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.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


As we hurtle towards the end of the ‘performance year’ and next years Police and Crime Plans are being topped and tailed by PCCs it seems timely to reflect on the ongoing debate about police performance and target setting.

The broader issue of the police approach to performance has been brought under the glare of public scrutiny and comment by the recent media coverage following the IPCC report into the investigation of rape and serious sexual offences in Southwark.

This report prompted an avalanche of comment much of it focusing on the apparent inevitability of perverse outcomes from target setting and the supposedly inherent weak leadership within policing that allowed such practises to operate. Many have sought to make links to the scandal at Mid Staffordshire hospital where the results of achieving targets at all costs appears to have reached a zenith.

However, I am not going to comment on the specifics of these most recent high profile cases.

I’ve had the privilege to lead a range of different teams, including those investigating rape, as well as three years as a BCU Commander steeped in a culture of performance management. I’ve worked within organisations that have grappled to achieve a balance in measuring performance and have got it right and wrong. I am now responsible for the performance of local policing in two forces. So, I feel qualified to discuss the general themes emerging!
As a police officer I find it hard to reconcile that colleagues would set out to treat victims poorly so as to deliver a performance target, which itself can often be chosen with little or no regard for the needs of individual victims. Given that many forces also measure victim satisfaction the motivation to treat people badly would seem contradictory.

I also believe the role of senior leaders in these scenarios is less to do with alleged bullying of officers into 'delivering' targets at all costs and more to do with leaders failing to grasp the implications of an overall plan and the impact on the individual victims within it.

Losing sight of the victim and witnesses in this mix also follows when people manage performance as a set of metrics rather than the messages, activities and behaviours which sit behind them. Managing performance is about culture not calculators.

I find it more likely that officers, possibly confronted by reluctant victims/witnesses and all too familiar with the perceived hurdles ahead in the race for a conviction, seek to stop at the first opportunity and persuade themselves that it is in the best interests of the victim. The managers, seeing the improving picture of detections versus recorded crimes satisfy themselves that they too are on track. Meanwhile behind the spreadsheet a tale of missed opportunities and personal trauma can sit undetected.

Now there may be individuals who choose to behave like this but I believe they are a rare exception.

However I do believe that some police forces and other public service organisations continue to frame performance in a manner that may invite ‘corrupt’ behaviour that is neither in a good cause or noble. The debate about who is responsible veers between the organisation and the individual and it is clear to me that both can and have been culpable.

So the solution?

This is not an exhaustive list but I would start with the following.

Organisations need to have a performance framework to judge effectiveness and to enable them to be held accountable. Talk of allowing people just to do the right thing without some kind of measurement is naive.

Targets need to be grounded in priorities determined with communities. Engagement and consultation on target setting therefore needs to be meaningful and genuine.

Targets need to be specific. The more general and all encompassing the more likely they are to produce perverse outcomes.

The plan needs to be simple, focused and understood by communities and staff. All colleagues should be able to recognise where they make a contribution.

Avoid at all costs the attempt to compare organisations with each other. They just invite detractors and well constructed arguments as to why the data is flawed, normally when it is heading in the ‘wrong’ direction.

Data should be the start of the discussion not the sole purpose. I have every expectation that leaders and staff should know what is going on behind the graphs and trends, so that we can focus on solutions rather than debating the relative merits of the percentages.

Don’t be seduced by systems and processes. People deliver service and they transform lives. This is more likely when they are well led and understand what the issues are and what their role and contribution is to solving the problem.

‘Play the long game’. Be confident in your staff to achieve and don’t get distracted by short termism. Whatever change you are a part of needs to be sustainable and reducing crime should not been seen as a snap shot where current activity is driven by the relative performance of the previous month or year.

Finally start from the position ascribed to Albert Einstein, "Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Time to call for Inspector Clouseau?

What do we look for in our leaders?
There is a passage from an unused script in the West Wing which poses the question, who would you follow?
1.       The man with crooked associates and two mistresses, who hides his disability, chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day
2.       The man who was sacked twice, used opium in his youth, drank brandy and champagne to excess daily and hid his mental illness
3.       The vegetarian, teetotaling, non-smoking war hero who never had an affair
I hope most would go for FDR (1) or Churchill (2) rather than Hitler (3).
The point is the portrayal of leadership and the requisite skills depend on context and circumstance.
This is why the current furore over direct entry and overseas appointments is such a difficult subject to unravel.
The answer gets even more uncertain when you throw into the mix, what problem is the government trying to solve?
Along with large parts of the service I am absolutely clear that the police are not representative of the wider society that we are entrusted to police. Now let’s be clear, it’s impossible to mirror society but it needs to be representative and it isn’t.
But is direct entry and overseas appointments the answer? Well it’s hard to see how. The military may have many virtues but its leadership is not diverse. When did you last see a woman or black senior officer at the higher echelons of the military? How will importing white men in their 30s assist the police service to address under representation?
So let’s turn to business. Fewer than 3% of FTSE 100 companies have a female CEO and they appointed their first black CEO in 2009 and I don’t think there has been another since.
The scandalous lack of diversity (and not just in terms of gender and ethnicity) in leadership roles across the spectrum of the public and private sector is an issue of national scandal, so why is it felt that policing should be singled out for ‘reform’?
I am the first to acknowledge that the service needs to do more to tackle these profound issues but I cannot work out why we should be singled out for special attention and I am even less clear how the proposals as presented will solve the ‘problem’.
So let’s move to competence.
The government announced this week they have paid out over £15 million in compensation to detainees in Iraq for uncontested cases of torture and human rights abuses. I must have missed the clamour for the public inquiry into the ethics, integrity and leadership within the military that allowed this to happen on their watch. I am even less certain how the National Decision Making model, framed from the ECHR and the values and mission of policing, will be greeted never mind the principles enshrined in policing by consent and accountability to a PCC. It’s not a question of being better than each other; we are different and to assume we are interchangeable is an insult to both the police service and the military.
Then there are the wunderkinds in the City who steered the economy onto the rocks and the politicians who borrowed, then spent and then cut their way out of crisis. I am sure amongst their many skills the ability to deliver over 20% of savings in budgets, whilst maintaining service, will be at the forefront of their applications to join the leadership in policing. Alongside honesty and integrity.
So, in what other organisation would we be making a virtue of getting to the top quickly? The judiciary, medicine, politics, teaching or indeed the military? These are all professions with a career path but I have never heard a government Minister promulgating the virtue of getting to the top of these professions quickly as a goal in itself. Surely it is what you do and what you deliver along the way that helps you learn and improve. It’s about making a difference and building teams and when you get to the ‘top’ you apply what you have learnt to support and lead others to make a difference.
Now, for the record I am not against the appointment of foreign cops to roles within the UK. However, in delivering comparable competence there is no evidence that it will address diversity or under representation. The vast majority of jurisdictions being considered also operate without an officer class in policing so they would bring with them the virtues instilled in them from a lifetime in policing, invariably modelled on the UK.
As a service we export police officers across the globe and they adapt to their new role and generally add value so it would seem hypocritical to say that we are somehow unique and that we only export policing. But prospective candidates for Chief Constable would need to adapt their experience and approach to the UK tradition of policing and acknowledge the constraints that this may place on their leadership and style. So deciding that everyone needs to be armed might be a hindrance!
I am an advocate of a testing, challenging and larger fast track promotion process that could and should discriminate in favour of ability. It may be that we need to focus these schemes to positively attract under represented sections of our communities. But we come back to the underlying challenge. People need to want to join the police and we need to make it a positive choice for them and at the moment that has not been their experience. So in my view this is about building confidence in policing. Announcing by implication that there is a crisis in the leadership and potential within the service seems counterproductive.
But let’s not forget few of us have been recruiting and underrepresented staff profiles just got worse over the last 3 years. As forces move to recruit there is no reason why they cannot focus recruitment and take positive action to attract the best possible candidates from underrepresented groups. This benefits policing and society and should not be seen as a threat by the service.
I do believe that ‘fast track’ should start at the foundation of policing as a constable – this is not some emotional attachment to nostalgia; it is the bedrock upon which policing by consent is built and the challenges facing officers every day is experienced. It is invaluable as learning and should not be so easily dismissed by those who have never experienced it. However this is not an argument for time served or incremental progress through every rank and the service needs to accept that we can be more creative in designing our future.
As is probably clear by now I am unpersuaded by the appointment of superintendent ranks from outside policing. Again police colleagues from other jurisdictions may be able to add a new dimension to our approach but I remain unconvinced that the numbers waiting to land in the UK to police will ever make this more than a symbolic nod to openness whilst avoiding the wider societal problems of under representation.  
I think the police service should do more to attract skilled professionals with expertise in areas such as IT, HR and finance, forensic accounting and covert techniques etc but I cannot understand why they would need to come, or indeed want to come, as police superintendents and spend months training to undertake a generic role when it is their expertise we need. Instead of creating new pathways into policing lets celebrate the police staff that serve the public and deliver policing every day.
Finally let’s not forget the context of the other changes being introduced into policing.
What is the incentive to be a chief officer in your 30s if you have to work till your mid 60s? Why would anyone speed to the top, to end up on a 4 year contract aligned to a PCC and the vagaries and risks associated with the electoral cycle?
So, in acknowledging that policing could and should do better to bolster the breadth and depth of leadership in the service I feel that the approach being advocated from the Home Office fails to recognise the complexity of the issues and seeks to provide simplistic and headline grabbing solutions. While this at least is consistent with many of the solutions proffered to address the ‘problems’ in policing, these solutions have the potential to alter the vital relationships within policing but more importantly in the fundamental relationship policing has with the public.
Which brings me back to the question, what do we look for in our leaders?
Let’s face up to this question and avoid the headline grabbing gimmicks.

Sunday, 13 January 2013


This coming week the use of social media within and by the police service is going to be discussed at a round table somewhere in Bramshill, so I thought it timely to volunteer some thoughts.
As is customary I will start by reaffirming these are my views and not necessarily representative of the two police forces I serve. This in itself is an interesting convention because it assumes that I am about to say something which may cause some anxiety, concern or litigation! I’m aiming to do none of them.
In writing this I know that some colleagues in both forces will already be feeling nervous and I can do no more than offer them and anyone else anxious at my access to the internet and a thesaurus, reassurance that I endorse and strive to conduct myself at all times within the Statement of Mission and Values for the Police Service.
My operating principle starts with the use of discretion, professional judgement and common sense. I can think of no better framework to guide my thoughts and actions.
So I tweet and blog about work and the police service in general. I also choose to discuss aspects of my home and personal life. I am very alert to the issues of personal security and safeguarding the privacy of my family. However I do not think they or I are jeopardised by my domestic revelations, cooking tips or commuting calamities.
Neither am I a self obsessed narcissist with an insatiable ego (no, I’m not!) who feels the need to discuss what I had for breakfast (toast) or who cannot function without knowing what other people think of me (really, you do?).
Whilst I am passionate about the vocation and profession of policing I do have a life (!!!) away from work where faith, family and friends help define me as a human being and I want to represent the service as a person not an avatar.
I use social media because I believe I have a positive obligation to engage and communicate about policing and it is an incredibly powerful way to connect with people. I have lost count of the number of times I have met people who already ‘knew’ me because of twitter. The vast majority of these occasions were really positive. We had started our ‘conversation’ and ‘connection’ with each other long before we met and although we were meeting about policing we were invariably talking about life. What a great place to start.
Yes, there have been interactions online and in person that have been less positive. Let’s be absolutely clear that phenomena did not start because of social media and no activity is devoid of risk. However, our role is to identify and manage risk.
In all my conduct as a police officer, both on and off duty, I am accountable for my decisions and actions and I operate on the basis that I need to be able to justify and explain myself. I also strive to act with integrity, compassion, courtesy and patience. The latter is a perennial challenge but I continue to work on it.
In factoring in all of the above I feel able to use social media to engage directly with communities, stakeholders and colleagues for the benefit of both policing and wider society. 
I am conscious that as a senior police officer my views and thoughts are scrutinised and I think very carefully before pressing send. But this discipline is not defined by seniority or role and it is a necessary requirement to underline that, amongst other things, we must strive to show neither fear nor favour in what we do as representatives of the service.
Conversation, discourse and argument are all essential in a democracy (and a mainstay in my house) but they must be conducted in a spirit that is sensitive and dignified and which demonstrates respect for the human rights of all.
So this is my Modus Operandi for social media. But it is also my MO for life and work and I think that is the point. Other than limiting myself to 140 characters I don’t operate differently online than I do in meetings or with colleagues or communities.
Having this framework to work within is why I am able to be a vocal advocate of the wider use of social media in the police service. I want to positively support the use, not begrudgingly surrender to the inevitable. Too much time is taken up discussing what might go wrong at the expense of celebrating the huge impact policing has in positively transforming lives and communities and the part that social media should play.
Let’s be clear, any system can be misused. Anyone with a pencil can be an organisational terrorist but we don’t ban stationary. There have been and will be in the future, many transgressions of common sense and professional judgement via social media. The vast majority are preventable and rectifiable through education and a commitment from individuals and organisations to learn.
However, some are inexplicable, distasteful and unprofessional. My approach to this is uncomplicated. If you want to be offensive, rude or party political via social media or any other interaction then it is not compatible with your role and I believe you should be held accountable for your actions. This can be subjective stuff but integrity and professionalism are personal barometers and in posting comments the test of ‘what will people think’ appears often to have been overlooked.
The recent elections of Police and Crime Commissioners were an interesting test for the service. For the record it was not ACPO who constrained comment on candidates, policies or the electoral process by police officers. It was the law. To be specific, ‘The Representation of the People Act 1983’ and the ‘Police and Crime Commissioners Order 2012’.
As many offenders will tell you the law can be an inconvenience but our job is to uphold it, not ignore it.
I also think that the difference between marching en masse to demonstrate against changes to pay and conditions is a world apart from an individual placing personal commentary on the Government and individuals within it into the public domain.
However, this is not a vote for the Thought Police. I’ve lost count of the times I have been incensed by the inane commentary of a misinformed politician or pundit. But I’ve not gone and shared my thoughts with the wider world in an offensive or party political commentary. If and when I do, I won’t be fulfilling the Oath of Constable.  
I am equally certain that some forces have over reacted or misconstrued the use of social media by their staff. Chief Officers, like everyone else, make mistakes. I’ll say that again.  Chief Officers, like everyone else, make mistakes. They too need to be allowed the opportunity to learn and reflect.
But there will be cases where accounts need to be closed and misconduct proceeding taken against officers and staff. Unlike some journalists and politicians I don’t comment on cases that I am unsighted on and we know that facts can get in the way of a good story. I do recognise that both individuals and organisations have rights and that due process has to be followed.
This leads on to the vexed question of people who comment and communicate in a personal capacity. In my view, once you have identified yourself as a member of the police service you are bound by your professional responsibilities and subject to the same guidance and rules as if you were at work. So, I don’t think the public would expect you to talk to them using the F word so why would it be acceptable to include it in a tweet? You are no longer a private citizen and the ‘none official’ status of your account is, in my view, not a defence.
The solution?
Encourage and enable people who want to speak for the service to do so as members of the service.
Provide them with the training and the ‘rules of engagement’.
Trust them.
Celebrate their success.
Help them learn from their mistakes.
Hold them to account when needed.
Overall embrace the opportunity to engage with communities.
If we did this then the fall back into anonymity would be unnecessary.
In my experience the vast majority of police users of social media, notwithstanding the associated risks, achieve successful outcomes and reduce the risk of harm to individuals and our communities.
And that, when all is said and done, is our Mission.