The Young Ones

25 06 2015

Last night, I had the pleasure of doing something I hadn’t done in years. I went and did a “police talk” for a Cubs pack. Back in the day, as a neighbourhood officer, I used to do this kind of thing all the time but with promotions and role changes it is an opportunity which hasn’t presented itself all that often. 

It was always one of my favourite things to do as a beat constable. I enjoyed it so much that I even trained as an official Schools Liaison officer and I would spend as much time as duties allowed getting into classrooms and spending time with the kids.

There were several advantages to this for me. Firstly, it allowed me to get to know who all the children were and vice versa. This made life considerably easier outside of school. I could talk the kids by name; I was a familiar face to them and it enabled the free flow of information and conversation.

It allowed me the chance to set standards. Whilst the lessons and inputs I delivered were usually focussed on safety messages and such like I was able to discuss acceptable and sensible behaviour. If I were to see errant children on my rounds then the subsequent chat we had could refer back to those lessons and they were able to recount to me what had been discussed. The rules of the classroom extended into the real world.

Working, as I did, on an estate where the police weren’t everybody’s favourite people it also allowed me the chance to break down any impressions which may have been passed down from generation to generation without previous challenge. “That copper who came to our school was okay – maybe they aren’t all bastards after all.”

The bottom line is that I was able to deliver important safety and social lessons but I was able to build relationships.

And they were relationships which lasted.

Going back 12 years or so ago there was a lad in his teens who was part of a problem family and who seemed to be destined to head down the same path. If any name was going to appear on the top of the ASBO candidate list it would be his – for the purposes of this blog let us call him “Kieron.” My dialogue with him and his family was almost daily. But it reached a point where we had an understanding. He knew damn well that I was going to be all over him if he crossed the line but all this did was curb his behaviour to annoying rather than criminal.

On one occasion some incident had kicked off and he was the main suspect. My colleagues had turned up and there followed the traditional starburst and footchase whereupon some of the group had gone to ground. As it turned out, the attending officers didn’t know he was the main suspect but as soon as I heard the description over the radio I knew. I made my way to the scene to help out and went to the area where the pursuing officer had lost him.

I got out of the car. “Kieron!” I yelled. Silence. I waited a moment or two.

“KIERON! I know it’s you and I know you’re here.”

Twenty seconds later his head appeared from the top of the trees had climbed up.

“I’ll come down for you but no-one else!” he shouted. He had recognised my voice.

“Kieron, get down and stop being a prat.”* 

(* this sentence may be slightly edited)   

He came down and I arrested him. Job done.

Flash forward 10 years. I am now an Inspector working a late shift. Over the radio I hear a call for assistance in the custody unit. One of the detainees was threatening to kick off big time if anyone tried to take him out of the cell for interview. As I made my down to help out someone put his name over the air and a wry smile crossed my face.

I entered the custody unit to see three of my finest (and biggest) stood in the doorway of the cell. From my vantage point I could hear all kinds of things coming from that little room – particularly about what would happen if they did try and take him out for interview. For whatever reason, he didn’t want to go.

The custody sergeant approached me.

“This ones a bit handy, Guv.” (for he was Ex-Met) “Kick-Boxer and built like a brick shit-house.”

I checked the name and wandered towards the cell door. Before he saw me I saw him and there, in the cell, was a considerably bigger, fitter and stronger Kieron. He was in for some driving offences but had decided at the roadside to be belligerent and make it impossible for the officer to deal with by any other way than arrest.

He was still mouthing off when I tapped my colleagues on the shoulders. 

“Excuse me fellas. Let me try”

He wasn’t looking at me when I first spoke to him.

“Kieron, are you going to carry on like this or is this going to be like the time I got you down from that tree?”

His mouth genuinely dropped open “Mr Constable!”

I smiled. He smiled and – much to the utter bemusement of my colleagues – I walked towards him and we hugged.

After a couple of minutes of catching up and establishing what his problem was today I said that I would deal with it. But in return:

“This is my nick, these are my colleagues. You’ve never messed me about and I have always been straight with you. I expect you to treat them as you just treated me. So stop pratting about and let’s get on with it.” *

*NB – this sentence is HEAVILY edited

The rest was peaceful.

What this anecdote hopefully shows is the strength of relationship which can be developed, even with someone as problematic as Kieron, if you get there young enough.

Last nights talk to the Cubs was good natured fun. We split them into three groups and they took it in turn to do three activities. The first was a conversation about what the police do and “if there were no laws – what laws would you create and why?” The second activity asked them to look at pictures of people and write a detailed description. They were then shown another picture for only thirty seconds and had to then provide a written description from memory. The third activity was a line search through some nearby scrubland to help me recover the “stolen property” that had just been dumped.

The showstopper was the arrival of some of my colleagues from Ops who fortunately had time to turn up and spare half a hour with us. They brought some police cars and, more importantly, police dogs. We had just enough time to introduce the Cub Pack to the sniffer dog and the German Shepherd.

We even had enough time for a demonstration.

“Perhaps,” said the dog handler “the Boss might like to put on the bite sleeve and we can show everyone how he works.”

Well, the Boss did and, much to the delight of everyone was rudely bitten and shaken by the hairy land shark. It was my own fault for not doing what the dog handler told me and then calling him rude names.

(For anyone who is interested – yes – it does hurt through the bite sleeve, I had marks for ages and I wholeheartedly recommend not getting between the teeth of a police dog.)

But it was great. We all loved it – it was a great evening and at the end of it half the Cubs all wanted to join the police.

This got me thinking. There is much being said about the lack of diversity in the service and so a number of schemes have been introduced to try and change that. I am not sure any of them are working that well.

For me, the answer seems obvious. By the time you try and talk to school leavers it is quite likely that they will already have made some important decisions. Not only about the career path they want to take but also on how they view the police.

I haven’t been watching “The Met” because any TV programme on policing (fact or fiction) makes me angry. I am aware though that the most recent episode featured the death of a young man in London over a dispute about the selling of a bike. Something as trivial as that led to a boy being repeatedly stabbed. How bad have things got for this to be as common as it seems and for weapons of this kind to be carried and used as they are? Has life become that cheap?

I thought about the kids I spoke to last night – so full of questions and interest and ideas. So full of hope and energy and now most of them wanting to join the police when they grow up.

What will happen to them now – until they reach the age of those lads featured in that episode of “The Met” – and will the police have any further part to play in their lives?

As educators; as standard setters; as someone they can know and trust; as a symbol of what is right; as role models – as something they might one day like to aspire to be.

The police cannot act as parents or teachers but in many ways they can have an important role as both in the lives of young people.

Get into the schools, the youth clubs, the Cubs, the Scouts, the Brownies and Guides. Anywhere where young people are the police need to be. Talking, teaching, helping, steering.

My fear is that as Neighbourhood teams shrink then this kind of activity will disappear. It’s already happening as forces withdraw dedicated schools officers from their posts.

This is such a shame.

Getting to know people when they are young allows you to set an impression; to encourage and help mould them.

An early and then SUSTAINED relationship between the police and young people – in THEIR communities and environments could make such a difference. It could create an entirely different atmosphere, it could positively influence opinion and change minds. It could build trust and confidence in both directions. It could break down cultural barriers.

It could reduce weapons on the street. It could prevent tragic and pointless murders over the sale of a bicycle. 

And you know what? 

It could prove to be the most effective way of recruiting people from a wider range of diverse backgrounds than anything we have tried before. 

Some say “we can’t wait that long – change is needed now” and I understand that. But this is a long term game and is likely to have far better results than short term initiatives. This could lead to permanent cultural change in both directions and people deciding far earlier that a career in the police is not the sole preserve of white males.

School visits – police work?

If they are maintained from Reception right up to A-level age – they could prove to be the greatest way to improve trust in the police and could turn out to be the best and most diverse recruitment tool ever invented. 

Neighbourhood Policing – Too Valuable To Lose

23 06 2015

“The Political Challenge” debate at conference this year was notable for the differing visions of the future offered by the panellists. Whilst the Think-Tanks spoke passionately about improving technology and the seemingly limitless potential to do more with less, it was Jack Dromey MP, the shadow policing minister, who repeated his concerns about how current government policy risks eroding “the bedrock of policing.”

Mr Dromey was talking about Neighbourhood Policing. However, his party did not win the election and it was clear from that debate and the speech from the Home Secretary that it is the Think-Tanks who seem to have the monopoly on ideas for the future direction of the police service and that most of these ideas involve plugs or batteries.

There is room within policing for all of these wonderful and innovative IT solutions but they simply cannot replace a human being, in a uniform, working in a community.

Let me start by saying that I am a great believer in the concept and success of neighbourhood policing. For me it is the very essence of visible policing by consent. It is traditional and nothing demonstrates the value of the police at the heart of the community better. I have worked in Neighbourhood Policing in every rank – as a beat officer; as a beat sergeant and as local policing commander covering half of a county.

Particularly in the inspector rank I realised just how important the concept of neighbourhood policing is. It matters to people. It matters to the people who are elected by other people. It matters to community activists. It matters to charities. It matters to Town Clerks and religious leaders. It matters to the media. It matters to shop owners and headteachers. What key people in the community want and need is an identifiable police officer (and let us not forget PCSO’s) they can call directly. These are the people who run things and do things. They are the movers and shakers in a community. They need a direct line to the cops and neighbourhood policing provides it.

As the inspector for a neighbourhood policing area you sit on top of this tree and see the value of these relationships and how they lead to things getting done. It works both ways as well. You don’t agree with everything that people want or do but you can have meaningful and adult discussions. I once objected to the building of a high profile facility for young people in the area I was in charge of. The initial fall out from this was spectacular. But through negotiation and dialogue they learned that I wasn’t objecting to the facility itself just where they wanted to put it. We worked together and sorted it out. 

Some of my best officers had served in the same area for twenty years. Some had earned the QPM for doing so – and rightly so. What they didn’t know about and who they didn’t know in their patches simply wasn’t worth knowing. You cannot replace experience like that quickly.

Furthermore, neighbourhood policing does all those bits of policing that no-one else wants to do. It isn’t for everyone. A lot of it is low level stuff. Parking and speeding complaints; dog fouling; kids riding bikes where they shouldn’t be but this is the stuff that bothers people and makes them feel unsafe and unhappy.

Anyone who has ever sat at a local community priorities meeting will know the difference between what the public WANT police to do and other demands placed on the service from elsewhere. For years, the previous administration was telling us that the most important thing the police needed to do – and the thing which was taken as the mark of success or failure of a force – was to reduce and detect four types of acquisitive crime. Chief Constables survived in post on how well they did against these measures.

I’m not sure who told the previous government that this was important to people because I cannot think of a single public meeting I ever went to where it came up. Neighbourhood policing deals with things that matter to people and it is the most public facing and locally responsive and accountable element of the service.

Working with other agencies, enlisting local support, and visible presence can significantly reduce crime and disorder, deal with those who cause misery and divert others from the same path. This improves the atmosphere in communities and make them safer.

Neighbourhood policing is about problem solving. My biggest successes have involved working with other agencies or organisations in order to reduce crime and disorder. In the first area I took over as a beat officer I quickly learned that the biggest issue was how unsafe the town felt on a Friday night. Hordes of underage kids would drink alcohol to excess and roam the streets causing problems. Response officers spent most of the time being called there again and again. All they could do was stick a plaster on it and go on to the next call before coming back later. It never solved the issue.

I spent two weekends plotted up in a properly authorised covert observation point working out what was going on. I conducted plain clothes patrols and watched where people were going. This work led me to identify that there were perhaps three ringleaders and everyone else was just tagging on. Their tactic was to wait outside the off-licence and ask anyone and everyone who passed to go in and get them drink. There were plenty of people who did.

There was nothing to do in the area. The youth club was closed on a Friday. The local shop was a no go for most people who were afraid of the kids outside. To be fair to the kids try weren’t doing much wrong but they looked intimidating enough given their numbers and volume.

Ask the kids why they went there and they said it was because it was lit and they felt safer.

The next phase was enforcement. I spoke to the licensee and agreed to raise his ID age to 21 – it helped that I got all the other shops on board with this as well (this was in 2000 by the way – long before this idea became fashionable.) I enlisted the support of colleagues and we would attend in numbers and it wasn’t long before the area got “too hot” for the kids to hang around in. I also started using legislation on the ringleaders. Actually making them face the consequences of their actions.

This was never going to work on its own so the final phase was diversion. Working with as many other agencies and charities as I could (including the local professional football team) we got funding for a range of initiatives which would give the kids something to do. We built them shelters in areas they identified and which were far enough away from others so as not to cause problems. We put on football tournaments. We got a mobile youth club into town for the younger ones – on a Friday!

The outcome of this was a massive drop in calls. Now I am sure that Inspector Guilfoyle would have something to say about this but – in the days before we knew better – it resulted in an 80% drop in calls compared with the previous year. This was significant as it was the first drop in five years. (Original blog said 40% but I have just checked my old data and it was 80%.) 

Response officers told me that they had never known anything like it and were glad not to have to keep going back and forth to the same place every Friday night.

So much policing was involved in this – covert techniques, enforcement, high visibility patrol followed up with professional liaison with like minded colleagues from other organisations many of whom were working to the same ends. Combined resources and ideas.

Stories like this are replicated in every town in the country thanks to neighbourhood policing. As an inspector my teams stopped raves before they started and then made it impossible to hold another one in the same place again; they reduced alcohol consumption in young people; they made the vulnerable feel safe; they took out burglary families and had them evicted giving their towns their first peace in years; they dealt with parking and speeding problems; they raided drugs dens and cannabis factories; they recovered stashes of stolen property and they went to local meetings and took it on the chin that the police were doing NOTHING about dog fouling in the park.

Some say that neighbourhood policing isn’t really police work. I disagree. I believe it is policing in its purest form and at its most locally responsive. I have never felt more personally accountable as a police officer (until my current role as Tactical Firearms Commander) as I did when I was working in neighbourhood policing. I have certainly never been more accessible.

Neighbourhood policing is about IDENTITY. The public know their police and the police know their public.

Neighbourhood policing makes a positive impact in terms of visibility and in the flow of intelligence. This intelligence can be the off-chance conversation which starts a chain of events leading to detecting crime, saving of lives, providing support or even preventing a terrorist incident. PCSO’s add to this mix. I was a sergeant on a neighbourhood team when PCSO’s arrived. I was as sceptical as anyone. But I quickly saw that people would talk to them more than they ever would to an officer. The area was a tough estate with a history and anti-police feeling. People wouldn’t talk to the cops because they would be seen as a grass. However, this didn’t apply to PCSO’s. Don’t ask me why – I have no idea – but the intelligence flow went through the roof and the results (particularly allowing us to tackle an increasing drugs market) were astonishing.

Neighbourhood policing isn’t seen as sexy or attractive. It’s not about wearing jeans and baseball caps and fast cars. It isn’t about wearing suits and passing exams. And yet – without it – none of these more “elite” squads could properly function.

It’s the beat team who come in and reassure a worried community after a high profile policing operation or event. It’s the beat teams from who so much crucial crime fighting intelligence comes in. It solves crimes, it saves lives, it prevents terrorist incidents.

As Jack Dromey said – it is the bedrock of policing. It is its foundation and lifeblood and it is at risk.

Police Chiefs face a tough choice. I think that most recognise its importance but if they ring fence neighbourhoods then what will have to be done away with to pay for it? Many forces are amalgamating their neighbourhood teams with response teams. The end result being that neighbourhood teams get very quickly sucked into demands to answer outstanding calls. This is retrospective demand management not proactive neighbourhood policing.

In order to work, neighbourhood policing needs resources. It needs people – people who are dedicated solely to “walking about” and not distracted by the constant demands of the radio. It requires people who are free and available to talk to other people – about their concerns, about funding, about ideas, about diversion and about team work. It is about building relationships. It is about taking time to properly identify and sort out problems rather than just turning up and fighting fires.

Neighbourhood policing is at risk and if we lose it in its current guise then British policing will be the weaker and poorer for it. The service will become one which really does just turn up when bad things are happening, does what it can and moves on to the next call. Without the problem solving and the relationships which neighbourhood policing provides things will never improve.

There is not a single piece of facial recognition or predictive analytics software which can replace this. I’m sure they could complement the analysis but you then need someone to sit in the obs point, work with the licencees, patrol the streets, enforce the law, work with the local activists, apply for funding, go to the meetings, explain what is happening to the public and media. This takes time and it takes people.

There are some jobs that computers simply cannot do.

Neighbourhood policing is one of them. 

This is an extended version of an article Slipping Into Shadows which appears the the June 2015 edition of “Police” – The Police Federation Magazine 

One Door 

14 06 2015

The publication of the CQC report on mental health care provision (Right Here Right Now) very clearly demonstrated that there simply isn’t enough of it. Not only is there not enough of it but those who end up dealing with it instead are neither properly equipped or trained to do so. The current system is nowhere even close to being able to deal with demand and the overall outcome is that people in crisis are being knocked from pillar to post when they are at their most vulnerable. When they are not at their most vulnerable, there is nothing in place to help them from reaching that point in the future. 

The organisations charged with either providing this care as their primary role and those who fill in the widening gaps are struggling to cope and whilst this is a source of massive frustration across the board it is those in crisis who are suffering the most.

The current model of response for a lot of agencies is based around Monday to Friday office hours and those services who do offer a more flexible 24/7 presence are finding themselves being called upon more and more frequently to manage risk and situations which they were never intended to cope with.

On the day of the report I posted a short blog with some initial thoughts which led to a conversation with Commander Chris Greany on Twitter. We were both agreed that the way most services are currently set up is simply no longer appropriate for the 21st century. This got me thinking about what a truly responsive public sector might look like.

There has been much talk recently about combining the police and fire service. In some places this is already in fairly advanced stages of development and emergency services are already co-locating in a bid to save money. This has led to much hilarity on social media as the concept of the PolAmbulEngine has taken hold.


Pic courtesy of @martinwoods

Much of the teasing and ridicule has been born of the incredibly simplistic arguments being used in some quarters to justify such mergers. Apparently it is wasteful to send a fire engine or two, an ambulance and a police car to the scene of a road traffic collision when you could just send one vehicle containing everybody and everything you need instead. Practitioners will know that this argument is, frankly, bobbins when you think about the logistics and management of such scenes and the issue of what this vehicle and its occupants do when they aren’t dealing with road collisions.

In Devon and Cornwall there is even a Police Community Support Officer who is a qualified paramedic AND a fire fighter. He has been hailed in some papers as the solution to all kinds of problems as he patrols with three different communications systems and can effectively put on any of three hats according to whatever is going on at the time. It must have taken a lot of time and training for this man to achieve accreditation in each of these fields and I suspect the refresher training for all three will take up another chunk of his annual roster.

I admire anyone with that much dedication but I have to say that I am not in favour of either of these as long term solutions to the current budget restraints but if you scratch the surface of the idea then, actually, there is something approaching logic in there.

One of the biggest complaints made by police officers is that they can’t fight crime anymore because they are spending so much of their time dealing with things other people should be dealing with. The reason for this is that the out of hours provision for most aspects of social work is bordering non-existent. Another reason is that many other service providers simply do not have any form of response element. If a patient leaves a hospital there is no-one from the hospital who can leave and go and look for them. Crisis Teams run on skeleton staff and apply a very tight definition of “crisis” which seems to fly in the face of what everyone else considers to be a “crisis”. There is no real and appropriate response to someone who is suicidal.

This then leads to people ringing the service they THINK can most help them and being unhappy with the response. Still feeling they need help they then call one of the services who are operating 24 hour “call-outs”. This usually involves the ambulance service or the police. All of the other emergency services end up calling the police when they run out of resources or if the situation doesn’t fit their often very tight remits. Quite often, the original service called will re-direct the caller to the police or even call the police themselves.

Consequently, this funnel effect leads to pretty much everything landing on a police command and control system as an outstanding call for service for which there is no alternative path.

I recently posed the question of whether the police should simply start saying “no” to these requests but the more I think about it the more I realise this isn’t going to solve anything – least of all for the person calling for help in the first place.

Ultimately, it is these people who are most important. It is they for whom these services are in existence in the first place and simply shutting doors in their faces is contrary to their primary functions.

If you think about it – the police have reached this situation because so many other agencies have put up the shutters and said “we can’t / don’t / won’t deal with this.” It has now reached the point where the police themselves are on the verge of doing the same.

I think it is absolutely right that the police begin to push back against some of this deflection of demand and risk and, indeed, I appealed for the National Police Chiefs’ Council to take a stand and start doing exactly this.

Should they do so and the police start saying “no” then the true picture of just how short some agencies are of being able to meet their own demand will be exposed. This will lead to all sorts of problems and might just force the issue with regards commissioning and finance.

It might also force some of these organisations to step up to the plate and manage their own responsibilities because they have no escape clause anymore.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t really solve anything. It might free up police time but you can bet your bottom dollar on the fact that the police will end up on the wrong end of an IPCC investigation for not responding. It will be individual call takers and dispatchers and officers facing that heat – not the organisation itself.

It doesn’t really help the person in need either as it just means that the final door has been shut in their face.

The more I spend time dwelling on this the more I question if there are already too many doors – most of them shut or shutting – and if the answer isn’t, in fact, ONE door.

Forget multi-hatted, tri-service parafirecops turning up in their PolAmbulEngine and think instead of how much more effective and efficient things could be if there was a central hub which managed all calls for service and then routed them, immediately, to the right agency or department. And that each of those agencies and departments had a fully effective 24/7 response capability.

Commander Greany summed it up when he suggested that instead of being asked “which service?” when people dial 999 they are asked “what is the problem?”

This would mean that a call would simply be logged for what it is, triaged and then sent directly to someone who is properly trained to deal with it.

Suicidal people could be transferred directly to a counsellor. Calls could be transferred directly to social services, NHS, crisis team, police.

Personnel from all of these agencies would be in the same place at the same time and could freely walk over to each other for advice or, in the most difficult situations, call an immediate emergency case conference to decide on the best approach to a given problem. You then send the right people in the right combination to the right job.

Before anyone suggests I am describing a Street Triage scheme here (lest we forget my reservations about that concept) please note that I am specifically saying that the RIGHT people could be sent to the RIGHT job in the RIGHT combination.

Instead of everyone being scattered to all four corners of police force boundaries constantly ringing one another to deflect demand you would have everyone in the same place working towards the same ends.

There are some barriers to this idea:

1. Cost – initially it would be huge. Trying to locate everyone in the same place and get technology to speak to other technology would be incredibly expensive. This capital cost would then need to be supplemented by ongoing revenue costs for the increased number of staff you would need to ensure that all elements of the programme could be truly responsive. Combining budgets and commissioning may help here but it would still be a very costly thing to create. However, I am convinced that over time this cost would pay for itself and it would rapidly reach the point where money was being saved in vast amounts. This is very much a “spend to save” solution.

2. Culture. All agencies are used to working in silos and have become very defensive. The one positive I have seen from the various triage pilots around the country is that most of the staff within them are reporting a whole new working relationship and understanding of each other. I have seen this myself in the many partnership programmes I have worked in during my time in neighbourhood and community policing. It doesn’t take long for this culture to break down and lead to cross-pollenation of aims and ideas to become the norm. Very quickly, adversaries become colleagues.

3. Data-protection. This is something we simply have to get over. It is absolutely right that there are proper policies and procedures in place so that information is protected and privacy is maintained but when six agencies are all working with the same person it is ridiculous that they cannot simply and quickly share information with each other in order to resolve the issue.

4. Political will. I don’t just mean politicians here – at least not at government level. There are now lots of new levels of politician in the forms of commissioners and each has one specific portfolio to look after. Ultimately, they are all really dealing with the same people and the same issues – just as the organisations they oversee do. It has the potential to become a power struggle if the real aim and objective is lost.

This is a whole new way of working and it relies on each sector investing and completely redesigning its response model. It relies on setting aside the false barriers and obstacles which currently stand in the way of helping people.

The solution involves people working together more closely and more frequently so that they can actually spend MORE time concentrating on their own portfolios and less time straying into each others.

From a purely police perspective I believe it would allow police officers to concentrate on fighting crime but it cannot work unless all the other agencies increase their response capability. 

It is nothing more than a seed of an idea in my head but I am convinced it holds the key to a more efficient and effective future which would serve the people who need us far better. 

The System Is Broken

12 06 2015

The Care Quality Commission have today published their report Right Here Right Now which outlines the results of their research into how people feel they have been treated by various agencies when they have experienced a mental health crisis.

The report should send shockwaves across all of the agencies involved as well as those charged with commissioning their services. I can only hope it detonates something and accelerates the glacial rate of change we have seen so far. 

The report is a lengthy tome but a condensed version contains enough highlights (or low lights) for the casual reader.

It comes as no surprise to me that less than four in ten people found that their experience within A&E (and only slightly higher with regards specialist mental health services) could be described as positive.

GP’s, the ambulance service and the police were all perceived to be more caring and empathetic. This should, however, be a huge concern to sufferers, service providers and commissioners when you think that the very agency charged with the actual responsibility for managing people in crisis came out second worst – with those who step in and fill the gaps, often with little or no training, seemingly doing so much better.

The key findings of the report will also come as no surprise to anyone who has suffered or anyone who works in this field – by choice, preference or otherwise.

  • the quality of care depends upon where you live and when you call.
  • Many people have experienced problems accessing help WHEN they need it and even in getting the RIGHT help.
  • People feeling they are being judged and not treated with respect or compassion.
  • People cannot access care at all times.
  • Quality of service is inconsistent and doesn’t reflect the needs of the local population.
  • There are implications for safety, particularly in relation to treatment of self-harm.

In 2013/14 over one and half million people were in contact with NHS trusts providing specialist mental health services. An average of 1 in 4 patients of a full time GP requires treatment for a mental health condition. Nearly 3 million adults suffer with depression and 500,000 people on GP registers have a “serious mental illness”.

These are significant numbers and it is alarming that the survey revealed that almost a third of people did not know who to contract in a crisis.

The report identifies problems with MH teams struggling to provide an adequate home care function. Access to inpatient beds is becoming increasingly difficult.

Access to, and the quality of, services after 5pm is not good enough and the rate and frequency of attendance at A&E is likely to be a sign that local services are not working well together and people are not getting the specialist help they need.

In 2013/14 Section 136 of the Mental Health Act was used by the police over 24,000 times. In 2012/13 just under 13% of Section 136 detentions were for people who had already been detained under the same Act in the previous 90 days. The report states that this is a sign that people are not receiving support from local services after being discharged from hospital.

Feedback from people who came into contact with the police showed the service in a more positive light than many of the specialist mental health services.

The report speaks positively about street triage schemes (again using reduction in 136 detentions as the supposed evidence of success) but then reports that health based places of safety are still turning people away or forcing them to wait for long periods because they are already full or under resourced.

In short, services are simply not able to meet demand or the needs of people in crisis in their local area.

The findings of the report will come as no surprise to anyone working in any of the services mentioned within it. It should, however, be a source of shame and embarrassment for the nation as a whole.

There is nothing new in the report at all to an experienced front line member of these agencies. What is new is the fact that this is now being laid bare to the public. Not only in statistical and numerical terms but also in a language which pulls very few punches and finally states, loudly and clearly, what so many of us have been saying for so long.

This report is necessary and overdue. It is startling yet unsurprising. It describes a system which is creaking at the seams and which is utterly unfit for purpose. And whilst it is the system which is primarily at fault the report has a lot to say about the manner in which people in crisis are being treated by other people – and it simply isn’t good enough.

Much faith is being placed on the Crisis Care Concordat and it is this which is being promoted as the vehicle through which positive change will be affected.

There have been many reports recommending change in mental health service provision over the years. Many of the recommendations within those reports are yet to be fully acted upon. Only time will tell whether this report, and indeed the Concordat itself, are worth the paper they are printed on.

Right Here – Right Now presents a picture of a service which is almost completely broken and the people who most need help either don’t know where to get it or it simply doesn’t exist anyway. 

Of the three overall recommendations the report makes, it is the first which sums up what needs to be done:

“Ensure that all ways into crisis care are focussed on providing accessible and available help, care and support for all those who require it at the time they need it.”

This doesn’t mean one agency passing the buck to another. It doesn’t mean any one agency charging off in their own direction. It doesn’t mean maintaining the status quo and hoping this all blows over and demand goes down. It doesn’t mean adopting the “Ostrich Strategy.

It means everyone working together, in a properly financed and resourced system which places the patient first. It means having an ability to respond rapidly which doesn’t rely almost entirely on the blue light services. It means that we need to understand demand and have better things in place to prevent crises arising in the first place. It means having adequate facilities to cope with crises when they do occur and proper management and support for people after the event.

This report can be summed up quite neatly thus

“The system is broken. It is time for a new one.” 

“Just Say No?”

11 06 2015

One of the main things I have noticed over the past 5 years or so is the increasing reliance on the police to perform functions for which they were never intended. Often, these functions are usually within the remit of other organisations who now simply have either no will or no resources to perform them. 

Usually there is a phonecall from another organisation during which a crisis or situation is described and there is an attempt to seemingly transfer the risk and responsibility to the police. 

I have blogged about this before but some classic examples would be an urgent welfare check on a child at 4:30pm on a Friday; or a person who has failed to return to a mental hospital after being allowed leave; a patient who is difficult to control and who requires restraint or a teenager who has left a care home after an argument with carers. 

In a lot of these cases the event is not entirely unpredictable. It may be the umpteenth time that the patient has failed to return from leave – and yet they have still been permitted to have it. 

It may be the umpteenth time that a child has absconded from the same home in the same circumstances (often in the same week.) It may be the umpteenth time that the patient has left A&E before being treated or become violent and aggressive on a ward.

But it is often the case that very little seems to be being done to manage and mitigate the problem between events. Rather, it seems, that the usual course of action is to allow things to reach crisis point and then call the police. 

Invariably, police accept that risk and try to do something about it. It has reached a point where this primarily seems to be the bulk of police work. 

Police work has become less about “fighting crime” and far more about perpetual risk management. 

Constantly dealing with and prioritising those incidents which are likely to cause the most threat, risk or harm. This can and does involve dealing with and preventing crime but it goes way beyond it. 

It is now increasingly about managing vulnerable people often at the point of crisis. It is increasingly about dealing with situations – particularly medical ones – which are far beyond the training and expertise of police officers. It is increasingly about dealing with the suicidal and those who self harm. 

You can give an officer a day or two’s training on the basics of these topics but finding the time for that training is not easy. It simply cannot replace the expertise of professionals who understand the subject and have the processes and tools to deal with them.

And yet – currently – it is replacing that expertise and there seems little sign of that stopping. 

That expertise is not available often enough or in sufficient quantity to deal with current demand and so the police have become expected to step in.

Many organisations make it a matter of policy to call the police when things reach a certain point. Often the police are not partners in or signatories to (or, in many cases, even aware of) these policies. 

The debate has started about whether the police should simply start saying “no” to these requests. When a patient discharges themselves from A&E without signing the right paperwork and with a cannula still in their arm it is usual practice to call the police and report it as a high risk missing person. Is it high risk? I don’t know – if a doctor tells me it is would I be foolish to disbelieve them?

Many of the question sets used by police call handling centres positively encourage the identification of risk. Whilst this should prevent missing something important and provide a full picture the reverse side of the coin is that the answers frequently tick so many boxes that almost everything becomes high risk. 

This then becomes as much about managing fear as it is about managing risk.

Fear of the consequences if something tragic happens. A lot of police response then becomes a matter of “just in case.”

The upshot of this is that situations are frequently over assessed as high risk because people are genuinely frightened that they might get it wrong inadvertently.

And who can blame them? The consequences when it does go wrong are severe. Protracted IPCC investigation and possible disciplinary or even criminal proceedings. 

Of course the police should be accountable, especially where there has been neglect, but too often it seems that the officers dealing with a situation at or beyond the point of crisis are the only ones who come under intense scrutiny. The same level of investigation and consequence never seems to go back further into the history of an incident to ask “how did the police end up with responsibility for this in the first place?”

There is a very strong argument for a strategic level decision for the police to start saying “no” to many of the requests they get. But it would need to be a strategic level decision – perhaps even a government level decision. 

Anything lower than this leads to individual culpability for the person answering the phone and making a decision on whether it is a police matter or not.

I don’t presume to know whether the National Police Chiefs Council are discussing this big issue. I would be surprised if they aren’t and I strongly suspect that there is much going on that I know nothing of. 

However, for what it is worth, I urge the NPCC to define a national and consistent policy which all other agencies are made aware of and all forces operate. 

The police cannot keep absorbing risks in the volume they are currently facing.

The police cannot keep absorbing risks which should really be better managed by others – earlier.

But – as things stand and without firm direction and backing from the very top – the police cannot currently say “no.”

Disconnected – The Future of the Police Federation

26 05 2015

Last week, the Police Federation of England and Wales met for their annual conference in Bournemouth. The previous year, delegates experienced a “hair dryer” moment as the Home Secretary unleashed a speech so powerful and hurtful that those of us in that auditorium were simply blown away. 

There was much anticipation that there would be more of the same this year but what played out was far more subtle. 

It was an interesting week for a variety of reasons but not least of all it showed that, despite its willingness to reform, the Federation has an uphill, even existential, battle ahead of it. It also showed a series of disconnects which I will try to outline.

The Chiefs 

The theme of conference this year was #Cutshaveconsequences and in the lead up to the event itself some press pre-releases outlined the chairman, Steve White’s, concerns about how future cuts would lead to a more paramilitary style of policing as officers would need to turn up to fewer things, better protected and probably only when called for rather than undertaking pro-active patrol.

There are many officers on the front line who will agree that cuts are having consequences and that this, rather unpleasant view of the future, is something that they can relate to as a distinct possibility. 

It is not a view shared by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC)

Indeed, on the very eve of conference, the NPCC Chair, Sara Thornton, issued a statement which countered much of what the Fed had been saying in the previous days which said that they didn’t recognise that vision of the future and that “despite the challenges, we are not a service on our knees.” 

This statement had to have been timed to undermine the Federation as it was issued the day before they met. At the very least it was designed to offer a more optimistic view of the impact of cuts which sought to provide counter-weight to the Fed’s own gloomy picture. The Chief Constables and the Federation are not delivering the same narrative – Herein lies disconnect one.

The Ear of Government 

The Think-Tanks had been invited to partake in a session on the Tuesday called The Political Challenge. We heard from Policy Exchange and Reform, both of whom spoke passionately, if not rather simplistically, about their vision of the future of policing. 

We must remember that both of these organisations have the ear of ministers and their theories have formed the basis of government reform over the last five years (and indeed in the previous government.) 

It would seem that the expectation is that the police must continue to do more with less and any protestations that all you get for less – is less, will be taken as a signal of intransigence.

The answer is technology. Or so they say. Facial recognition and computerising forms (as well as mobile data) will revolutionise policing in hitherto unexplored ways. The point that you still need people to act upon the computer’s information and, indeed, input it was swept aside. It was pointed out that 16,000 laptops didn’t save London from the riots but this was also shrugged at.

We must learn to love predictive analytics, a computerised system which crunches data and tells you where the next crime series will occur. You can then place officers there and either prevent it or catch the bad guys in the act.

I have a few issues with predictive analytics. It’s not like we haven’t been doing something like it for years but in order to deploy officers into crime hot spots or future crime hot spots you need one thing – police officers.

They are currently so busy chasing crimes which have happened and calls coming in that there is little capacity for targeted patrol. 

“Ah!” Say the enthusiasts “If you send the officers there instead there will be less crime.”

“But,” say the pragmatists “who answers the calls in the meantime.”

I am not against predictive analytics but to start using them you need a lot of spare cops. Once demand starts to fall THEN you could potentially reduce the number of officers but we have already lost 17,000 and it strikes me that predictive analytics should have happened first.

Furthermore, I am yet to see what predictive analytics can offer to spot those crimes which are increasing but happen behind closed doors. Domestic abuse and Internet fraud. To be fair, I think this point is recognised by both the speakers from the Think Tanks but I worry that faith is being put into an expensive system which focuses mostly on crimes which are already less common and falling. 

I was dismayed to hear the chap from Policy Exchange talking about “incentivising crime reduction.” It is as though the trauma James Pattrick went through was for nothing. Fortunately, it wasn’t.  We all know that incentives distort policing and that is something the Home Secretary is unlikely to buy into. 

The point is this, and I am guilty of it myself in that paragraph – the Think Tanks paint a relentlessly optimistic picture of a cheaper and more effective future – the Fed send warnings about the dangers of it all. We are the negative ones and the Government don’t want to hear it – and that is disconnect two

The Electorate

These speakers were joined by shadow policing minister, Jack Dromey MP. 
It was here that I had my own conference moment. I had been busy tweeting the debate for those not present when suddenly, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, the compère, read out one of my tweets. 

“Nathan Constable has tweeted, to a lot of followers, that this is all meaningless and irrelevant, you’re talking like you haven’t just lost the election.” 

Mr Dromey did seek to answer that by telling us that their role in opposition would be to stand against further cuts. However, that didn’t work over the last five years and the Conservatives now have a majority government. The fact remains that the the public, whether they realise it or not, have chosen a government who believe in a smaller police service, with an unprotected budget, governed by politicians in the form of Police and Crime Commissioners. 

There was much debate about this on social media. Pointing out the unfairness of an electoral system where a party can control a country when 63% of the population didn’t vote for them. But the electorate know this – it’s how we have run elections in the UK forever. We were offered proportional representation a couple of years back and declined it in a referendum. 

This system of government was in place under Labour, who threw money at the police, but very few police officers complained about the electoral system then. 

We all know that crime and disorder didn’t feature on the electorate’s radar during the campaign. Despite the best efforts of some to raise the topic it barely registered. There are three things on the minds of the voting public at the moment – the NHS, immigration and the economy. 

The situation with regards crime and disorder is simply not pressing enough in people’s minds and until it is we can be ignored. This point was superbly made by Greg O’Conner from the New Zealand Police Association. 

He spoke on the last day and said that, historically, police “unions” across the world have been in the “fear of crime industry”. It’s true of history and it is true now (#Cutshaveconsequences) and it used to work but evidence is there across the globe that it isn’t working any more. In New Zealand, in South Africa, in America – this tactic simply isn’t working.

Mr O’Conner pointed to the situation in New York where the police there couldn’t get a raise for five years. Why? Because they had no leverage. Mayor Gulliani knew that crime was down and he knew the public knew that crime was down so any dire-warnings from the police simply carried no weight.

It is the same here.

 “Cuts have consequences” say the Federation. 

“Where are they?” Say the Government

“They’re coming” 

“Like they were when you said this in 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2010. Crime has fallen continually since then. Where are the consequences?”

The problem with this argument from the Home Secretary is that in most of those years there was continued investment in the police, often budget increases. 2010 was the first time budgets were cut and so far the public are not seeing any adverse effect. Which allows others to accuse the Police Federation of scaremongering.

I spotted the “crying wolf” phrase becoming common about six weeks ago. It had begun to creep into newspaper articles so it came as no surprise to hear the Home Secretary use it in her speech. 

It is a gamble to accuse us of such but until such time as something negative happens (which history doesn’t suggest will happen) we will be ignored. Unfortunately we have deployed this argument so often that no-one believes us any more. 

It was pointed out that that particular parable ends with the boy and the sheep being eaten. This raised a cheer but the only reason that happened is because everyone ignored the boy when there really was a wolf as he had pretended to often before.

There was no wolf in 2002, 2005 or 2008 – if there is one now then no-one believes us and this is disconnect three. 

The Members 

So far I have shown that the Chiefs have a more publicly optimistic view of the future; that the government prefer to listen to the optimistic visions of think-tanks and that the public are not experiencing the effects of crime to such a degree that it is barely spoken of and so do not recognise the cuts have consequences narrative (thanks also to an almost universally anti-police press.) The Fed is disconnected from all of them at the moment and is fighting to gain a voice.

However, it has a bigger problem and that is with its own membership.

This played out hugely over social media during conference with numerous people questioning the need for a conference at all, accusing some of squandering funds, asking why we even gave the Home Secretary an audience at all and even suggesting we turn our backs on her.

Those saying the latter have clearly learned nothing from the last time she received a hostile reception. When “compulsory severance” remains a possibility it would be wise not to induce the wrath of the person whose decision it is.

This last week alone I have seen calls for the Fed to wind up conference permanently, sell up its headquarters and refund all the subs. It might as well give up and close its doors now if that’s how people feel.

But why do people feel like that? It is because, as far as they can see, the Fed put up no resistance to the Government changes to pay and conditions. 

I can assure you that they did but the Federation was made weak to be weak. In 1919 it was created so as to prevent any future police strike. Officers at the time, and who can blame them, took a large pay increase for signing away their industrial rights. Those rights wouldn’t be needed for over 90 years and the restrictons placed way back then had never truly been tested in the face of a determined government. Until then, the cuts have consequences, fear of crime industry argument had been enough to dissuade previous ministers. As I have said, that line doesn’t wash any more. 

“So,” say some “let’s have a ballot on industrial rights” which we then did. It didn’t pass because the Fed put up a minimum 51% of membership (not voters) must support it and not enough people voted.

“Foul!” Some cried “it should have been a vote where, of the votes cast, the single biggest answer got the say!”

Wait a minute – isn’t that the same electoral maths which so many are decrying as unfair in the recent election? 

If 70% of the population didn’t vote Conservative – then about an equal number of police officers did not vote to strike. Same maths – same principle. 

In any case, the ballot was badly timed. It should have been held after the Home Secretary announced her decision on the PAT on compulsory severance IF she had opted for it. It still remains the best time to roll the dice again – if or when such an announcement comes. And only then. 

Why? Because if compulsory severance isn’t on the table and you win the case for industrial rights guess what comes with it – compulsory severance. That’s how it works folks – you might gain the right to strike but in the same package the employer gets the right to sack. 

The pensions thing was, sadly, a lost cause. Yes, the police pensions were enshrined in legislation but no government can bind the hands of its successor and all it would take was for a government to change the law. This has happened numerous times since 1919. Could the Fed have sought legal recourse – it could have and arguably should have. They could at least have used the “we tried everything argument.” 

But, considering that even under the old rules of the Police Negotiating Board this did not include negotiating pensions. Despite this, Ian Rennie managed to secure a place at the table and argued strongly enough to turn something utterly horrendous (the original government offer) into something which was merely bad. It still remains better than anything else on offer and it could have been so very much worse. 

Am I happy about it? No.

Do I realise what COULD have happened? Yes.

Whatever happened to that website set up by someone offering to take the government to court over this by the way?

Police pay and conditions are enshrined in law and regulated. I’m not sure that there are many organisations who have this problem. What the last government did was choose to change the law which they have the right to do and, for the reasons given above, the public were never going to rise up to protect them. Why should they – they were all in the same boat 10 years ago. 

Where the Fed have got it badly wrong, and believe me Steve White knows this because we have talked about it, is in its communication with members. It is rubbish, it has been rubbish for years and it needs to improve immediately.

The organisation can’t even talk directly to its membership because of ridulous obstacles that the Normington reforms will address.

The Fed needs to be shouting, very loudly indeed, about what it is doing for its members locally and nationally. We should be very vocal about how much of the annual subscription is spent on legal fees. The Hillsborough figures alone are staggering. 

The work of Hampshire Fed Chair, John Apter, in improving the support for officers assaulted on duty should be lauded and replicated nationally. This is leadership of the first order. John’s officers now know that the Fed, their Chief, their SLT’s and the CPS are now all joined up and unified in dealing with this when it arises – which is often.

So much goes on that members simply do not know about and that has to change. Members do not understand what the Fed can and cannot do. Many still think we are a union. Most have no idea what their reps are doing on a local or national level. A lot simply do not see the point of the Federation. 

This – is disconnect four. 

The Future

To those calling for the end of the Federation, be careful what you wish for. Remember it is the Government who determine what the Fed looks like. The Home Secretary threatened to change it around us and we should be thankful that we are, at least, being given the opportunity to reform ourselves.

No government in Britain will willingly allow its national police force to have a union. It undermines the entire purpose of the police and, in the UK, would undermine the independent office of constable. If we fight for it we get compulsory severance. I simply cannot see it happening. 

What other alternatives exist? None. Some suggest that the College of Policing could assume the role but they have already said they aren’t interested in dealing with the pay and conditions of officers. Not sure I want them fighting my corner with that level of indifference. 

It’s not a case of the Fed saying “we’re the only party in town” and carrying on regardless. This isn’t good enough and we need to take the members with us. Normington should make this easier going forward but there is a lot of repair work and explaining to do first. 

As well as explaining the past few years we now need to explain why it is in all of our interests to accept the Home Secretary’s offer to sit at the table and help design the future of policing rather than opting for an all out assault in the vain hope of legal victory. The answers are in this blog:

1. The Chiefs are saying something different 

2. The Think-Tanks have the ear of the government and all of the influence.

3. The shroud-waving isn’t working and it won’t until such time as something catastrophic happens.

4. The public are not on side and, under our well established democratic electoral system, have voted for this government and its policies on policing – based on what they had seen so far. 

Right now, the Federation is on the wrong side of the government, the wrong side of opinion, the wrong side of the argument and the wrong side of its members. 

A classic no-win, but the Home Secretary has said quite clearly that she will simply move ahead without Fed involvement. An ultimatum? Absolutely but one which could very easily be delivered – especially with a majority government. An offer? Yes – quite frankly it didn’t have to be made. 

Steve White said it himself, there were 1200 policing experts in that conference hall and there are 120,000 more out there doing the job. The Fed needs to become the “think-tank of choice” for any government and if not this one then the next. 

With a new narrative it could allow more influence and more leeway. Use academia and evidence (something the Paul McKeever Scholarship has started and needs to be widened) to present convincing studies of what does and does not work in policing and with regards pay and conditions. 

The other option involves complete withdrawal from the process, a confrontational and adversarial relationship which we know simply does not work and we cannot win and the unfettered and unchallenged concepts of Think-Tanks such as “incentivising crime reduction” going through on the nod. 

Not everyone agrees with this view but I am convinced, knowing what I know, that it will be from this position that the Police Federation can act in the best interests of its members in all future discussions. 

The bigger challenge now is convincing the members that this truly is the best option on the table. 

For that to happen, the Fed needs to get infinitely better at communicating and now. Preferably sooner. 

It Has Only Just Begun 

20 05 2015

There is much anticipation here in Bournemouth over the contents of the keynote speeches of the Police Federation Chairman, Steve White and the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

Whereas Mr White has already given the press some clue as to what will be in his speech, Mrs May, as last year, has declined to give anyone (including Mr White) any form of hint of what she will say.

Last year, we were all taken by surprise by the astonishing speech from the Home Secretary. I wrote a blog about it called “No More Chances” a day later.

I outlined what it felt like to be in that room, how uncomfortable it was and that the speech “was not a warning shot to the Police Federation. It was a laser guided nuclear bomb targeted at police culture.”

Since then, a few things have changed.

The Home Secretary listed a litany of police transgressions dating back 40 years. The investigations into those are still rumbling on or haven’t started yet. With one exception – the now infamous “Plebgate.”

Whilst several officers have been dismissed and one prosecuted for events in the aftermath of that day – the actual incident has now been played out in civil court where the Judge held that the then Chief Whip probably did use the words attributed to him.

Whilst this was hailed as something of a victory for the police it will not have done much to enamour the service to those in Whitehall.

The police have still not atoned for the alleged sins of the fathers in the remainder of that list.

There has also been a general election. A general election where crime and disorder didn’t even feature on the radar.

As far as the general population are concerned, crime is falling and the impact of cuts to the police has yet to be seen or realised.

There are probably three things on the mind of the electorate at the moment. The NHS, immigration and the economy. Anything else is a distant speck on the horizon unless you are directly affected.

Within the bubble of the police family and the echo-chamber that is Twitter, you would be forgiven for thinking that everyone else is as concerned about cuts to the police as the police are – but they are not.

The Conservative manifesto was very vague about their intentions towards the police other than to say they intended to “finish the job” of police reform and extend the role and responsibilities of Police and Crime Commissioners – probably to include taking over the fire service.

Conference yesterday heard from the Shadow Policing Minister, Jack Dromey who spoke passionately but repetitively about “the bedrock of policing – Neighbourhood Policing” and the need for the tone of the Government towards the police to change and be less aggressive.

Listening to this, I tweeted a comment and was as surprised as anyone who knows me to hear it being read out to Mr Dromey by the facilitator, Krishnen Guru-Murphy.

Paraphrased, it was along the lines that Mr Dromey was talking as though they hadn’t just lost an election and that his comments were largely irrelevant. I said this as I couldn’t understand what possible influence he could have from the opposition benches facing an incumbent majority government with a five year term ahead of them.

Mr Dromey’s comments were almost a “this is what we would have done if we had won.”

But they didn’t. So they can’t.

The fact is that the public have chosen the Conservatives and have voted for their manifesto. Although this didn’t spell out that the police would be cut further, the Home Secretary said that this would be the case in the days leading up to the election itself.

The public, whether they fully realised it or not, have chosen a government who want to decrease the size of the police.

The police, whether they like it or not, are going to have to get used to that.

I’m not sure that, 12 months ago, Mrs May expected to be back in Bournemouth today. I’m not sure she expected to be Home Secretary either but on both counts – she is.

There has been some murmuring on Twitter which has suggested that delegates should turn their backs to her when she speaks or walk out in protest.

That would be churlish, unprofessional and self-defeating.

If we want dialogue with the re-elected government, who we know are singularly determined, we will never get it if we disrespect the elected Home Secretary in that way. All it would achieve is a hardening of resolve against us.

It would be a mark of protest which would be the death-knell of relations between Government and the Police Federation.

Some might argue that they couldn’t get any worse but really – they could.

The Federation may not feel it is being listened to but at least it has an audience in the Home Office. A courtesy that was not extended to Sir Hugh Orde in his final 18 months as president of ACPO. 

This government is 12 days into a 5 year elected term. A response like that from the Federation could be fatal.

Which leads me onto what I think the Home Secretary will say.

There are some here who believe that she will offer an olive branch and that the dawn of a new era of positive relations will be heralded.

Whilst this would be nice, you only have to look at yesterday’s meeting between the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the Home Secretary and the input from the guest speakers from the two Think Tanks at Conference to see what is more likely.

We were told yesterday that the expectation is not that we will do “less with less” (a response to recent annoucements from some forces that they are looking to stop doing things such as dealing with found property) but we will be expected to do “more with less.”

In fact, this will be demanded not expected. We were warned yesterday – by a right-leaning Think Tank with the ear of Govermnent – that if we don’t – then change will be forced upon us.

When the Home Secretary met with the Police and Crime Commisioners yesterday it was clear that she spoke with a mandate. PCC’s are here to stay and police reform (which wasn’t detailed) will be more urgent and more radical.

None of this has been fully explained but it will mean one thing – a smaller police service who will be expected to do everything they currently do now – only better and more cheaply.

I believe that the Home Secretary will point out that the public support their agenda (they have just re-elected them) and that the Police Federation (and the service itself) is currently on the wrong side of the argument.

Crime is falling we will be told. Any rise is attributable to improvements in recording.

Collaboration and technology will be the key to achieving the “substantial” savings which HMIC have said are achievable.

Officer numbers are irrelevant. It is how they are deployed which is key and for that we can rely on predictive analytics and mobile technology.

I hope she will say that she is content with the pace of change of the Federation itself. Sir David Normington himself said it was a 2-3 year journey but the Home Secretary said she would legislate if she wasn’t happy.

Ironically, it is the need for legislative change which is delaying Fed reform. Until changes are made through Parliament the Fed cannot restructure as its make up is defined by law. We might hear something on this.

The Queens speech will outline changes to complaints and discipline procedures and restrictions on the use of police bail (28 days?).

And don’t forget that compulsory severance is still an option. The Home Secretary only agreed to the recommendations that it should not be introduced “for the time being.”

Those who might be hoping for a change of direction from the Government will be very sadly disappointed.

To the contrary, we can now expect an acceleration of change.

If last year’s speech was considered aggressive then this year’s could very well be the Home Secretary’s “The lady is not for turning” moment.

If anyone thought that the major part of police reform was over – they are wrong.

It has only just begun.


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