Friday, 27 May 2011

A week in the life of...

It's been a busy week - not helped by an upset stomach. Having survived on about three bananas and four pieces of toast here is a summary of my week:
On Monday we had a really useful meeting with all managers in my command unit to look at the changes to our Neighbourhood Policing Team ( NPT ) structure. Back in February, we changed from 7 to 3 NPTs and also changed some of our investigative ways of working. The feedback was generally positive and I was able to make some decisions which will benefit our officers and staff for the future. Community feedback has been positive.
On Tuesday morning I carried out a review of detention for two people in the cells for robbery. The two later turned out to be four. Along with fingerprint evidence they made admissions. Astonished to find out later the The Crown Prosecution Service would not approve charging because they wanted to see more evidence, so they were released on bail. Bureaucracy gone mad.
After that review, I made a number of presentations including one to a member of public who caught someone just after committing a street robbery. Another was to a special constable who saved a man's life after he tried to hang himself in a dark park. It was a pleasure catching up with both.
On Tuesday afternoon I had a meeting with colleagues with the community safety partnerships for Barrow and South Lakeland. This was a really useful get together because we talked through how the two partnerships could work together for the benefit of all our communities. These partnerships are full of good people who collectively do lots of work to keep people in South Cumbria safe.
On Wednesday we had our Senior Management Team meeting where my management team and I talked through a whole bunch of stuff including our performance in reducing crime as well lots of personnel issues.
Straight after that I went into a telephone conference with colleagues from HQ because I am leading a review of Policy regarding police officers on restricted duty.
On Thursday we had our Performance Conference. This is where Chief Officers and the Police Authority descend and we talk through how South Cumbria Basic Command Unit is managing in a whole range of areas from crime performance to personnel to finance and more. The morning went well and as I said at the start of the conference, the ethos in South Cumbria is about transparency and our desire to carry on improving. Overall, the BCU is doing well with crime and anti social behaviour reducing and that's a credit to all the officers and staff who work here.
Later that day I called into the afternoon shift briefing in Kendal to have a chat with frontline officers. I couldn't help but blink at one male sergeant and 8 female constables. I couldn't help but reflect on when I joined the police service when the ratio was generally the other way round at best. I think we've made progress!
On Friday -I can eat food again!! I had time to catch up with Admin and then went to Windermere Police Station to catch up with officers who were having a busy day - they were having breakfast at 3pm!
The best thing about my job is the people who I meet. In South Cumbria we have communities who are generally supportive of the police and colleagues in all ranks and roles who care a great deal about keeping people safe.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The management of risk and discretion

I once led a murder investigation in which two of the detectives in my team were shot during the course of enquiries.

We were investigating the murder of a young man who had been involved in drug dealing. He had been shot in the head and his body dumped on moorland above Halifax, West Yorkshire.

I made a decision to arrest another man who was on the periphery of the investigation. There were some inconsistencies in what he previously told the investigation team. In effect, we arrested him hoping that he might have more to say. We never thought that he was involved in the murder.

In any event, when my officers happened to come across him in a pub in the mid afternoon, he pulled out a gun and shot them both – one in the thigh and one in the stomach. He fled from the area, drove to the other side of town and then shot himself in the head. He later died.

Both of the police officers were rushed to hospital but their gunshot wounds were not life threatening. The incident had a profound effect on them both.

As well as being a tragic set of circumstances, this was a high profile investigation in the region and understandably, I came under huge pressure from all directions about my decision making and was accused by some of putting the officers under an unnecessary risk.

After much scrutiny, my decision making was found to be sound based on what was known at the time that I decided to arrest the man in question. In fact my decision making led to discovering the killer because we later had a ballistic match between all of the shootings.

The management of risk is a dilemma within the police service. We see it in high profile investigations, in terrorism cases and in policing protests. We often see the police coming under scrutiny for over- policing and on other occasions for under-policing based on what is known after the event. Those people who come out and criticise afterwards are sometimes referred to as the ‘Armchair Taliban’. I don’t have much time for those Taliban.

I think that there are occasions when senior police officers, politicians, the public and even the media need to be more accepting when things go wrong – as long as that wrong was not foreseen based on what was known before the event. Just so that I am clear though, it is right that the police, like I did in this murder enquiry, do come under proper robust scrutiny to understand key decision making.

There is another angle to this dilemma of managing risk and that is the decision making of officers on the street.

Because of my personal experiences like the one above, I often say to officers under my command that as long as they are making their best decision, based on the threat in front of them, they must exercise professional discretion in the knowledge that they will have my full support – even if things go wrong.

The police service needs to continue becoming more transparent. I am sure that it will but it will be helped if there is more understanding and acceptance of the real world when the unexpected happens – as often the case in modern policing. Also, if the police service wants to promote greater discretion by frontline officers and again, I think it should, then senior officers and others also need to more accepting on times when things go wrong.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Meeting with a special young man.

Last week I had the real pleasure of meeting  Keiran Moxham and presented him with a certificate in recognition of his work experience placement at Barrow Police Station. The picture below shows the presentation with Supt Ali Dufty and DCI Mike Forrester.
The week Incorporated many different aspects of police work and departments within the police service.  Keiran is a year 10 student at Walney Comprehensive School who suffers from cerebral palsy and who communicates through his support worker Donna, and by using a Dynovox V communications aid. He is a very intelligent young man with a sharp sense of humour.  His future ambition is to work within the police service and he is especially interested in the IT and intelligence side of police work. Both Keiran and his support worker Donna said ”they really enjoyed the week, especially seeing the different areas within the police station." They said that "having been round the many differing departments it has now given them both a real insight into how the Police service works both internally and with partners”  They would like to thank all those people who have made the visit possible.


Friday, 6 May 2011

Terrorism, Protest and Police Reform

I have been speaking to many officers and staff recently in team briefings and it has struck me then there is a keen interest by them in some of the strategic changes in the police service at the moment. It's good to see that many within Cumbria Constabulary are also quite perceptive about those things on the horizon. Whilst our focus is on policing locally in South Cumbria, it is useful to understand some of the current complex issues in policing.

I listened to a lecture on the internet this week by Sir Paul Stephenson who is the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and some may say the most senior operational chief constable in the country. Here's a snapshot of what he had to say:

Terrorism: the threat is not going to go away even despite the death of Osama Bin Laden and he stressed the importance of national security which is far too important to be undermined by parochialism or localism. He spoke of the evolving counter terrorism structure for policing which to date has been highly successful in tackling terrorism. The key debate at the moment appears to be how the future of our counter terrorism capability fits with the new National Crime Agency.
My opinion - I agree about the need to stay focused on national security and the importance of counter terrorism. Is our current structure cost effective and can the country afford the current evolving counter terrorim structure made up of regional hubs AND a National Crime Agency? I think that much can be shared in terms of skills and capability to combat both terrorism and serious and organised crime.

Protest: he talked about how difficult it is to understand the risk from a future protest and decide how best to deploy resources to that protest. He coined a good term by criticising the 'Counsel of Perfection' - those who criticise after the event based on what is known afterwards rather than before - I know what he means. He spoke of the difficult balance between security and liberty and made what I thought was a very perceptive point - does society have more of a right to expect lawful behaviour - in other words are we as a society too accepting of the rights of others to protest and exercise violence? He reminded us that in this country we do not have riot police as other countries like France do and we do not see the scale of violence that we see in other countries.
My opinion: Yes, I think we are too accepting. The police must remain focused on protecting human rights in particular the right to express a view but we have gone too far in accepting violence as we saw in the student demos earlier this year. The context is also important in that we have learnt a great deal from Northern Ireland in allowing peaceful protests and the UK does appear far more lawful regarding protest than elsewhere.

Reforming the Police Service: He argued that there must be a gap between policing and politics. He made the point regarding the new form of accountability that we are moving to through this government - the replacement of Police Authorities by Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). He stressed the importance of operational independence - the freedom of the police to apply the law impartially. He also called on a wider role for PCCs, beyond just policing.
My opinion: Politics and policing will always be entwined but we need to have clarity on how chief constables and PCCs will operate together. It is likely that all or many of the PCCs will be political individuals and it is important their political aims do not undermine the key duties of policing. There is also the opportunity to ensure that local policing becomes even more responsive to the concerns and expectations of local people. As for a wider role, I have commented on the blog previously, that there is an opportunity for PCCs to pull the police and key partner agencies together to enhance public safety and criminal justice.

So, interesting times for policing. I hope this brief overview is of interest to others. Do you share my opinions or do have a different view?