Safety in Manchester city centre

Last week was a bit less hectic than the one before but still lots of complex issues to deal with.

There was clearly a lot of coverage on the story about Manchester City Centre and whether it is safe late at night or not. This followed comments by Inspector Ian Hanson the chairman of the GMP Police Federation (which for those who don’t know is the equivalent of a police trade union). In some ways this is a good news story, Manchester City Centre is thriving with new hotels, restaurants and bars opening all the time.

The workload on the police continues throughout the night with, on some nights, the busiest hour being 6 till 7 in the morning due to the impact of those leaving the clubs trying to find taxis etc. More people are coming to Manchester for the weekend driven in part by the huge interest in football. 

The problem is the level of staffing in Greater Manchester Police is falling so we have increased demand and fewer officers.

This is not just a matter of crime. Crime overall has fallen in the City Centre over time. We have worked closely with the City Council and the clubs and there is improved cooperation with the door staff and better use of CCTV. At the end of the day however you need police officers on the ground to deal with disorder and to ensure public safety. When fights or disputes break out large numbers of onlookers often gather and things can escalate quickly unless sufficient officers get there.

While people who deserve arrest need to be arrested this leads to fewer officers on the ground while they deal with the arrest. 

This is a long term issue about the impact of the alcohol industry on public services particularly the police and the NHS. I have been talking about this for many years. There have been many promises of more controls on alcohol abuse but very few have actually been delivered.

To be fair the overall level of consumption is falling but there is still huge amounts of cheap alcohol being aggressively promoted and every town and city in the UK has a problem with late night disorder created by those who have drunk too much. Over time alcohol has become stronger, cheaper and more available. 

We have a very good relationship with Manchester City Council and local councillors understand the nature of the problem. We agree there will need to be more measures to control the level of disorder and improve the way we all work together to deal with it.

We need to find a way for some of the money generated by the alcohol industry to flow down to front line policing and the front line of the health service. There are practical issues to be worked through on how we run the weekend policing operations, more late night transport and more control over problem premises. We need a City Centre facility to handle drunks. We are getting great support from our volunteer special constables and a team of volunteer “street angels” is being created to help vulnerable people on the street. The problem is not going away however and the overall number of officers will continue to decline. We all want the City Centre to continue to grow but we all also want there to be a safe atmosphere late at night with appropriate standards of behaviour so we don’t descend to the level of the drunks and the over boisterous.

So, last Monday started with a blood donation then a meeting with a local business leaders group about an event they want to hold with me at Police HQ, a visit to our Legal Services department, a meeting with Microsoft about how we are going to improve the use of the products we have already bought from them and a meeting with Unison representatives. 

Tuesday started with a briefing on current force performance then the regular Tuesday chief officer meeting and a meeting with our head of counter terrorism about the Syria situation. I took the afternoon off and in the evening I returned for an interview with DM digital TV which is an international Muslim channel based in Cheetham Hill.

Wednesday started with authorisations for specialist operations.

I then held a meeting with a number of bodies concerned with police welfare. I continue to be concerned about the level of sickness in the force and the way we deal with staff who have long term illnesses. At the meeting were The Police Federation, Unison, Superintendents Association, The Credit Union, Police Mutual Assurance Society and the Benevolent Fund along with representatives of our own welfare department and Occupational Health. All there agreed we want to work together to ensure we improve the level of health screening for our staff, access to physiotherapy and counselling and access to financial advice. We know a small minority of staff get into serious difficulties using pay day loans. We are also regularly losing colleagues to cancer and so we are exploring whether improved screening could help discover cases earlier. 

Wednesday continued with a meeting called JNCC which is the regular official meeting between the Chief Constable and the Police Federation and Superintendents Association. We discussed a number of issues concerning the impact of the budget reductions and the force change programme. I gave them an update on the financial performance for the force during the last financial year. I told them about the plans to open up some promotion opportunities and to recruit at least 80 new police offices over the coming year.

I then had a meeting with the conductor of our band about Friday night’s concert and then presented certificates to the parents of a woman murdered by her partner who have helped us in our training programmes. When we are doing training for our staff there is little more impactive than hearing from people who have been directly affected by violent crime. 

Thursday started with a two hour conference call about College of Policing Business and then a visit to Salford Museum to view a display created for the fortieth anniversary of the creation of GMP. It was also good to see some of the other displays. I did not know that Emily Pankhurst was born in Salford so you learn something new every day. The GMP display had been created by a couple of our local staff who had worked with Steve Gerrard (not the footballer but the local neighbourhood inspector).

I then had one of my regular meetings with the Police and Crime Commissioner to discuss a number of current issues then went out on patrol with PC Darren Prince, a response officer in North Manchester. We dealt with begging in the City Centre, a dispute between a Somalian man and a Palestinian man in Piccadilly Gardens and the sudden death of an elderly man. 

The man who had died suffered from a number of illnesses but had not seen a doctor for some time. For this reason the case becomes a case for the Coroner until the cause of death can be established and that is the reason why the police are called. Paramedics had already attended and pronounced that the man was dead and so we had to complete a statement from the son, carry out some preliminary enquiries into what had happened and then wait for the undertaker.

We then dealt with a case involving a missing young girl. The girl’s mother was in custody having been arrested in York and she was concerned about who had picked up her daughter from school. We made a number of enquiries amongst other family members but did not get very far. We then received more information from York that the mother had overstayed her permission to be in the country and that the daughter had entered the country on a “cloned” visa and so both were liable to deportation. It was not surprising therefore, that other family members did not want to tell us where the daughter was.

At 11.15 we handed the enquiry on to other officers, while dealing with this we had also come across a case of a man threatened with a knife which I took details of. 

Friday started with a an interview with Radio 5 Live again on Syria, then a meeting with a local charity Reclaim on their plans to open a “safe place” for vulnerable young people in Manchester. I then visited St Joseph’s School in Longsight to talk to them about my job and a recent visit the class made to one of our disused custody centres. There were some great questions about crime and about what it was like to lead 12000 people.

I then did a TV interview about Syria and then held a meeting with two Manchester councillors about late night policing in the City Centre. Next was a meeting with other chief executives from Greater Manchester including a report on how we are dealing with child sexual exploitation.

I called in to talk to officers at Bootle Street Police Station then in the evening we had the Chief Constables Summer Concert which raised about £2000 for the charity Retrak. We had 200 local people at the concert along with a number of local dignitaries who all had a good time entertained by the GMP band (which is made up of volunteers), pupils from St Edmunds Primary School and the Cheshire Chord Choir.

On Saturday I spoke at the Alzheimer’s Show at Events City about how GMP is trying to be a more dementia friendly organisation, the challenges of the ageing population and my own experiences as my mother suffers from dementia.

On Sunday I went to Rochdale to attend the briefing for the Tour de France which passed through a small bit of the borough above Littleborough. It was impressive to see so many volunteer special constables there along with some of our volunteer youth cadets.

Sunday mornings used to be a quiet time in policing with shops shut and a slow start to the day.

We often used the first few hours to clean the police cars. This is certainly no longer the case and when I went into Rochdale police station at 8 45am some of the night duty staff were still there completing paperwork and there were a considerable number of prisoners to be dealt with along with a number of outstanding incidents. A rape and been reported and so there was the scene of the crime to be guarded until Scenes of Crime staff had competed their work. I then visited HQ to speak to staff who were overseeing the Tour de France operation and to get a briefing on a recent terrorist related arrest.

Over recent weeks we have been dealing with the disappearance of 16 year old twins from Manchester who we know have flown to Turkey and are probably now across the border in Syria. They are at great personal risk and understandably their families are very worried. We had not told the press because of the risk they were under but the story had broken in one of the Sunday newspapers. This sort of case shows why we are taking the situation in Syria so seriously.

From my time on patrol, the visit to Rochdale and other stuff I am picking up I am concerned at the level of workload on front line staff particularly the number of incidents to be resourced. Over the coming months we will be monitoring the state of the queues and issues such as the number of neighbourhood officers abstracted on response.

We are clearly entering the main leave period and the busy summer months. There are some important projects looking at how we will have to change the way we handle incidents in the future as the number of officers continues to reduce. There are still lots of practical things we can do, better working with other agencies and better use of technology.

The blunt fact is that there are certain types of jobs that we have attended in the past which we will have to deal with differently in the future. 

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