confidence," said Dr Michael Maguire, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"A negative experience can create a barrier between the PSNI and the community it is there to serve. A positive engagement that encourages problem solving, courtesy, visibility and accessibility can on the other hand, have positive far reaching implications far beyond that of the behaviour of individual officers," indicated the Chief Inspector.
The inspection found that overall customer service was taken seriously by senior management within the PSNI.
"We commend the commitment shown to improving how the police engage with the communities by the Chief Constable and welcome the work which is ongoing to translate this vision of personal, professional and protective policing into day to day service delivery," said Dr Maguire.
However Inspectors found evidence that in the absence of widely understood guidance and direction about what this meant for service delivery, some police districts had developed their own strategies and approaches.
"This initial lack of clarity meant the Chief Constable's commitment was being interpreted in different ways across some districts which could lead to a lack of consistency for those receiving a service from the PSNI," said the Chief Inspector.
"Communication of how the PSNI intends to deliver against this commitment needs to be unambigious so that staff have a clear message," said Dr Maguire, who added that this work should be underpinned by better co-ordination of other improvement projects across the organisation.
Dr Maguire indicated the PSNI also faced a challenge of placing customers at the centre of service delivery.
"This inspection indicated there was an inconsistent approach in the Police Service to how telephone calls were handled and how victims of crime were updated and kept informed. This was a common source of dissatisfaction from stakeholder organisations, members of the public and victims of crime. The Police Service had begun a work programme to address these issues around contact management and updating and Inspectors welcome the outcomes of this," he said.
The inspection report also highlighted the need for the PSNI to make customer service central to the work of all staff by ensuring it became embedded in its performance management and development system.
"We support the work the PSNI has undertaken to date to implement a new performance appraisal system which will link the development plans of all police officers and staff to targets related to the delivery of personal, protective and professional policing and their performance in relation to their individual roles.
"This new system was due for implementation in April this year and is critical to supporting an ethos within the organisation where the customer is the main focus for staff, particularly those in customer facing roles," concluded Dr Maguire.