Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Morale Maze

There is an on going and vital debate about the state of morale in policing. 

Finding a route through the maze on this highly personal issue is not a task to be taken on lightly. 

But here goes.

Questions about morale - up, down, cause, effect, responsibility and solutions - generate a range of reactions, many of them understandably emotive.

Recently the Home Affairs Select Committee review and its call for a national plan was resurrected alongside the charge that Chief Officers were guilty of a ‘deafening silence’ on the subject. 

Setting aside that specific allegation for a moment the national plan as a solution seems to imply that having documented the full range of potential causes of low morale and laid bare the complexity of many of the issues, a national action plan would be the first step in turning round morale. 

This seems to me to be a gross over simplification of a complex and personal issue.

I have been speaking with officers and staff about their morale and reflecting on events and issues locally. 

Contrary to the cynics who will claim that the truth doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of my ivory tower I have heard many and varied views on staff morale and there was no shortage of straight talking.

In these discussions I have listened to colleagues discussing the reality of the Winsor changes to pay and conditions, the potential impact of direct entry and the broader changing landscape for professional development.

I have heard from officers about their recent postings undertaken as part of our change programme. I have been discussing the new operating model being put into place with new shift patterns negotiated and agreed with the Federation.

Some colleagues talked of their partner’s job insecurity away from policing and others had a number of significant domestic challenges within their immediate family.

All of us were weary of the daily onslaught on the integrity and professionalism of the police service and frustrated by the fact that much of it seems self generated.

Finally I was struck by how cop focused much of the debate has become overlooking that police staff are the most vulnerable in the on going change programmes in forces with many bearing the brunt of staff reductions. 

I am certain we cannot discuss morale in the police service and only talk about cops.

Throughout these encounters I was left wondering what a national action plan could reasonably hope to address and how it would help?

In agreeing possible solutions we need to start with a recognition that low morale is not a phenomenon unique to the police service.

For those colleagues contemplating a career change I am pretty certain the grass is not going to be greener in teaching, social work, nursing or the armed services, who continue to be made redundant while on active service!

A sense of perspective and scale is therefore important in any debate and seeking to exaggerate the uniqueness of policing in the current climate pervading the wider public service will not serve us well.

However, policing has had to contend with significant changes to terms and conditions, alongside the impact of the biggest changes to policing in a generation.

The catalyst of austerity and the associated redesign of services means for many that the only certainty going forward is uncertainty. 

Policing will continue to be under the cumulative impact of these ‘public’ challenges. These will sit alongside the ‘personal’ impact on individuals which in turn jostle with the ‘private’ issues that we all grapple with. The affect and impact will be different dependant on our circumstances.

That is why solutions will not be found in a national action plan. Staff morale and its impact on policing is being discussed at every level of the service and I don’t accept the deafening silence charge.

Going forward the Morale Maze will be successfully navigated by leaders who listen, who acknowledge the issues and work collectively to identify solutions and who are honest and open with staff including keeping the right sense of perspective. 

Most importantly we need to remember that staff well being is a precursor to good policing not a nice to do. 

Friday, 20 September 2013


Last Sunday Peter Hitchens wrote a piece for the Mail on Sunday entitled "Get rid of the guns, cars and Tasers and we might just end up with real policemen". 

On initial reading I found it difficult to establish the central thrust of the article but anticipated that as a conduit to provoke a furore it was probably doomed to succeed. I resisted the temptation to enter the fray and opted instead to make a large pan of mushroom soup. This felt more constructive.

I have since re read the original piece and the subsequent commentary in Peter's blog where he develops his argument that the police service has essentially become remote from communities, lost sight of its founding goals and become a belligerent para military force led by a liberal elite who have colluded since the mid 1960s to dismantle Peel's model of policing.

This hypothesis is supported by extensive historical research and analysis and has been outlined in a number of publications in recent years by Peter. This commentary on policing is central to a range of Peter's arguments about the 'state' of Britain and public services in particular. To argue that Peter is unfamiliar with policing and that he is presenting a case from a position of ignorance is therefore folly.

His personal interpretation of events and developments in policing is well articulated from a particular perspective; his ideological and philosophical stance about the role of the state vis-à-vis the citizen is equally well documented.

But, let's be clear. However well researched and presented these arguments may be they remain Peter Hitchens' view of the world. And as I am sure he would concede he makes no claim to have a monopoly on the truth. He is presenting an argument. It is beholden on those who disagree to present an alternative case for policing and not simply become agitated at the idea of someone having a different outlook.

The fact that Peter's view of policing is promulgated in a mass circulation newspaper may be irritating to those who disagree but it doesn't alter his right to have a view, even if he's wrong.

And for the record I believe he is wrong in his analysis and conclusions about policing and in the tone of the article.

I have always been and expect to remain wedded to Peel's Principles of Policing. I don't think there will ever be a better mission statement. I agree with Peter's description of policing moving away from preventative models and that linked to changes in technology policing has become more remote in the last forty years. But we then part company.

I believe that the 'rediscovery' of neighbourhood policing and the self evident truth that policing is better delivered locally, in partnership and with communities remains at the heart of British policing. It is at risk in these times of austerity but the service can and should make choices to invest in this the most visible foundation of policing by consent.

Having spent a day in court this week where a police officer was sent to prison for misconduct in public office I don't need reminding that policing is not perfect. The fact that I sat in the court with the detectives who tenaciously pursued their fellow officer for his betrayal of their oath reminded me that for all those who would seek to undermine policing there are legions who will seek to support it.

But as a service we need to recognise legitimate challenge and criticism and seek every opportunity to learn and improve. Many outside policing would contend that this is an impossible ask for us as a service. I know that seeking to be the best and to learn from mistakes is every day business for the vast majority.

We need to continue to listen and we need to be less defensive.

Peter Hitchens' argument may be predicated on sound research principles but by his own account they are limited in reality. Patrol with colleagues in a London borough combined with ride alongs in Johannesburg and Dallas will undoubtedly give an insight into policing but not, in my view, one that can be used as the basis of a sustained critique on the complexities and challenges of policing modern Britain.

I recognise the need to use compelling anecdotes to colour an argument but this should not be confused with evidence.

The focus on vehicles, helicopters and uniforms is perhaps the most intriguing section of the article. I want to see more officers on patrol out and about in local communities. I also need them to respond to 999 calls and to deploy to critical incidents. As ever there is a balance to be struck and I recognise the concerns of many communities that policing is too remote.

We need to do better.

But flogging the helicopter and scrapping fast response cars will not advance the case for policing to become more responsive to local needs and to rediscover the Peelian Principles. It's an easy target that fails to recognise the range of responsibilities that policing has to contend with.

Even Sir Robert accepted that crime would need to be responded to and investigated notwithstanding the primary goal being prevention. Significant resources are committed to the investigation of crime - much of it unseen or understood by the wider public. Again we need to revisit how the police service explains the challenges it confronts on behalf of communities to ensure that the reality of modern policing is not undermined by docudramas, TV detectives or lazy journalism.

I am sure when George Dixon was patrolling Dock Green and Rumpole was defending loveable rogues at the Old Bailey it was still the case that someone somewhere was dealing with threats to national security and serious and organised crime. These threats are not exaggerated. I sincerely wish they were.

And so to sartorial matters. Uniform and personal protective equipment is an emotive subject. I know. I chair a Uniform and Equipment Group across two forces!

The challenge for me is not the colour of the shirts but the collective failure to procure nationally and agree universal standards. The protective equipment officers wear has developed in response to the evidence and risks associated with their roles.

I marvel at the nostalgia for truncheons, capes and shackles that somehow would enable us to reconnect with the public. Let's not forget some facts.

Over 90% of British police remain unarmed.

I don't feel like I am in a para military service. I fully accept that if you inhabit the Westminster bubble you will see a disproportionate number of colleagues overtly armed but this is a tiny minority of policing.

On a personal note I am not unfamiliar with Peter Hitchens' accusation that I and many others in policing represent a 'liberal elite'. I have been called many things as a police officer and although I sense that this is not a positive endorsement I prefer it to ‘totalitarian elite’!

I am not a journalist and I have a rule about not telling other people how to do their jobs.

I welcome the opportunity to be challenged about policing and I believe I should be scrutinised and held to account. So, I wish that Peter Hitchens' perfectly legitimate right to promulgate opinions on policing could have been written so as to invite more discourse and discussion rather than polarising opinion but it is not for me to dictate how opinions are shaped and expressed.

The opportunity to use evidence in support of an argument has been lost in anecdote and ideology. It could have been different but as in many things it's about making the right choice and I fear there was an overwhelming desire to add to the already overburdened bandwagon.


In my subsequent exchanges with Peter Hitchens, via his blog and in response to my article in Police Oracle, he has developed his arguments on policing and the approach being taken by the service. We both remain unpersuaded by our respective arguments. I have decided to agree to disagree but am always hopeful for a Damascene conversion!

He is also quick to point out that his commentary on policing, not a new phenomena, has elicited a hostile response. I have seen some of these exchanges and I would suggest that those who have sought to demonise Hitchens for expressing a view, however much they may consider him wrong, have not served the cause of policing well on this occasion.

There is a significant minority of hostility towards the police service across society with a range of motivations. We need to win them back in the battle for legitimacy. Focusing on the substance of the challenges, arguing for what we believe to be right for the service while listening to those who may disagree, is a must going forward.

Thursday, 18 July 2013


At the beginning of the year I wrote about Hillsborough, Plebgate, Corruption, Leveson & Savile all dominating the headlines. This litany of scandals has now been joined by Lawrence and under cover policing and has led to the call from the Police Minister to clear out the stables and consign the canteen culture to history.

For many of us the stables and canteens were already earmarked for closure when many of the historic failings bedevilling the service were manifesting themselves. 

However, we need to acknowledge and condemn wrong doing, old and new, when it is established.  
Now, as then, each of these issues is serious in its own right. Taken together they have profound implications for individuals, families and communities as well as for the police service. The very legitimacy of British policing is under scrutiny and each issue deserves reflection and thoughtful, expeditious action both by the police service and those now charged with investigating these matters.
However, I am weary of commentators and pundits, some more informed than others, queuing up to postulate on the ‘crisis’ affecting the police service and proffer remedies from the simple to the surreal. There’s clearly no shortage of arm chairs or experts to fill them. 
Politicians comment on the proud traditions of policing and talk about 'rediscovering and reconnecting' ourselves but the endeavours and successes of todays police are so heavily caveated that it's no wonder that so many colleagues feel under sustained attack.
So, when do the failings or frailties of an individual become an institutional crisis and should the service of today stand in the dock on behalf of those who served before us?
From its inception in the nineteenth century through to today the police service has made mistakes; the majority by individuals from the minor to the very serious but a significant number have been institutional, calamitous and far reaching in terms of their impact on communities, individuals and reputation.
I have sat on misconduct panels and sacked police officers for gross misconduct; for behaviour that brought shame on them and the service. I also believe the process of investigating and determining misconduct is stymied by overly engineered regulations and a reliance on lawyers to interpret right and wrong. It fails the transparency test and as a process is hampered by a strained relationship with the IPCC, an organisation destined to under deliver through paltry funding and a confused remit. Many, including me, are unclear how the latest set of proposals for the IPCC will work in reality and this should be a cause of concern for the service and wider public.
I am a big supporter of a Code of Ethics and will enthusiastically embrace it when the College of Policing bring it forward. But let's be clear. Bad policing doesn't baulk at breaking the criminal law and usurping the plethora of guidance and regulation currently in place so a Code of Ethics is unlikely to make these individuals pause for thought. 
To respond to the legitimate requirement on policing to learn from its past failings and present challenges, the service needs to have inspiring leadership at all ranks, searching scrutiny and accountability mechanisms and most importantly a culture that is founded on humility, respect and learning. 
It is the culture of the service that will bring it through these difficult and uncomfortable times. 
A Code of Ethics will help to shape and define a culture but on it's own it will not change behaviour.
We need to stay rooted to our founding traditions and principles but we need to be overtly and genuinely responsive to the current challenges. This will require the service at all levels to celebrate the successes of policing which continues to reduce crime and confront criminality every day; where officers walk towards danger on every tour of duty and do this on behalf of their fellow citizens.
On that note, I am not clear how sections of the police service raising questions about the honesty and integrity of their colleagues, by suggesting they fiddle crime statistics, will inspire confidence in the wider public. Let’s be clear organisations don’t manipulate figures. It would be people at all levels with a shared agenda and what would be their motivation? Crime recording and trends within overall crime are complex and getting a consensus in understanding is always a challenge. For the record, in the two forces where I work where crime is down, neither front line staff, their supervisors or senior managers fiddle crime statistics. To do so would be corrupt. To imply they do is unacceptable. If any such evidence exists produce it; I am confident none will be forthcoming. 
As we encourage and invite others to be balanced and reasonable in their challenges to the service, we ourselves at all levels need to find better ways of expressing our disagreements and professional differences.
As important we need to proudly assert that the current and future members of the service have much to be proud of. We need to be advocates of policing not defenders of corruption that is neither noble or in a good cause. We need to reclaim the commentary about our service from the pundits and politicians and move forward into the new policing landscape with confidence and certainty because that is what we are here for - working alongside others to reduce crime and to make communities safer and stronger.
*This is an updated & extended version of the piece published this week by Police Oracle.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Dial 'M' for Merger

I haven't blogged for a while with much going but most of it out of bounds for this blog and this writer!

The constant by my side of late and the consistent theme of much of my thinking at the moment is the controversial issue of police force mergers and I've decided to finish the blog I've started so many times before but never quite finished. 

There are two reasons why I have so far resisted the urge to put pen to paper on this issue.

Firstly, it's a very current and personal issue at work. 

As an Assistant Chief Constable working in two police forces where the vast majority of staff now work in single departments across two forces I am very aware of the debates and issues that swirl round mergers. Warwickshire and West Mercia are, in my view, as close to merged as any in the country. However they retain two Chiefs, two Deputies and there are two Police and Crime Commissioners and at present there are no plans to go beyond the current 'Alliance' supported by collaboration agreements, recruitment of joint staff and a single operating model for both forces. 

So, let's be clear. My views on the issue are personal and well known by my colleagues and in blogging about them I'm not reflecting the views of either of my two forces or seeking to position anything or anyone.

Secondly, and possibly why my views are already known, I have a personal perspective on the subject because of my professional involvement in the issue that started well before my current posting. 

In 2005 when the Labour Government attempted to force mergers on a predominantly supportive service but dubious public, I was the programme manager in the West Midlands Region working to merge the police forces of Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands. This role was one of the most interesting, challenging and ultimately frustrating that I have ever undertaken.

Indeed I now work for two forces who at the time were on opposites sides of the debate with West Mercia possibly the most public, principled and persistent critics of mergers. Two organisations diametrically opposed to merging then but who are now the closest collaborators in policing.
So, a blog long in gestation, but prompted to come to fruition by two unconnected events in the last week. 

Enter Ed Balls and the Mercian Regiment.

On Monday, during his speech on future spending priorities for a Labour Government, Ed Balls said:

"Does it really make sense to have separate costly management and bureaucracy for so many separate government departments, agencies, fire services and police forces – the same number as when this Government came into office – all with separate leadership structures and separate specialist teams?"

Now I assume Ed discussed this with 'Mrs Balls' aka Yvette Cooper the shadow Home Secretary. If he didn't I'm sure it didn't go unnoticed in the Balls household later that evening, so I think we can safely say that the issue of police force mergers is back on the political agenda. 

This is significant because it has been a taboo subject since the debacle of 2005/6 when a switch of Home Secretaries, the subsequent labelling of the Home Office as not fit for purpose and a tenacious campaign by the then Tory opposition saw the plans consigned to the 'too difficult to deal with / don't darken my door again' in-tray where it has languished ever since. 

On Thursday, I had the honour and privilege to be present in Worcester when the Mercian Regiment received their new colours from HRH The Prince of Wales. 

These were new colours for a new regiment. 

I also heard the retiring Commanding Officer recall the challenge of bringing together the precursor regiments (the Cheshire Regiment, the Staffordshire Regiment and the Worcestershire & Sherwood Foresters). These were proud organisations with lengthy histories cataloguing hundreds of years of heroism and gallantry. They were 'forcibly' merged in a Ministry of Defence review against the backdrop of history, emotion, local pride and differing cultures.

Remarkably the work to merge these regiments was undertaken alongside simultaneous deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Comrades were lost and dozens injured. But they remained focused on their task both in war and in transforming themselves and through those extraordinary times the Mercian Regiment emerged. 

On Thursday, this new Band of Brothers (and Sisters) stood proudly to attention in front of their Colonel in Chief and claimed their stake in the future; they have not forgotten their proud past and it was apparent that change had not always been easy. They now face the next challenge of losing one of their 4 battalions which again will be managed while deployed but it was apparent to all that they were confidently looking to the future.

Readers of my previous blogs will know that I am a sceptic of the idea that the armed forces have ready made answers for police leadership. They are are different organisations with differing roles, cultures and  histories. But I do recognise the strength in learning from each other and in acknowledging how things may be done differently. 

The Mercian experience is one such example. 

Since 2006 there have been a range of successful collaborations between forces, statutory guidance 'encouraging' and 'requiring' joint working and a few skirmishes between forces wooing each other to take the next step. But the 'M' word has remained by and large silent while forces are Inspected and assessed on their collaborations and shared working.

Up until Monday both the Government and Opposition were also silent on the issue of mergers. The official Home Office stance is that merging forces is not on their agenda of reform but they would not block forces from merging. The Government know the strength of feeling generated in their own back benches last time.

So police forces up and down England and Wales are finding creative and cost effective ways of sharing assets, merging functions, outsourcing activity and saving literally millions of £s as part of the CSR. There are regional units, joint boards, commissioning groups and steering bodies working across over forty police forces who remain firmly part of the fixtures and fittings of policing. There is no shortage of deck chairs to rearrange should the service hit an iceberg.

The arrival of new governance structures for policing in November with PCCs embodying localism and direct accountability were seen as a further sign that mergers were undeliverable. For the record as a Chief Officer who works with two PCCs I do not see the new governance arrangements as an obstacle to mergers. Yes there would be challenges and of course there would need to be compromise and negotiation but I don't subscribe to the view that it is now a bridge too far.  

Since April this year Scotland has had a single police force. It's been built from the bottom upwards grounded in local policing linked to existing local authority areas. Specialist units that offer protection against threats which don't recognise force boundaries are embedded. I'm sure colleagues in Scotland won't claim that this has all been as easily achieved as it seems and I have no doubt there will be challenges ahead, but they have delivered a model of policing and the baby and bathwater appear intact.

As we await the outcome of the current spending review and the service prepares itself for further significant cuts in funding, it seems inconceivable that we can look to find further savings without looking at the most obvious overheads - the structure of force boundaries. 

In overseeing a current review of local policing in two forces where the prospect of police station closures, reducing officer numbers and the challenge to maintain key services are daily features I don't believe it would be acceptable to the public that we would look again at front line service delivery in future cuts and avoid a debate about force boundaries, overheads and the existing police landscape. 

In addition, as the College of Policing matures and starts to make real on the promises of national standards and evidence based practice I cannot see how a model that relies on 43 Chief Constables to reach a consensus on delivery can be sustained. 

Deconstructing ACPO may be politically convenient but it avoids the real issue. There are too many Chiefs running too many forces. 

Bodies like the NCA provide protection at a national level; neighbourhood policing delivers locally. The force structure in between needs to enhance and support policing at both ends of this spectrum and it is fanciful to imagine that 43 is now the answer. 

It may come as a surprise to some that West Mercia Police was not referenced in the Doomsday Book or the Magna Carta. It is in fact a construct of local government reorganisation in 1967. However, for over forty years it has shown that it can deliver outstanding policing at a local level to communities as different and geographically distant as Oswestry and Ross on Wye with one police force spanning 3 counties. Thames Valley and Avon and Somerset also work on a similar scale and structure and there is no evidence that they deliver less effective local policing. In fact I am absolutely certain that most people have no idea where their force HQ is or what the boundaries are. They want effective policing and the 'thrilling' world of co-terminoisity and the flukes of 1960s local government planning are an irrelevance.

In 2005 the debate on mergers was overly political, driven top down and vested interest on both sides of the debate drowned out reasoned and balanced argument.

In 2013 the time has come to revisit the issue. The debate needs to be on the real issues in the context of preserving local service delivery in the reality of a transformed national landscape and unprecedented reductions in funding. Anyone who imagines we can make savings by cutting the much quoted and now nearly none existent back office or working more closely with other partners doesn't recognise the reality of the challenge.

The time has come to restart the dialogue.

It's time to Dial 'M' for Merger.