In his new guise as president of ACPO, Sir Hugh Orde has certainly set the cat among the pigeons with clarion calls for police reform. Do his theories stack up? Brian Sims provides an impassioned appraisal.
Having said so very little since he took office that I’d almost forgotten him altogether, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has not been backward in coming forward to support ACPO president Sir Hugh Orde’s bold statements on the perceived need for radical policing reform.
Substantial reform underpinned (in no small way, it must be said) by controversial proposals for force mergers.
For his part, Sir Paul – whose light has presumably been hidden under New Scotland Yard’s corporate communications bushel in a bid to banish from memory the disgraceful hounding of Tory MP Damian Green – has recently made reference to a ‘patchwork’ of police forces in the UK, the smaller ones in particular allegedly struggling to cope with serious and organised crime that’s often international in both origin and execution.
Haven’t we – and, indeed, Sir Paul – been here before, though? In 2003, I well remember Stephenson submitting a report to the Home Office in which he championed the instigation of a number of recommendations, not least this political and social ‘hot potato’ of force coalescence.
Six years on, our Top Cop is somewhat disappointed that little progress has been made (certainly in terms of tackling serious and organised crime, anyway). Speaking in The Times only last Thursday, Sir Paul stated: “I think the problems present then [in 2003] are, to some extent, still present now.”
One look at the crime statistics – not the Government’s heavily massaged ones, but the real scenarios played out on a daily basis in the national media – would suggest that Stephenson has this time hit the nail squarely on the head.
The Home Office White Paper
This whole merger debate has resurfaced at a time when, like most of us, police forces are being placed under constant pressure to eke out cost savings. On occasion, however, there’s only so much fat you can trim before the whole deck of cards collapses.
A forthcoming Home Office White Paper is fully expected to encourage voluntary mergers – that should please both Sirs, then – and, at the same time, an increased collaboration between neighbouring forces.
With a General Election in the wings, the Conservative Party’s policy on policing reform is – sadly, like many of their plans – still in its formative stages.
One Tory idea to emerge to date concerns the massively controversial desire for replacing police authorities — at present comprised of councillors and appointed members — with single, elected police commissioners who would oversee the work of given forces.
More anon of what is, for many in the police service, a jewel-encrusted rapier of a suggestion.
First, though, let’s look in a little more detail at what Sir Hugh Orde – who, in my view, should have been appointed Met Commissioner – has been saying since he stepped down as chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and sat in the ACPO ‘hot seat’ barely three months ago.
He wants more emphasis on public order tactics and training, with greater focus on considerations towards Human Rights. No real surprises there, as Sir Hugh dutifully oversaw the Patten Review in Northern Ireland where said Rights were (and still are) at the core of policing in the Province.
Sir Hugh doesn’t feel that Human Rights considerations are an obstacle to good policing, but I’m not entirely sure I’d agree with him there. Too many oily defence briefs prepared to turn a blind eye towards morality in favour of their bank balance have blatantly used the Human Rights Act as a buffer that has – more often than is healthy – protected the guilty.
That aside, focusing on Human Rights would provide a welcome antidote to the Government’s target culture of the last few years. A rancid culture that has transformed policing into a number-crunching exercise rather than one that really delivers the style of service – and, more importantly, the results – that tax payers wish to see for their money.
Only this morning, Denis O’Connor – Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary – suggested in The Daily Telegraph that policing has lost its way amid the “noise and clutter” of Government targets and laws.
O’Connor has called for a return to the ideals and vision of Sir Robert Peel, who once said: “The police are the public, and the public are the police”. Spot on.
Tax payers want protection, reassurance and the defence of our civil liberties. Not much to ask, really, from the alleged defenders of our social faith (and I’m not counting PCSOs in their number, by the way).
Apparent political indifference
The barely latent spectre of international terrorism and cross-border organised crime are huge issues which the police must address.
It’s pretty obvious the 44 forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are struggling to cope, largely due to political interference most readily manifested in the aforementioned targets but also, it has to be said (and rather perversely), as a result of apparent political indifference.
Put simply, there doesn’t seem to be much (if any) political will – and even less Westminster-based enthusiasm – to address this issue of policing reform, probably because the solution is every bit as complex a task to fathom as would be the case if one were to attempt to unravel the genuine elements of any given MP’s expenses claims over the past decade and more.
Is it really fair of Sir Hugh to suggest that this debate on policing reform and restructuring has somehow been ‘hijacked’ by the citizens and voters who merely want to see some Bobbies on the Beat?
Just like throwing even more money down the NHS gravy drain (yes, I did mean to say drain) hasn’t helped with the reduction of waiting lists and hospital closures in towns where the latter are desperately needed, the slavish quest for more ‘Beat Cops’ is probably not the complete answer.
As a rule, local on foot Bobbies – very important though they are, and always will be – don’t tend to catch serious terrorists. They don’t apprehend serial rapists. Rarely do they solve murders.
However, the local Boys in Blue are a vital link in the chain, and I for one feel safer in my own neighbourhood on the ultra rare occasion they hove into view either on foot (highly unlikely), with benefit of mountain bike (slightly less unlikely) or in a patrol car (blink and you’ll probably miss them).
Best possible structure for all concerned
Not unreasonably, Sir Hugh is calling for “an independent, thoughtful but not long-winded” review of policing.
The $64,000 question is this: what’s the best possible policing structure we can put in place to deal with the myriad threats now facing us?
Sir Hugh’s ideas primarily centre on the amalgamation of forces into regional units that might deal with both high-level crime and occurrences of criminality at the local level. If realised, his proposals could lead to the number of police forces being cut to less than ten so-called ‘super forces’.
As far as Sir Hugh’s concerned, the British brand of policing is a really important one to safeguard. He has “yet to find another model” in which he “would feel more comfortable as a citizen”.
By extension, almost, British policing would “continue to be founded on consent, the minimum use of force, minimal interference in the lives of citizens and operational independence for chief officers”.
That last statement is perhaps the most telling and important point of them all. Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling is still waiting for the ink to dry on his outline of how the Conservatives are committed to directly-elected local commissioners with powers to hire and fire chief constables, and set budgets and policing priorities in England and Wales. The overriding aim? To improve police accountability.
An intelligent, quick-thinking man of strong moral backbone, Sir Hugh warns that several chief constables would quit rather than serve under such direct political control.
Should the Tories come to power and enforce their planned move, Sir Hugh would “be deeply uncomfortable” and might even leave office “if the principles of British policing were compromised.”
Political influence: it’s a two-way street
Sir Hugh has insisted time and again that there should be no perception of political influence in policing whatsoever. I agree 100%, but that process demands transparency and adherence on both sides of the fence.
Chief constables, we are told, fully comprehend the need to be held accountable, but at the same time warn that direct local political control would distort their policing priorities.
Sir Hugh himself has commented: “You cannot have a democratic society where the police are controlled, or are even perceived to be controlled, by anyone in a political position.”
Undoubtedly, in this regard the Government has stuck its woefully misguided oar in on far too many occasions – the Damian Green episode and Jacqui Smith’s non-covert preference for Sir Paul to take over from Sir Ian Blair among them – but by the same equation plenty of chief officers have seen fit to nail their political colours to the mast, rabidly courting favour in the House when they should remain impartial at all times.
On that basis, I would politely suggest to Sir Hugh that he ought first to have a word or two with a few of his colleagues on the politics of policing and put ACPO’s own house in order before any stones are thrown outwards.
Sticking with the ACPO theme for a moment longer, this body has long been criticised for a perceived lack of transparency, and for demonstrating direct involvement in operational policing despite the fact that we are talking about what is a limited company.
I’ve never quite understood how that works and neither, for that matter, have many of my esteemed colleagues in the security profession. It’s not a situation that sits well with us in relation to what is, in essence, a bunch of volunteers banding together to drive forward policies (and consistency within those policies).
To be blunt, ACPO should resist all temptation to script any further codes and manuals.
As a basic exercise in law enforcement, the discipline of policing is partly scientific, but – just like security – much of it is common sense (and, not to put too fine a point on it, something of an art form in its own right). Over-complicate this process and that’s when the fog descends. In short, ACPO probably needs to back off a bit.
Workable blueprint for policing?
Is Sir Hugh Orde’s blueprint for policing – and the creation of those impressive-sounding ‘super forces’ – a sound one in the cold light of November 2009 day? There are many whose response to that question would be in the negative.
Grouping anti-social behaviour with acts like dog fouling and bike riding in the wrong places isn’t really the best way for Sir Hugh to win over the public. The former is what makes life intolerable for many, and yet nothing is being done about it.
Reports of vicious, unprovoked beatings, callous rapes, knifings, shootings and muggings are commonplace in today’s society.
Families – and, in some instances, entire neighbourhoods – are being ground down by brain cell-bereft louts who have no respect for anyone or anything. Again, it appears to me that nothing of any substance is being done to sort them out.
Often, we’re told by the authorities not to confront vandals or yobs who, for example, stick their dirty feet on train and bus seats where decent people wearing expensive suits have to sit later in the day, smash shop windows with abandon or burn litter bins. We cannot be seen to offend by way of challenge. It’s not the done thing.
Maybe the average citizen could (and would) do something about this kind of behaviour if they knew a police officer or two were close by and that the Judiciary would play its part by handing down meaningful punishment.
Under a ‘Super Force State’, who’s going to deal with the screaming, drunken, bullying and vomiting knuckle-scrapers of a Friday and Saturday night? What about the drug addicts shooting up in the alleyway? Such anti-social behaviour absolutely cannot be ignored and must never be trivialised.
Many would suggest that Janet Street-Porter’s ‘Yoof of Today’ are the most prominent form of terrorist in our midst and, given the levels to which society has now sunk, I reckon you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that would fundamentally disagree with that assertion.
Policing by consent… but is it?
In addition, why do we always hear this mantra that the police service wishes to retain policing by consent? Is that what we really have in this country? Some would say not, and that any such statement is little other than platitudinous drivel.
Consent by whom and for what purpose, exactly? In order to consent to something, surely you first have to be asked what it is you want to support?
We should be talking about policing by public consent. Mind you, the Government didn’t think twice about not asking us if we wanted these ill-fated and costly scraps in Iraq and Afghanistan, and neither will it ask us if we wish to sell England down the river by shelving the pound.
The politicians will never consult with Joe Public because they know damn well what the answer would be. Our ‘consent’ to policing is, if we’re honest with ourselves, really about as fictional as our soon-to-occur expression of democratic will and intent at next summer’s General Election.
The ideal ‘end game’ as far as policing’s concerned is that we need national forces to tackle serious crime and to quell terrorism, with greatly strengthened local policing services retained in order to mop up petty crime and anti-social behaviour.
In truth, any retention of age-old county/city-based set-ups merely to preserve the status quo of top jobs (and the over-inflated salaries that go with them) is not only pointless but arguably wasteful in the extreme.
Anyway, in all of this talk about police reform we seem to have missed the truism that fighting crime is all about ‘the deterrent’. At present, our prisons don’t hold any fear for the criminal fraternity. They’re not much more than an occupational hazard.
The day we began treating inmates with kid gloves and gave them ridiculous luxuries like portable TVs, PlayStations and gyms and so on was the day the rot set in.
Prison is supposed to be a correctional medium wherein privileges are removed due to serious wrongs having been committed, not a holiday camp from which Mr Bang-To-Rights can glibly continue to run his drugs cartel by way of a smuggled-in BlackBerry Curve.
Bobby on the Beat: a luxury
Until and unless the public is demonstrably willing to fund a massive increase in policing numbers, the Bobby on the Beat will remain a luxury.
Is that a problem? Anecdotal evidence from within says not. If you believe what the rank and file police officers are saying, it’s the patrol car officer that’s doing all the work, it seems. They’re the ones putting wrongdoers in front of Judges.
That said, however much beat patrols may be disparaged by certain newer members of the police service and dubbed either ineffective or unproductive (or both), there are plenty of old school coppers who’ll gladly tell you this form of policing produces lots of vital low-level intelligence, at the same time preventing plenty of crime and disorder. The very happenings that most upset and rile the law-abiding citizen on a daily basis.
Sadly, we have to accept the fact that the deterrent effect of a police uniform is negligible (which, to my mind, says everything about the society in which we live). TV programmes like Nightwatch, Brit Cops and Booze Britain tell us that the trouble-makers know even if they’re arrested and charged the system will not punish them.
Perhaps the most pressing need in all of this is to examine the potential separation of criminal policing from terrorist policing.
Terrorism is without doubt the greatest threat to us all in the grand scheme of things, but it’s the day-to-day ‘clean up’ of the UK’s streets that most concerns the average rate-payer. That’s where Sir Hugh Orde and Co’s skills and mindset ought to be focused.
Tips from the West Midlands
For some tips on how to balance local policing with the strategic requirement to deal with serious crime and terrorism, Sir Hugh could do worse than appraise the work of Chris Sims (we’re not related, by the way), the forward-thinking chief constable of West Midlands Police.
The basic operational command units of Britain’s second biggest policing concern – all 21 of them, and all of which have been thoroughly mired in New Labour’s ludicrous target-based system – are being dumped in favour of ten redefined force areas. These will broadly mirror the local authority borders and, what’s more, directly serve their communities.
Sims – who supports Sir Hugh Orde’s call for reform – is most insistent that each local division is to carry out local policing duties. Officers will be on the streets. They’ll be engaging with the people, combating low-level crime and stamping out the anti-social behaviour all of us right-minded individuals find so utterly stomach-churning.
This chief constable sees no contradiction at all between the demand for local policing and the need for regional policing. Neither, for that matter, do I.
It’s fair to say that the restructuring of the West Midlands Police could become the model for building larger forces while still retaining that most vital concentration on communities. In time, we shall see.
Ultimately, given the financial pressures currently constricting the public purse, there has never been a better or indeed a more appropriate moment for a serious debate to be kick-started on what society expects – and demands – from its police service.
Will ACPO and the politicians involve us mere tax-paying citizens in that discussion? If they don’t, Sir Hugh Orde’s vision of a police service that’s “fit for purpose” will have as much chance of being realised as I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! has of winning the Nobel Prize for Broadcasting.
Warning over intercept evidence
That’s one of the reasons why I was extremely interested to note his opinion that allowing intercept evidence in terrorism trials would “be wholly at odds with the national interest”.
As the Government’s impartial advisor on such issues, and the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, His Lordship is very firmly opposed to allowing any evidence whatsoever originating from phone taps to be permissible as evidence in legal trials.
“Despite my willingness for it to be introduced in appropriate circumstances,” stated Lord Carlile, “I have yet to see any material to justify the conclusion that the permitting of such evidence in terrorism cases would do more good than harm.”
This intervention in what has become a long-running debate will no doubt send shivers through the opposition parties and civil liberties campaigners alike, many of whom have argued that such procedures could well be used to secure more terrorism-related convictions than is the case at present.
Reports suggest both MI5 and the police service are concerned that the requirement for transcribing hundreds of hours of conversations would place an unrealistic and heavy burden on them. Fair point, particularly so when set against available policing manpower.
They also fear that surveillance and monitoring techniques could be revealed if intercept evidence were made public in our Courts of Law. Again, that’s a fair point to make.
With the proviso that, following a review, change would be instigated if deemed necessary, when all’s said and done I would side with Lord Carlile on this issue.
It’s all about your DNA… again
Around the same time that I became Editor of Security Management Today in 2000, (then) Prime Minister Tony Blair was running around town boasting that he’d have the DNA of every criminal on record within three years.
Like a lot of other promises made by New Labour, it never happened. Quelle surprise. Things can only get better? How true.
Now, fanning the flames of controversy stoked by what many deem to be the rise of the Surveillance State and ongoing erosions of necessary privacies, suggestions are rife that the Boys in Blue can be prone to arrest people solely for the purpose of catching DNA samples and adding them to the national database (which I wrote about in my last SMT Online Editor’s View). Another one of those famous targets, no doubt?
By law, of course, members of the police service are permitted to demand DNA samples from anyone arrested for a recordable offence. Samples may be obtained post-arrest, but not if there’s a report for summons.
Independent Government watchdog and advisor the Human Genetics Commission wants to see a major overhaul of the system, and is calling for a set of rules that pinpoint when (and under what circumstances) it’s right for the police to take DNA.
Akin to the debate on evidence interception, the Commission wishes a public discussion to be had on the matter because “there’s very little concrete evidence” on how useful this database – which contains more than five million individual profiles, by the way – really is when it comes to investigating acts of criminality.
Are we entertaining ‘function creep’?
The Commission’s chairman, Professor Jonathan Montgomery, is now talking of the database suffering from “function creep”, whereupon it has morphed from originally existing as a database of offenders to become one of suspects.
In other words, large numbers of people are on board because they’ve been arrested by the police rather than convicted by the Courts.
Montgomery also mentions the creation of “a spiral of suspicion” among those already perturbed by the State’s ever-increasing powers of intrusion.
The Government’s attitude towards DNA retention has engendered a ridiculous situation wherein, in some cases it seems, people are being arrested solely for the police to harvest their DNA. Under New Labour, everyone’s a potential suspect.
No bunch more so, in fact, than the politicians themselves. I always said the House of Commons was the biggest seat of corruption in the land. The expenses scandal merely proves the point.
One forms the impression that many of our Westminster ‘bastions of virtue’ would sell their granny if they thought it would gain them political and/or monetary advantage.
In line with proposals for another Royal Commission on The Future of Policing, let’s have one on politics and politicians, too.
Bring to account those who cannot account for – nor pick up the pieces of – their own actions, let alone those of the rest of us.
Until next time…