Chapter 6 – Co-Location
"The closer working relationship to which both organisations appear committed can only be improved by a degree of co-location. In practical terms it should ensure a more direct and immediate means of quality assurance."
ACPOS/ COPFS Police Reports Group 2002
The ACPOS and COPFS Working Group formed in 2002 considered that one of the reasons for the decline in the standard of reports was introducing electronic transmission of reports to Procurators Fiscal. This reduced the amount of personal contact between police officers and Procurators Fiscal and diminished opportunities for feedback. This issue was addressed within the ACPOS/ COPFS Joint Protocol report through the following:
- Area Fiscals and Chief Constables should consider the feasibility of co-location of Police Officers in Fiscal Offices for the purpose of quality assurance and improvement of communications - [ ACPOS/ COPFS - Rec. 7].
The inspection team found that the practice of co-locating police officers within Procurator Fiscal offices is now being embraced and is enhancing the relationship between the two agencies. Good practice examples of co-location were found in Dumfries & Galloway Constabulary, Fife Constabulary and Central Scotland Police. While the role of co-located officers has developed informally, there have been real benefits to both parties in developing local working practices. The inspection team recognises that the role has been largely successful in "troubleshooting" issues and responding to daily information requests between the police and Procurators Fiscal. The following positive benefits of co-location have been identified:
- enhanced communication process which encourages open and frank feedback
- reduced bureaucracy for police and Procurators Fiscal in managing enquiries
- reduced time taken for police to respond to Procurators Fiscal enquiries
- reduced administrative burden placed on front line operational officers.
The inspection team recognises that co-located officers should have relevant police experience and be provided with appropriate training for the role. Forces should ensure that co-located officers do not become isolated and are have appropriate support from police supervisors. Whilst strong informal relationships have successfully developed between co-located officers and local Procurators Fiscal, the inspection team considers that the role of co-location should be examined to define priorities and core responsibilities. The role should also be subject to annual review by forces and Procurators Fiscal and should be evaluated to quantity business benefits to both services.
Tayside Police has recently relocated the entire Case Management Unit for Dundee within the Procurator Fiscal's Office. This arrangement will be piloted for a six month period. This is considered to be a positive step towards joint working and improving understanding between the force and the Procurator Fiscal's Office.
The "Cleanstream" projects have further extended the scope of co-location, with criminal justice partners committing to a multi-agency co-location exercise within a central unit, to progress end-to-end improvements. The inspection team believes that this is a logical progression from the existing bi-lateral co-location, although further work will be necessary to define roles and business benefits. The inspection team is aware that these initiatives will be independently evaluated, which should provide further useful indications for the way forward for co-location.
Based on the positive experience of the police co-located officers, the inspection team believes that there may be some scope for ACPOS and COPFS to pilot the co-location of a Fiscal Depute within a police Case Management Unit, acting as a single point of contact ( SPOC) and developing an understanding of police processes and requirements.
During the inspection, it was apparent that there are some practical difficulties around co-located officers having access to COPFS information systems. While the review team recognises the importance of maintaining the integrity of information systems, it is vital to the success of co-location that forces and Area Procurators Fiscal assess the information requirements of the co-located officers and provide appropriate access to relevant systems.
Recommendation 8 - that forces, in consultation with Area Procurators Fiscal, examine the role of the police co-located officer to define priorities and core responsibilities. The role should be subject to annual review and evaluated to quantify business benefits to both services. Forces and Area Procurators Fiscal should also assess the information requirements of co-located officers and provide appropriate access to relevant systems.