My last blog

So I have come to my last blog for my last week in GMP. After 34 years as a police officer and 13 as a chief constable it is time to move on to a fresh challenge. My past seven years in GMP have seen many highs and lows and many challenges that we have had to face. Sadly the Force is significantly smaller and many dedicated colleagues have left us. We have been through quite a number of change programmes such as PMIT, Optimus and Fit for the Future as we have sought to improve the way we work, while at the same time making the financial savings imposed upon us.

We changed from a police authority to a police and crime commissioner to a mayor. We moved to a new headquarters and opened new police stations at Bury, Rochdale and North Manchester. We had the riots of 2011 and the Rochdale CSE cases, Twitter Day, The Detectives and now The Force. We had Operation Pathway and other significant CT operations and murders which have captured the public attention, such as that of Anuj Bidve and those of patients at Stepping Hill.

A day has not gone by without us being on the local media and few days when GMP has not featured in the national media. We have had Operation Protector nearly every year and whether you are a blue or a red, Manchester is the undisputed world capital of soccer with all the attention that attracts. We can say that the attention has always been about the football and the personalities and never about disorder due to the effectiveness of our policing. We have hosted numerous visits by overseas police forces and we are influencing policing practise in places as far apart as Chile, Qatar, Hungary, Albania, Uganda, Ethiopia and the USA. We have handled many complex protests whether it has been fracking, EDL Palestine or austerity all balancing the right to protest with the rights of others to peacefully go about their business.
We have transformed the approach of the Force from an obsession with property crime, league tables and targets to putting the protection of vulnerable people at the heart of what we do. We are leaders in the way we use restorative justice including restorative conferences. We now have over 400 volunteer youth cadets with many of our staff giving hundreds of hours of their own time to act as youth leaders. Our staff have supported hundreds of community ventures across Greater Manchester whether it is “Nowt to do ” , boxing clubs, community allotments, football activities , dementia watch or job events for gang members. We have colleagues who are nationally recognised experts in so many fields. We have raised thousands of pounds for Retrak but also many other charities besides. We have recruited hundreds of apprentices to show our commitment to the young people of this area and what a great job they are doing.

“We are with people at the worst moments of their lives. We deal with things that everyone else is desperate to read about, but we actually do it.”

Every day we deal with hundreds of incidents from the terrorist threat to lost property and everything in between. We never close, we are always there prepared for whatever the public need us for, able to respond to shootings, fatal collisions, civil emergencies, flooding, snow or just a person in distress needing our help. We are with people at the worst moments of their lives. We deal with things that everyone else is desperate to read about, but we actually do it. There are endless dramas on TV and films about the cops but we are the reality, we live it, we cannot turn off at the end of the episode, we are there for the long term. Our family liaison officers, our staff working with the victims of rape, domestic abuse, modern slavery, CSE are there with people in the darkest of moments and have to live with the often chaotic behaviour which results from the impact of extremes of abuse.

“Like many I was initially sceptical about the introduction of PCSOs but they have been crucial to our style of policing”

There are two things I have been particularly proud of, neighbourhood policing and our capability to deal with serious crime and big events. Neighbourhood policing is about our commitment to work with local people to understand local communities and to solve problems rather than just react to them. It is a fundamental shift of power coming from our belief in policing by consent which marks us out as so different from nearly all other police forces in the world. Like many I was initially sceptical about the introduction of PCSOs but they have been crucial to our style of policing and in an area like Greater Manchester it is so important to have people out there on the street picking up intelligence and information, knowing the local criminals and supporting local people to solve their own local problems. They have turned out to be one of the best developments I have seen in policing over my career. It has also given me enormous satisfaction to see the increase in the number of Special Constables both in GMP and nationally but more than that to see the increase in their professionalism and contribution. The fact that so many ordinary people can step forward and play their part in policing says a lot about our openness and our commitment to active citizenship.

Greater Manchester like most big metropolitan areas in the world has a long standing issue with organised crime and gang activity. The extremes of deprivation and the concentration of activity, creates the conditions where those prepared to use or threaten extreme violence can create networks of followers and foot soldiers. They spread misery and intimidation among those who don’t have a lot in life. We have outstanding staff who show enormous determination and persistence, great expertise and presence of mind to take on the most serious and violent criminals who themselves are constantly trying to undermine our methods. The problem is that we cannot tell the story of much of what they do because it would reveal our tactics but I have been constantly reminded of the risks that they take, the ridiculous hours they work and the fast moving decisions they have to make.

GMP is so much more than just the police officers. Over the past seven years we have expanded the range of roles that police staff are engaged in both in specialist roles and in support of our neighbourhood teams. It is so much a team effort. This is not just about operational roles. A Police Force is no good without vehicles, radios, computers, clean accommodation, security, transport, phones, feeding, uniform and equipment and so much more in support. We have tremendous staff who perform these roles around the clock. They do not get enough appreciation.

“After Fiona and Nicola I did not receive one e-mail from a member of staff asking for more officers to be armed.”

Obviously the most painful event of my time in GMP was the murder of Fiona and Nicola. Again in the midst of a horrendous event our staff responded magnificently. I remember the evening of the murder going to Ashton Police Station and finding that Specials had turned out to lend a hand despite the violent event that had occurred hours before. During that time I did not receive one email from a member of staff asking for more officers to be armed. Our staff just continued bravely going out there, preserving our style of policing just as they have in the face of the increased terrorist threat.

While the loss of Fiona and Nicola was particularly traumatic many other colleagues have also passed away. I never realised that as a chief constable I would become an expert in writing letters of condolence. The most common factor sadly has been cancer which has taken so many fine brave people. It has been incredibly moving to be with sufferers and their families confronting their own mortality but on the other hand not having a precise idea on how much time was  left to them and what further pain they would have to go through. On the other hand before I arrived the Force had an awful record in officers dying in collisions on the road. Without the work of the Driving Standards Board and the support of the Federation we would probably had more fatalities but in my seven years we have not lost one member of staff in this way.

“The police have to deal with society as it is and not how we would wish it to be…those who…freely comment on what we do and criticise us are tucked up in their beds…”

I could say a lot about the changing nature of politics and the way policing is viewed by politicians and the media, the level of scrutiny we are now under and the failings and weaknesses of the police complaints system but this is not the time or the place. The police have to deal with society as it is and not how we would wish it to be and when those who would freely comment on what we do and criticise us are tucked up in their beds we have to be out there dealing with the real world. Certainly one of my main worries is that the gap between national politics and national journalism and the reality of the world that we see on the streets of Greater Manchester is getting greater.

We are certainly not perfect, we have got things wrong and some of our own staff have let their colleagues and the public down. There are people out there in the Force and outside very angry with me because of some of the decisions made. We have however made progress on many diversity issues, we have more senior women, more ethnic minority staff and more openly gay staff, we have much stronger relationships and trust with minority communities but there are still painful issues and history hangs heavy upon us. I would like to think that GMP is a more open organisation, less obsessed with rank and hierarchy more open to challenge but we still have a long way to go to be a more people centred organisation at ease with itself. Sometimes our desire to be seen to be fair and to follow policy and procedure loses sight of the fact that there is a real human being at the end of it. In the future we will have a smaller workforce and it will need to be a more capable workforce where the best is made of the contribution skills and talent of every individual. One of my few regrets is that I was not more ambitious and radical in this area and that there has been so little workforce reform at the national level. The Home Office talks much about police reform but I have not seen a lot of it, we still have 43 police forces and we are still stuck with a criminal justice system designed for the last century.

“Boss I was only doing my job.”

Over the past seven years I have given out thousands of long service medals and certificates and recognised many acts of bravery and great police work. Nearly always the recipient says “Boss I was only doing my job “. They always play down what they have done and talk about all the others who deserve awards.  The fact is that we have a remarkable workforce who do not realise how good they are. This is not that GMP staff are better than those  in other forces but rather that few other forces have the range and volume of serious incidents that we have, the number of big events and active organised crime groups or the level of deprivation and diversity in their local communities. There are so many promising staff with huge potential for future development and I will watch their progress with interest but from afar. It has constantly uplifted me to see the dedication of our staff, their patience and compassion and whenever I felt a bit beaten down a visit to a local nick has lifted my spirits when I see again the commitment and enthusiasm of our staff. My many times out on patrol have inspired me, working alongside staff who love their job so much and show such professionalism and care. Wherever I have gone in GMP I have been met with a warm welcome and constant offers of brews but also friendliness and openness and that has meant a huge amount to me.

“Police officers are world experts in moaning and I am no different.”

Police officers are world experts in moaning and I am no different. There are many frustrations in the job but it is still the best job in the world because no other job has the variety and the challenge of not knowing what’s coming next. I am always struck by the fact that we can pump out positive stories about arrests and figures and big operations but when you talk to ordinary members of the public it is those occasions when an officer or other member of staff went out of their way to help or offer reassurance that sticks with them. It was the times they were in distress and did not know what to do and they called the police and we calmed them down and helped them think straight and put their world back together. As an officer myself, while I remember the big events I also remember the cot deaths, the fatal collisions and the suicides and wonder what happened to those families and did they ever recover. So whatever irritation we feel about the way policing is portrayed and the unfair criticism the fact is that every single day we have hundreds of opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives, to offer that reassurance and compassion even though it may feel  like a very minor interaction to us. As the saying goes – they won’t remember what you said, they won’t remember what you did but they will remember how you made them feel.

So I now hand over to Ian Hopkins who I have worked with for the last 10 years and I know will provide continuity, but also bring his own ideas and style of leadership and he will do a great job. There will be lots of challenges ahead but also lots of opportunities coming from the devolution agreement and the chance to work very differently with other agencies as a Greater Manchester team able to work on what suits folk here best. I move on to my new challenge of Chief Executive of Retrak sad to leave the many fine people of GMP but also very excited by the chance to work in a new field. Thank you for all your support.

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