World first approaches in problem solving

EMPAC is all about bringing together the best thinking and insights in order to improve policing and better protect the public. We are interested in driving accelerated innovation and enterprise in order to tackle crime.

To support problem solving a fresh approach has been piloted around  the operational real-world challenge of curtain side lorry thefts. Criminals often work in gangs to cut their way into parked lorries to steal cargo goods and transport the stolen contents away on a waiting vehicle. It’s happening all too often.

On the criminal market, the stolen items such as alcohol, tobacco, vehicle parts and electrical goods, are adding up to in excess of £90m worth of crime.

To get ahead of the curve, law enforcement professionals and academic researchers have been working together to help identify innovative and enterprising practice improvement opportunities for investigation, disruption or prevention.

Problem solving in action

Whilst analysts tend to be desk bound, looking at collected data to spot quantitative patterns, researchers go one step beyond and seek new data – to explore the known unknowns. Analysis is part of the research cycle but the ultimate action of research to is explore the unknown: to find new data. So, we have created a new role in the form of an operational  field operative police researcher that melds the best of theory and remote analysis with hands on enquiry.

This exploratory method suits policing down to the ground as it aligns with the National Decision Making Model and is akin to intelligence field reconnaissance. It also aligns well with the social world setting of policing as crime is about people, whether as victims or offenders. Carrying out site surveys and engaging with people close to the problem offers an additional richness to supplement any quantitative picture. There are often people close to the problem who are more than willing to offer their insights, if only they are involved in a joint approach to problem solving.

We know that many organised crime groups scout and scope their entrepreneurial activity and it’s time for policing to break free of the reactive only approach and get more proactive in themselves scouting and surveying for opportunities to thwart criminal opportunities.

Whilst policing is busy with its reactive demand there is a cost return benefit in getting proactive – to get ahead of the problem and break free of just responding and recording. It’s using the approach of creativity that the criminal enemy use all the time against policing, but turning that on its head.

 Applied criminology 

Getting professional criminologists from our regional universities out in the field alongside policing professionals, actively engaging in co-productive and applied problem analysis triangle and routine activity theory approaches is a first and offers a new approach of working in partnership for problem solving.

There are opportunities to put more real context to the crime situation, seeing things from both the perspectives of the victim and the offender and identify more creative ways to prevent or disrupt crime opportunities by utilising more lateral thinking.

To support this hands on problem solving approach, we’re interested in building on what is the traditional ‘analysis’ role (which tends to be desk bound), and merging that function more with what a detective would do – meaning to get researchers out there helping work out why problems are happening in the first place.

This is a simple but new approach to help support policing bring in creative and lateral insights and beat the crook. We hope that the venture will help us move beyond describing problem solving to explaining it and locking into more lasting solutions. 

A problem shared

The approach can be picked up and used by policing professionals very easily as it’s not rocket science – it’s just about having a good look and listen in order to explain and understand why a problem is happening in the first place to inform what to try and do about it to change things for the better. 

Curtain side problem solving lead, Sgt Paul Moorcroft, explained, “from my point of view this joint approach is really useful in terms of bringing in  practical academic assistance. Analysis of problems and knowledge of work in other, non-related areas can be utilised in the problem-solving process for thefts from curtain sided LGV’s. The thought processes of the bigger picture and thinking outside of the box is really beneficial to operational policing. Collaboration of academic principles and practitioners with policing stakeholders is paramount moving forward. As the saying goes, ‘a problem shared is a problem solved’!”

Safer Neighbourhood Team PC Barry Bacon added, “from the viewpoint of the Safer Neighbourhood Team this is all about the development of new ways of addressing issues and problems using current tools and tackling the ongoing thefts from curtain sided lorries. What’s new here is an opportunity to think afresh by pooling the hands on combination of academics and practitioners to find whole new ways of beating crime. We have already identified some short term solutions as well as a longer longer term approach.”

This new work on curtain side thefts will help inform a regional Roundtable in the Autumn of 2021, to collate the best ideas to attack crime.

Get involved

Other operational challenges due to be examined include:- 

  • Cannabis grows

The National Police Chief’s Council have repeatedly reported that the illegal  cultivation of cannabis poses a significant risk to the UK, and often involves organised crime groups (OCGs).

According to a National Problem Profile (NPCC, 2014) the UK street price of illegal drugs is amongst the highest in Europe and this attracts criminality for profit and for a means to fund other criminal activity, including money laundering, human trafficking and illegal immigration.

  • Catalytic converter theft

Catalytic converter theft is on the rise, with some insurance companies reporting a 44% increase in claims. The metals in catalytic converters can be rare and worth a lot, even more than gold in the criminal marketplace, and can be too easily sold on.

Some analysts suggest that organised crime rings could be involved in this activity and we need to both understand and do more to tackle the problem.

  • Dog theft

Public concerns over dog theft have rocketed during the pandemic period and there are now calls to create a specific offence as currently dogs are classified as ‘property’ under the Theft Act 1968.

Some surveys are reporting over 80% of respondents experiencing more concerns over talking their dog for a walk now  for fear of being attacked and their dog snatched (APCC, 2021).

If you have an interest, and something to offer, in helping tackle these challenges in the first instance get in touch with Professor John Coxhead at –


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