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Profile: The problem solving DS

Supporting talent, working better with other organisations and tackling fraud more effectively are among the ideas of a detective with an unusual force role.
Published - 28/01/2020 By - Chris Smith

Detective Sergeant Ash Jones of Avon and Somerset has a unique role marked out by his job title as Force Problem-Solving Coordinator.

He made headlines at the start of the year when he was awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list in recognition of his work enabling charities to help vulnerable people by working with his force.

DS Jones was also responsible for the Chat Bench initiative which has become a global phenomenon. Designated public benches have a sign that encourages people to talk to each other. The idea is to reduce isolation among older people who will otherwise stay in their homes where they are targeted by phone and online fraudsters.

He told Police Oracle: “I sit in the force’s transformation and improvement division. My role is to encourage a positive culture of innovation. In my world there’s only me. I give advice and I do a lot of reading about what’s going on around the world. I’ve always been 100 per cent a police officer. I enjoy feeling collars but this role definitely stretches my intellect.”

The role builds on his work with volunteers and charities running the Senior Citizen Liaison Team (SCLT) which he set up in 2009 to offer face-to-face crime prevention help including presentations and a quarterly magazine.

He said: “It’s on all elements of law enforcement and the Third Sector. It’s thoroughly engaging. We’ve moved into a bit of tactical work and are looking at adults at risk themes.”

Where do you start with problem solving when the objective is organisational change in something as complex as policing which inevitably involves other organisations?

DS Jones said: “We should be saying ‘for every arrest there’s a failed opportunity to prevent a crime’. If there’s a victim, we’ve lost a mission.”

Part of his approach has been to use the Avon and Somerset Police ‘brand’ as a way of engaging with people, agencies and local charities. Rather than looking at solving crime faster, why not work to ensure the crime does not happen in the first place?

He explained: “With the chat benches, the police element was what the media was interested in. Of course, people said ‘shouldn’t you be arresting criminals?’ Well, we’re saving money: policing by creating the bench.”

Deciding what you can do and using the same approach to address a different problem can also lead to positive change, he says.

“We focus on children: there are units for schools to liaise with. When it comes to the older people it’s a different story. When I realised there was going to be little appetite for serving the needs of older people, I started an older citizen liaison team in 2009. It was about plugging the gap what the police could do and what the Third Sector could do.”

His interest in older people was partly due to the large population of older people who live in the area covered by the force but also by the fact that, according to the College of Policing, 83 per cent of calls to the service are for non-crime related issues.

He told Police Oracle: “Many of the problems we end up dealing with are nothing to do with crime. It says ‘Police’ above the door but we get involved in everything: local authority social care, children’s social care, housing and more.”

DS Jones added that removing the pressures created by non-crime work is a major issue for his force: “We’re the emergency service of last resort; we always answer the phone. It’s time for other government departments to stop shifting their demand to the police. We’ve got enough on; we should be spending more time preventing demand not managing issues about other departments.

He added: “We can’t do everything. My issue is that we don’t have the statutory power; it sits in other agencies but we soldier on. We

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