Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Big Society?

The idea of the Big Society which  was vocalised by the Prime Minister last year appears to be getting swallowed up by other matters - like the economy - or more specifically the lack of money. There's also a lack of clarity about where the Big Sociey fits with localism and Whitehall's push for decentralisation. But that's politics....The real problem is the lack of money for people and agencies to sort problems out and that problem is not going away...

But I like the idea of the Big Society. To me, it's about people thinking and caring about their place. Dare I say it, it's about taking pride in their village, town or city. But,what is it? What does it look like?

My answer is that it looks, sounds and smells like Barrow. The town's imperfections make it perfect. It is filled with solid, down to earth people who take huge pride in the town. There are many people who are active in the community who are doing their bit to make a difference. A number of those are my police officers who commit themselves to the town when off duty and on duty. There are many others.

And what about local politics? I met a group of  county councillors this week to brief them on local policing. They all had one thing in common: A passion and pride for the town. It was a real pleasure talking with them. Even more so because I could talk about falling crime crime rates and the town being safer than ever. There is also a highly respected Chief Executive of the local authority and many others in public service, private industry and volunteers who push and push.

If you really want to know what the Big Society is then take a look at the Love Barrow Awards in March where you'll see a line of people who are the forefront of making the Big Society in Barrow - bigger.

It is not complicated.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Monthly Going the Extra Mile Award

On 17 January 2011, I presented Kim Chapman (PPU Clerk) with a 'Going the Extra Mile' certificate in recognition of her hard work in relation to the Enhanced Information Sharing Domestic Violence 'Pilot'.  Positive results have already been achieved, thanks to her flexibility, commitment and willingness to take on the extra work.

Lots of really good work by staff within the Public Protection Unit. Well done Kim.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Social media meets Police Commander, says 'Wake up'.

I read this week that for every one person reading a newspaper, there are 10 reading facebook. As I see things, social media ( SM ) appears to be shouting at the local police service to wake up. Like many within the police service I'm grappling with the SM concept.

What needs fixing? We currently have police - community forums where we ask members of the public to come and talk with us. We have a police culture which historically is about us the police 'telling' the public in a supercilious way rather than listening. Police commanders are good at giving directives, less good at listening. And lastly, is the police service transparent and ready to be open about our challenges and shortcoming....not as much as it should be I think.

So, what's in the wake up call? Forgive me, no exhaustive list, just a view. Through SM we can have more dialogue. Before Christmas I had a 2 hour on line chat with people in Barrow with 50 followers and some really good discussion, much of it linked to Twitter. We also ran a 24 hr police operation before Christmas using SM linked the front page of a local newspaper website - we had over 10,000 hits with lots of comment and feedback. That level of contact is pretty good in my book. Also, why can we not use SM regularly and dynamically to ask members of the public what they think about local issues and priorities more discussion, more listening by the police.

I would also like to see more discussion within the police service that is within the public eye. A scary thought for many. How about a staff survey which is open to the public? The more we listen to the public, the more we communicate with and around the public, the more trusted we will be. A common plea I have from my officers is that we need to be more open with the public we serve.

Time to wake up.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Transparency is Key

Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘Without public sentiment, nothing can succeed. With public sentiment, nothing can fail’. When it comes to policing by consent, I think that quote is pretty relevant to modern day policing.

We are currently going through unprecedented change. Police forces across the country are announcing reductions in police officers and police staff. In Cumbria, the Chief Constable has announced a reduction in 100 officers. Nationally, police forces have announced a reduction of over 6000 police posts in response to budget pressures.

To maintain public sentiment in policing, it’s important that we don’t loose sight of the need and the duty to be transparent with members of the public.

I have spoken at length recently to a number of supervisors and managers within my command unit about how we communicate with the public. Our message to the people of South Cumbria is that we will deliver the best, most affordable police service which is different to making promises which are not achieveable. That said, there will be more occasions where we have to withdraw certain services and there maybe times when we cannot follow all lines of enquiry after a crime. It is on these occasions that in my view, we must be frank and honest so that we maintain public sentiment.

Over the last two weeks I have attended a number of open police / public meetings and the feedback from communities has been supportive and appreciative of the local police service. In Cumbria we are blessed with good public sentiment and a dedicated local policing service – that is why we succeed. The challenge ahead will be to maintain that position as we continue to make difficult decisions and transparency will be key.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Direct entry or scuff your boots?

A former chief constable of mine, a man who I very much respected, once said to me that all police officers of whatever rank should scuff their boots before promotion. Good saying. That was Colin Cramphorn, former Chief Constable of West Yorkshire who sadly died of cancer a few years ago.

Nick Herbert, the policing minister has recently said that a single point of entry ( to start scuffing your boots ) is outdated. That has prompted other arguments from some senior figures which includes the idea that the police currently excludes 90% of the available working population by generally accepting people in their 20s - abbreviated to make the point.

For my part, I have 22 years service, 7 years as a constable, 4 years as a sergeant and 3 years as an inspector. Over the last 6 years I have been an operational superintendent in both uniform and in leading major investigations. Could I perform these command roles without scuffing my boots? That is what multiple points on entry will mean – senior officers performing operational roles without ‘on the ground’ experience.

For me personally, I am not that good. I would not have been able to effectively command policing operations, whether that is a murder investigation or a firearms incident, without an operational grounding. But, I have no doubt that the country has many talented people, Oxbridge graduates for example who have the sharpness and intellect to adapt. Could people with other backgrounds enter the service at a senior level and make a difference?

Well in my view, chief constables should have the discretion to at least consider suitable people at any level of their organisations. For example, a police force with 4 or 5 chief officers ( executive level ) could allow direct entry to add experience and skill whilst also ensuring that the Force has sufficient depth in command experience. By taking that approach, we the police, will at least open the door to raw talent whilst also ensuring that we have the necessary skills to protect the public.

What do you think?

Friday, 7 January 2011

A Police Service in 'crisis'?

Did you know……? In Chinese the word ‘crisis’ is made up of two characters. The first means ‘danger’ and the second means ‘opportunity’.

So, what are the dangers facing operational policing at the moment? Well let me refer to just a few starting with fewer police officers and fewer members of police staff. In my own command unit I will need to police with 30 fewer officers than before, following cuts to budget. I dare say other commands are facing greater cuts. We are reviewing all of our back office functions, our estates , our police vehicles. Further to that slight (!) problem, I will have to account to the public and my chief  constable for cutting crime and anti social behaviour.
Danger also presents itself to my officers. They will have their pay frozen, additional benefits are under threat ( Special Priority Pay – for shift working and specialised roles etc ), overtime is likely to change, their mortgage rates are likely to increase and cost of living increases. So, officers will be asked to do more and be in receipt of less. I acknowledge a very similar situation in other public services.
There is also some current debate about the link between a decrease in police officers and increased crime. Quite possibly correct but in my view the greatest threat comes from changes in welfare and social justice i.e. increased unemployment, management of offenders, welfare support to deprived families etc. The cost cuts to local authorities could arguably be more impactive on crime than cuts to police budgets.

So, let me turn to the opportunities. Well within my own command I have told my staff that we have an opportunity to be better than we were before. Crime has dropped consistently over the last few years. In South Cumbria there are over 500 fewer victims of crime than last year, to date. We must maintain that momentum. Also, I think in Cumbria we have been pretty forward thinking. Already, we have changed the way we work by brigading officers at ‘Deployment Centres’ and making sure that police officers are more closely aligned to supervisors. That means we will be better at targeting police resources where they are most needed. We are also making better use of technology – our police cars are being fitted with mobile technology so that when an officer leaves the station, there is no need to return. That also means less bureaucracy! In addition, I have directed my staff to meet the challenge by focusing more on visibility, taking every opportunity to be visible and available to the public. I am also tackling mediocrity by emphasising the need to raise our standards in the way my officers appear. It’s basics but I do believe that in recent time we have lost discipline and now is the opportunity to raise the bar in our internal standards in order to meet public expectations. I am currently raging a war on apathy and mediocrity! Conversely, I have many excellent officers and staff under my command, the vast majority in fact and I have an opportunity to lead them more effectively by being optimistic and dealing with the sub-standard.
So, do we have a crisis? I’m not convinced. I do believe that we have an opportunity within the world of operational policing to let go of the less important and focus on what the public tell us they want – a visible and responsive service.

I wished my police sergeants and inspectors a happy new year this week on the back of which I advised them to expect the toughest 12 months of their careers!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Going the Extra Mile

So, why going the extra mile? I spent three years in West Yorskshire leading murder investigations between 2005 and 2008. This was an emotive part of my career as I often met victim's familys who were going through the worst moments of their lives, moments that most of us fear. I found that that little things that I and my colleagues did could make a huge difference in helping people through that pain. A few years ago I investigated the brutal murder of a taxi driver, an asian man. The family of the victim were initially suspicious and doubtful of the police. There was a great deal of unrest in the community at the time. I recognised this lack of trust and so I let them into the investigation completely, allowed them to sit in our team briefings, allowed access to emerging evidence and included them in my key decision making. It was a gamble at the time but by going further with the family I built trust. After we convicted the murderer my investigation team were invited to the family house for a home-cooked curry as a thankyou. Marvellous! Also, in the investigations themselves. In one investigation it took us two years to track down a man who carried our serial sex attacks. My team got there because we went the extra mile by refusing to give in and we eventually made a breakthrough with forensic evidence.
As it says above, I firmly believe that the police service excels when we go the extra mile.
In my current role, I make a monthly 'Going the Extra Mile' award to my officers and staff who have done something out of the ordinary. I have done so for the last 2-3 years. Not necessarily the best arrest or the best piece of investigation, more to recognise the little things which are done behind the scenes that make a difference - in the spirit of true public service. There is no shortage of nominations. So, accuse me of stating the obvious or being corny but I strongly believe in Going the Extra Mile and the importance of that philosophy to the police service today.
I came across a quote from the Dalai Lama today as I wrote this first blog,  " Determination and hope are key factors for a brighter fututre ". Apt.