A very busy time of the year and that’s not counting my non-existent Christmas preparations.
We have had some very busy days operationally with a number of murders and other serious investigations. We have now had 39 murders over the past twelve months compared to 25 for the previous same period.
We continue to see a significant rise in serious sexual offences and domestic violence. Some of this increase is because we have changed our recording practices but it is also clear that more victims have the confidence to report cases to us and there are more historic cases. Many of these cases are complex and require many hours of work.
There have been a series of inspections and reports by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary which takes up considerable time and produces recommendations which need to be considered and implemented. The national report on crime recording generated much publicity over the line that the police were under recording large numbers of crimes. There is no question that mistakes have been made by forces and individual officers but we also know that there are issues of how the rules are interpreted in individual cases and a change in approach by HMIC. It is fair to say that there is now considerable confusion after the Chief HMI Tom Winsor said that officers had no discretion and where a victim reported a crime it must always be recorded and only “no crimed” where there is evidence to suggest that no crime occurred. We await some clarification on this but in the meantime we stick to our force policy and the training officers have already been given.
I have written many times about the dangers of the league table and target culture and that officers must have discretion to “do the right thing’. The public do not believe the crime figures or statistics in general and who can blame them when the National Crime Survey shows a 16 per cent drop in crime while police recorded crime is showing an increase ( in GMPs case an 8 per cent increase ). It is really important to monitor the performance of the force but the level of crime and detections is only one measure. We are just as interested in the level of victim satisfaction, public confidence in policing and how we are dealing with the greatest threats, harm and risks. Our key priority is protecting vulnerable people.
HMIC are also publishing new PEEL assessments of each force and GMP was rated good in two areas with room for improvement in crime investigation. This relates principally to the increase in rapes and the fact that we need more staff to investigate those offences. There are many positive comments in the report and in another report on Integrity and Leadership.
Much has been happening on the political front with the announcement that more powers will be devolved from Westminster to Greater Manchester with the eventual creation of an elected mayor for the whole area with interim arrangements from next April. The responsibilities of the Police and Crime Commissioner will eventually be rolled up in the duties of this new mayor. This is an important development for our area and means that we will have a greater ability to work with local authorities and local people on what is best for Greater Manchester rather than what is best for the politicians in London. It will give greater impetus to our work to fundamentally change the way we work across the public sector, sharing information, creating integrated local teams and ensuring we send the right professional with the right skills to reported incidents. This better way of local working has led to a 90 per cent reduction in the number of mental health cases coming into custody but there are a number of other areas where partner agencies place unfair burdens on the force or where we feel they don’t meet their responsibilities.
Among the various community events I have attended was the memorial service for Alan Henning. This was a very moving occasion held in Eccles parish church.
Some people may have thought that Alan was naive and misguided in wanting to travel to Syria with his Muslim friends to deliver aid to the children there. What came across is that he gave it very careful thought, that he was aware of the dangers, had been there before but was driven by his sense of compassion and service. Just before he left he asked his two children whether they would prefer him to stay with them for Christmas but they knew how much it meant to him to put the Syrian children before himself. It was clear this was a remarkable family and showed yet again that you just can’t make assumptions about people. During the service a letter was read from one of the other hostages who was released by the terrorists. He said how much Alan had lifted the spirits of the other hostages by telling funny stories and inventing card games.
Alan’s widow Barbara gave a tribute to Alan but the first thing she said was her deep appreciation of the support her family had received from the Family Liaison Officers from GMP. Indeed when she met the Prime Minister it was the first thing she said to him. There are many unsung heroes in GMP and among them are our FLOs who are there during the darkest days of a family who have lost a loved one through murder or a fatal road accident and indeed in this case from the point it was known that Alan had been kidnapped. Of course when I thanked the officers they said they were only doing their job and praised the courage of the family.
I attended a dinner given by the Senior Women in Policing network at the Chill Factor. This was attended not only by our own senior female staff but those of neighbouring forces. At the moment in GMP we have three female ACCs and a number of female chief superintendents as well as senior female police staff. Superintendent Serena Kennedy has recently been selected as a chief superintendent by Cheshire so good progress is being maintained all around and there are some excellent role models for staff younger in service.
We cannot say the same for ethnic minority staff. At an event organised by the Black and Asian Police Association we could only reflect that little progress has been made. While the make-up of the population we serve is changing rapidly the percentage of BME staff has not moved forward despite fine words and noble intensions. Of course it is now much more difficult to change the make-up of the force as we doing so little recruiting and the number of promotions has also reduced. With my long involvement with this subject at local and national level I could write the book on past mistakes and missed opportunities. Since about 2009 I have advocated a change in employment law but this is unlikely to happen any time soon and we can only work within the existing structures. As I have said in the past this is not about targets for their own sake or about political correctness but about a clear operational need that we need a workforce which understands and can build confidence with our increasingly diverse population. This requirement to understand and identify with the diversity of the local community will be a sharper feature of the recruitment that we do carry out as we ensure we use the measures which are allowed in employment law. Sadly the vents in Ferguson, Missouri shows the problems which are caused when a police force looks so unlike the community it serves and cannot identify with the reality of the lives of alienated young people.
I attended Parliament to give evidence to a group of MPs and members of the House of Lords looking at women in the penal system. There is a paradox that while crime has halved over the last ten years the number of women in prison has gone up. Around 83 per cent of these women are there for non-violent offences serving short sentences. In Greater Manchester we have started a project to offer alternatives to locking up women basically because it does little good and means their children go into care and they themselves are put on the conveyor belt to crime. We have drastically cut the number of young people going into custody and continued to reduce youth crime and we need to do the same for women. We have introduced a triage system in custody to ensure that in suitable cases women can be released on bail and are referred to a woman’s centre to work up an alternative to going to court. There is also now a problem solving court for women in Manchester and Salford with magistrates being given alternatives to custody.
Some of this is about the fundamental role of the police and whether we are here to just narrowly enforce the law or whether we have a wider mission to promote social justice. As the austerity bites further and hopefully we become more developed and mature as a society then we have to question whether continuing to react to social problems rather than to try and fix them can be the purpose of policing. There will always be a role for the courts and for punishment but continuing to feed the machine of young people going into the prison system only to come out more damaged and better offenders can be afforded or justified. From all our work we know that a poor upbringing and particularly being exposed to domestic violence in your family has a huge impact on brain development and life chances. We know that many families and individuals constantly follow this cycle from generation to generation and that some young people have their futures mapped out for them before they are born. As the police, do we just accept this and work within the system? Or try to change it for the benefit of the public and to try and end this waste of money and waste of human potential ? This is not new to GMP the great work done with other agencies and local people to end what was an awful tide of shootings of young black males and street gangs shows that this broader approach to solve a problem rather than react to it actually saves lives.
So moving away from simplistic statistical targets and working in a different way with other agencies offers us the chance to concentrate on protecting the most vulnerable in our society and shift the previous narrow focus on property crime. It allows us to concentrate on the most persistent offenders and most dangerous organised crime groups rather than the previous focus on detection rates for individual types of crimes.
There has to be a hard edge to this. Enforcing the law and progressing cases into the courts will always be an important part of our work but the fact is that many of our victims refuse to go into the court system and the courts cannot solve some of the criminal lifestyles and cycles of alcohol and substance abuse that we see. The courageous work done by many officers to promote the use of cautions, restorative justice and community justice panels often in the face of negative media coverage has given many young people a second chance and has ultimately led to fewer victims of crime and less public money wasted on youth detention centres.
I was reminded of the reality of our day to day work yet again when I went out on patrol with response in Leigh recently. Every job we dealt with that evening was related to vulnerable people mainly through mental health. Every job would have benefitted from access to greater information about the person we were dealing with from other agencies. Certainly two of the jobs were not a police matter as far as I was concerned. One of these was to check on the welfare of a 7 year old girl who had not been to school for two days. Another was a depressed alcoholic woman who had lost her keys and wanted a crime number so that the housing association did not charge her for new locks. All this shows that while we are undoubtedly short of response officers we have still got too many jobs which do not need our deployment. It shows that because we are the 24 hour service, the public call us because other agencies are closed and therefore we end up inappropriately dealing with social problems. It raises issues of whether our officers are trained to make assessments about whether a child is neglected or not when social workers have three years university level education to carry out their role.
So police officers will always being involved with social problems and will be agents of social change through our problem solving work but we are not social workers and we do not have access to the case histories and the training that social workers have access to. That is why a key part of the change programme is the way we work with other agencies so that we are clear on our respective roles, use our strengths and what we are good at and work together to change people’s lives not just react to the latest crisis.
So back to those Christmas preparations I have not started yet. One thing which is under way is our GMP Christmas appeal. Last year we collected food for elderly people in our community which was a great success so we are going to do the same this year. So please bring in your donations of food and goodies and get involved. We are also supporting the Key 103 Christmas toy appeal so again when you are out shopping buy an additional gift if you can to donate to the appeal and the collections at our police stations and force HQ. Sadly in our day to day work in GMP we see many vulnerable needy old people and children and this is a great way in which we can make their Christmas a bit brighter.
Sir Peter Fahy
Greater Manchester Police