Another busy week with quite a bit of travel. Up early on Monday morning to travel to Liverpool Cathedral to talk at a breakfast meeting of faith and civic leaders. They had asked me to talk about the way we judge people in society following talks I have given elsewhere.
I have never hid the fact that I am a practising Catholic and church groups are often interested in what dilemmas that causes in my role as chief constable. I talked about how notions of good and evil are too simplistic to describe many of the people we deal with who often have had a difficult upbringing and suffer from problems of poor relationships, drug and alcohol problems and low self-esteem.
You can name any social problem and it invariably features much more highly in the prison population. For instance while about one per cent of the general population has been in care over sixty per cent of the women in prison have been in care at some time in their lives. So while we need to lock people up for serious offences prison does not have a great record in dealing with the underlying causes of a person’s offending and there is a huge amount of money spent on those who go in and out of the system.
I also talked about the many local community groups, some linked to churches who make a big difference in local areas through drawing in local volunteers who themselves then get great personal worth from volunteering. Often these groups produce better long term solutions than some of the professionals. We now have well over a thousand volunteers working with GMP including 700 Special Constables and 300 youth cadets.
After the talk and questions it was off to Cambridge University to speak at an international conference on Evidence Based Policing. This is about bringing together evidence from trials of different initiatives carried out by officers assisted by academics and experts in research. I am also on the committee which advices the University on its Master’s programme which attracts officers from around the world.
As money gets tighter and policing more complex it is more important that police forces evaluate the impact of what they are doing and constantly look for new ways to improve the protection of the public. There are some really good projects under way looking at different ways of dealing with domestic abuse, the effectiveness of different patrol strategies and different ways of reducing burglaries.
We had dinner that night in Queens College talking to colleagues from a number of different countries and first thing next morning it was back to Manchester for our regular chief officer meeting. After reviewing current serious incidents and talking about recent and upcoming press coverage we received updates on all our current change projects which are all there basically to help us to make the reductions in staffing created by the budget reductions over the next two years.
Overall the current concern is the increase in demand we are seeing at a time when our staffing is reducing. We have huge numbers of incidents to deal with which always go up when the weather is warmer and of course we are entering our main annual leave period. At the end of the meeting we specifically discussed the increase in the number of rapes we are recording, up by around sixty per cent compared to two years ago. We agreed that we would need to find more staffing in the short term and put in other measures to give us a wider understanding of the demand pressures on the force.
I then had one to one meetings with individual chief officer colleagues and a meeting with the force solicitor on a particular case before going to a school governors meeting that evening getting home in time to witness the destruction of Brazilian football in the World Cup.
On Wednesday morning I visited the Serious Sexual Offences Unit to talk to the staff dealing with the huge increase in rapes reported to us. I talked to them about the additional help we would be giving them and how we could speed up the decision making on cases being investigated. GMP has the highest conviction rate for rape in the North West but that is still only about thirty per cent so when it is clear that a case won’t be prosecuted we need to make that decision for the benefit of everyone involved. I can understand however why officers are reluctant to do this because number one they want to keep trying but also they fear that they will be criticised if the suspect attacks someone else or the victim makes a complaint. It is really important that the police are accountable but we also need an atmosphere where staff feel they can use their professional judgement and discretion. I will be putting additional legal expertise into the unit to support them in making those decisions.
I was then engaged in an hours conference call with a Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and various other chief constables about the long term impact of the budget reductions on the service and what the future looks like with further cuts. At the moment there is no forecast when the cuts will stop and the most I can hope for is a flat lining. This is all part of work HMIC is doing on police funding which will be subject of a national report later in the month.
Back to headquarters then for more meetings and telephone interviews with the New York Times and then The Sun on the Syrian issue and phone calls with colleagues dealing with child abuse allegations and the national coverage of the paedophile issues.
In the afternoon I appeared at Liverpool Crown Court because the force is being prosecuted for a breach of the Health and Safety Act following the death of a suspect in a robbery investigation. There are reporting restrictions on the case so I can say no more.
Thursday started with a meeting with the Police Federation Chairman and Secretary where we discussed a range of issues including the national changes to the way the Federation operates many of them driven forward by the GMP branch of the Federation.
I then met two former colleagues who worked with me when I was the Director of the Strategic Command Course at the Police Leadership College at Bramshill. We talked through the various challenges facing GMP and how the way the force operates and its internal culture will have to fundamentally change given the further cuts in funding we face and the growing complexity of the demand upon us (as evidenced by the huge increase in rapes).
We then went into a meeting with the force leadership team (basically our chief superintendents and other senior directors) where I updated them about current developments and reminded everyone of the commitments we had already made to do things differently and how in particular we will be reducing the number of management levels in the force. We talked through the increase in demand and the difficulty of getting messages though to our staff when there is so much uncertainty about and when some of the messages are so complicated. Having a flatter organisation with fewer levels would make that easier. We also talked through the way we work with other agencies and the way we will have to work differently to deal with the growing number of vulnerable people in our society.
I left the group to do more work on this and headed off to Piccadilly Station to catch the train to London. This was for a ‘roundtable’ meeting with the Home Secretary other police leaders and community representatives such as Baroness Doreen Lawrence mother of Stephen Lawrence. The subject was the recruitment of a more diverse workforce to policing particularly more ethnic minority staff. This was a two hour meeting which covered a range of issues. Some were about the process of recruitment and the impact of current employment law and some was about the experience of black people and how some were put off joining the police because of their experience of stop and search.
There are two sides to this. On the recruitment side I have said before that this is not about political correctness or targets but about an operational need for more people from ethnic minorities who understand local communities and can build trust and gather intelligence. I am in favour of a change in employment law which would allow us to balance the rights of the person applying with the wider needs of the force and the community for a more diverse workforce. Of course part of the problem we face is that we are not recruiting many new officers at the moment about 80 for the coming year compared to 600 in the years of plenty. On the experience of black people there has been a significant reduction in the use of stop and search and it is now more targeted towards those that are persistent offenders and where there is intelligence that they are offending again.
The main issue for me is that policing is attractive to the most talented, most committed people out there; that we are seen as a modern progressive organisation which allows its staff to be individuals and gets the best out of them for the benefit of the public.
After this meeting I had further meetings and phone calls about child abuse investigations and popped into our national press office as I was the national lead for ACPO last week as our President Sir Hugh Orde was on leave. I stayed overnight in London at my mother’s and on Friday attended the start of a national conference on foreign offenders. We arrest a lot more people now who do not hold British passports and are from all over the world. This produces particular challenges in getting timely intelligence about them from their country of origin and to establish their immigration status. There is now much closer working with the Borders Agency and we now have a joint team in Manchester.
Following this it was off to New Scotland Yard for a meeting with a small number of other chief constables who have national responsibility for counter terrorism. We reviewed the current situation which focussed on the situation in Syria and Iraq and recent arrests and cases of British subjects travelling abroad. We reviewed the current and future financial position of the network and the work we are undertaking to ensure that we are in the best position to respond to the threats of the future. Counter terrorism is an emotive but also a high risk area of policing. It has a complex balance between the security of the country and the rights of the citizen. It requires a very clear link between the international nature of the threat and the confidence of local people and communities for what we do so that we are able to gather local intelligence and information and so there is support for the enforcement action we need to take. At the same time the expertise we have to develop means we must collaborate with other law enforcement agencies so that we have the best capability and capacity for the benefit of the public.
Late afternoon I was back at Euston for the train back up north. Another packed week but at least no GMP activities this weekend. My main concern is the increasing demand on the force and the strain it places on the workforce a subject I will return to next week.