Archives for July 2013

Let’s be the experts in rural policing…

We are the most rural police service in the country. We need to be the g0-to people for rural policing.

On Monday at the Royal Welsh Show, the Chief Constable and I launched our rural policing consultation. We want peoples ideas to improve our service. It will shape how we deliver services in the coming years.

This is the speech I made to launch the consultation. 22/7/2013.

 

It’s been many years since my first memories of this Showground. I used to spend hours gathering armfuls of tractor brochures with friends.

I have vivid memories of the Royal Marine Commandos display team. I don’t think my younger sisters have ever forgiven me for trying out what I had seen – despite the warnings that we shouldn’t – on them when I got home.

Those experiences must have had some effect because I joined the army and I’m still obsessed with tractors.

I’m very pleased to see this morning that the traditions of the Show continue as strong as ever.

 

My job is a new one. I want to put it in context. I want to explain our Rural Policing Strategy. I want to what we are doing and how we would like your help to achieve it.

Not long ago I found myself at a ceremony in Llandrindod Wells. We were there, at the High Sheriff’s invitation, to acknowledge the service of local offices and magistrates.

What we had in that room where the very foundations of our civil society and justice system: police officers, staff, Magistrates, fire and rescue officers, health workers. We had the oldest office in the land – the High Sheriff – and the newest – me, the Police and Crime Commissioner.

Ours is a peculiar constitution. No one has written it down, like those Johnny-come-lately’s across the pond. But it’s there nonetheless.

It resembles one of those enormous, sprawling oak trees. Parts are gnarled and scarred where something has been lopped off. Other parts spring fresh shoots where need and opportunity allow. It constantly evolves but is always rooted in the same traditions.

Those are the traditions that I am seeking to call upon today. My job is to bring the police and the public closer together; to give people a say over how their police service works – and it is their – your – service because you pay for it; and to delivery the safe homes and confident communities our public needs.

Like High Sheriffs in years gone by I am responsible for ensuring – through the Chief Constable – confidence in law and local justice.

I am, in a phrase I think you are unlikely to find in 12th century texts, to be “a voice for victims”. It amounts to the same thing and it puts Police and Crime Commissioners and their role firmly in the tradition of British policing.

Sadly, unlike the High Sheriff I do not have the majesty or the dignity of being appointed by the Crown. I have the pleasure of scrabbling in the gutter for votes and my job.

Such are the low degradations of politics. It’s not pretty but it brings me back to where I need to be: with you, the public.

 

I have asked the Chief Constable to produce a Rural Policing Strategy to put you, the public, at the heart of what we do.

This is a policing strategy but it is not just about the police. It’s about how we make our communities safe. We all have a stake in that game.

The police, in the tradition of our common law, our courts, our government and our society, are part of our communities. They are rooted like our oak tree. We must make the most of that and all the experience it brings.

 

It gives me great pleasure to welcome here just such experience. We have representatives from charities, the voluntary sector, business organisations, farming groups, hunting, shooting and country sports groups, young farmers, animal welfare bodies, politicians, local government and the Welsh Government.

Indeed, I think we have the honour of a Minister in our midst – Leslie Griffiths.

We have a great opportunity under these devolved policing arrangements to tackle the problems of our area, with no clumsy central targets to get in our way.

We face many of the same crimes as other forces – anti-social behaviour, domestic and sexual violence, burglary, drugs and dangerous driving. But our problem is not the volume of crime or gangs, like Manchester.

Our challenge is geography. We are the most rural police force in England and Wales.

That is just as valid a professional challenge to those who serve us and just as important to our communities as the challenges of our great cities. We never forget that, though our capitals often do.

 

The Chief Constable and I have already begun to address those challenges, but we need your help.

What do you want your police service to do?

We are listening to the public – at events like this, in surgeries and most importantly through our local officers. Please talk to them.

We are improving our organisation, to make it more flexible and more responsive.

We are building links with experts in other areas of government, in academia and from elsewhere.

 

We have already made changes.

The Chief Constable has instructed that, in his phrase “when we’re in, we’re open”. Local stations will always welcome visitors when they are manned. He has granted greater discretion to local commanders over the use of mobile police stations and front desks.

We have launched a Commissioner’s Fund which makes money available to frontline officers to support projects in their area.

We can, and we will, do more. That is what today is about. We would like your views on how to keep our communities safe.

How we can make better use of volunteers, special constables and local knowledge?

How we can improve our service through technology?

How we can improve our communication with the public, with the media and with victims of crime?

Please, fill out the survey forms, go online… most importantly talk to officers and encourage others to do likewise.

Thank you for coming. I look forward to working with you.

May the oak tree continue to thrive! Have a great Royal Welsh Show.

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There’s no accountability without power. Policing governance had to change.

This was published on ConservativeHome in the wake of the departure of CC Carmel Napier from her post. You can read the original here.

 

We were going to get here sooner or later. A Police and Crime Commissioner recently exercised his power and asked a Chief Constable to retire. This was always going to be a sensitive moment. Amidst all the fuss, we have heard a lot about protecting chief officers’ interests – but very little about strengthening accountability to the public. Whatever the details, the reaction demonstrated exactly why police reform was needed.

Directly elected commissioners were introduced to give people a say about how they are policed. They are firmly in the tradition of British policing – in which local forces are answerable to local people through democratic controls. They set budgets, priorities and employ Chief Constables.

The commissioner in question, Ian Johnston, asked his Chief Constable, Carmel Napier, to retire. She agreed. So far, so normal. This could have been a retirement like any other, on a full pension with both parties’ dignity intact.  We have since been told that this retirement was “not a time of her choosing”. Notes of the meeting leaked. What followed was a deliberate effort to question the reforms on the politically emotive premise of “operational independence”.

The police must be accountable. In a local system like ours, that accountability must also be local. In creating Police and Crime Commissioners, Parliament quite deliberately changed the relationship between people and their police forces.  It tipped the balance in favour of the public, making Chief Constables answer to an elected local representative. The relationships are clear. Commissioners hold Chief Constables to account. They, in turn, are accountable to the public at the ballot box.

To be accountable, commissioners must be able and willing to act. Nothing frustrates voters more than politicians who are incapable of doing anything. Yes, they hold significant powers. But, like the Mayor of London, we also face our electorates alone. If we don’t deliver, we get voted out. Before commissioners, unelected and largely invisible Police Authorities might have made decisions like this. ACPO would have made the same kind of fuss, aimed at the Authority Chairman. You can bet on that.

In fact, seventeen members on a committee did not improve accountability. They hid it. Like most committees, they diffused rather than strengthened responsibility. Difficult decisions were ducked. As a result, Police Authorities became shields for the police rather than a voice for the public. Commissioners must not do the same. I, like many colleagues, inherited a creaking and grossly inefficient governance structure and some eye-watering senior staff contracts. Chief Constables ran forces largely unchecked. That might explain the discomfort some are so eager to express now.

Where is the public in this debate? What matters to them is that their homes and families are kept safe. They will pass their judgement on their Commissioners’ ability to deliver that in May 2016. We are acutely aware after our first few months just how much we have to do.

The nub of the issue in Gwent was that the Chief Constable refused to accept Parliament’s decision and the role of the Commissioner. That is not in the public interest. The relationship between Commissioner and Chief Constable is crucial. If it is broken, any responsible Commissioner would have a duty to correct it. Of course operational independence is sacrosanct. Just as an NHS manager would not tell a surgeon how to conduct open heart surgery, Commissioners cannot direct police investigations, arrests or operations. No Chief Constable would allow it. No Commissioner would wish it.

But much of the recent discussion has been about protecting insider interests and attempting to unpick the reforms. Both are indicative of a culture that is still struggling to adapt. ACPO’s leadership have ridden into political territory with a freedom that no senior civil servant or General would dare assume. Arguments like this detract from the fact that the majority of Commissioners are settling in remarkably well. Ours was not an easy birth. Everyone accepts that. But within these new arrangements are huge opportunities to improve public safety – with less bureaucracy, clearer direction and greater accountability.

There is a power to direct accountability – with clearly defined budgets and responsibilities – that local government sorely lacks. Witness the success of London’s mayor. The new generation of Commissioners can bring that to their forces. With Chief Constables we are now able to put the public firmly back at the heart of policing.

Chief Constables will always be the policing experts. Police and Crime Commissioners’ job is to challenge and question. The police must change. Over the years, police forces have become increasingly remote from ordinary people. Technology has transformed crime and society alike. The police are still typing up paper notes. Within every force are thousands of people dedicated to protecting their communities. Too often the institution around them is preoccupied with protecting itself, whether by resisting outsiders or piling management targets on its staff.

Changing that is about culture and leadership. It will take time. It will only succeed where relationships at the top are respectful, clear and unambiguous. That is why the accountability of Chief Constables to Commissioners is so important, as is Commissioners’ accountability to the public. Politics and police make uncomfortable bedfellows, but bedfellows they have always been. We will succeed best where we focus on our strengths. Senior officers would do well to let politicians do the politics, then the police can get on with policing.

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