"Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on the subject of developing and coordinating a national policing strategy for the twenty-first century. This is a helpful sounding board and I am delighted to continue our relationship with RUSI through this medium.
"The last time I was here, the topic was the future of policing. Hopefully I was able to reassure you that the future was bright. I have re-read my notes from that event and hope not to repeat myself. But that having been said, the scale and the speed of the current changes we’re now considering has been so fast that it is good to take a step back again at some of the issues that I did raise last time.
"On that occasion I highlighted some of the key challenges to policing as we work to defend citizens against what I describe as 21st century threats: by definition matters that cannot be dealt with at the local police level alone. I also touched on the breadth of the policing mission and the shifting political landscape which has led to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill which is currently grinding its way through the Houses of Parliament. We anticipate it will be in the House of Lords early next month.
"I must admit to feeling somewhat bemused by current talk that the police are the last unreformed public service. During the last government there were over 50 pieces of legislation around policing that related to us in terms of reform bills, miscellaneous provisions acts, serious crime acts. And even a back-of-an-envelope calculation produces at least ten pieces of legislation directly relating to the police service from the last 20 years. I would certainly argue that we have also reformed ourselves during that time.
"I happen to believe, having spent 34 years in policing, that it is a fundamentally different police service to the one that I joined, and fundamentally it has changed for the better. It is more organised, more professional and it is more focused.
"I want to build on what I said last time and look forward at the question of how we ensure that the central structures of policing are in the best shape to deal with the ever-growing demands that cannot be met at the local level.
"I must stress that this stark reality does not mean, in any sense, that local policing becomes less important and less vital. The most essential ingredient for success at the national level is to maintain confidence and delivery at the local level, the neighbourhoods, and the police service remains absolutely committed to this. It is what I describe as the cornerstone of the British policing model, and we lose it at our peril.
"Let me further highlight this point because it is key to how we keep the public safe. The work that is done at community level by visible, warranted officers and Police Community Support Officers forms an important part of a golden thread that runs from neighbourhood policing through to the national issues.
"There is much emphasis currently on visible policing, which recognises that ‘feet on the street’ deter crime, gather intelligence and build confidence. They without question feed a national intelligence picture. There are stark examples of how intelligence gathered by local community officers has helped prevent what we would call international terrorist offences. The fact we have a 44 force, local policing model makes that achievable.
"Equally important to public safety is that the visible aspects of policing are supported by what I describe as the less visible roles – leading investigations, sharing intelligence, protecting the public from serious offenders of all kinds.
"This work is largely unseen, often very expensive and when successful goes unrecorded in performance terms since the outcome is that nothing happens. Crime is prevented or indeed disrupted. And going unnoticed it is unlikely, I would argue, to win votes for an incoming police and crime commissioner, yet it remains absolutely critical to successful policing and keeping the public safe.
"And finally, above this balanced model of policing, is also essential that the golden thread runs unbroken from the local level to the national structures that support operational policing. Disaggregating policing into local, municipal parts (which is an emerging story I am hearing)... into not 44 forces, but perhaps 144 forces at the very local level; and raising everything else up to the strategic, regional or indeed national level, would misjudge both the nature of the threat and its response. It’s a debate that’s just starting to emerge from some think tanks.
"So what should the national policing landscape look like? Well, the building blocks are changing. The National Policing Improvement Agency [NPIA] is going, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is frankly, irrelevant. It’s happening. The consequence of that decision is quite straightforward – we either have to stop those functions altogether, or we have to find another place for them to be.
"Of course, the NPIA was created to try and bring together all the national policing functions which were basically non-operational. There will always need to be a national radio system, a national computer, a DNA database and so on. The whole IT infrastructure of national policing is currently owned by the NPIA. It is simply a ‘no-brainer’, to use that appalling City expression; that these are more efficiently and effectively delivered for the service once, rather than 44 different times and in 44 different ways. The national infrastructure therefore needs a home and we’re working very closely with government, and indeed the NPIA, to find a solution to that challenge. But currently as I speak, it is yet to find a home and the matter is currently unresolved; we look forward to getting a solution shortly.
"The National Crime Agency [NCA] which is yet to be created but is very much part of the government’s vision, also sits in that ‘work in progress’ category. It does make complete sense and we would not argue against the principle at all, to have a national and indeed internationally-focussed agency to help counter the most serious threats to our nation.
"It will be led, and hopefully the legislation will be specific on this, by a senior chief constable yet to be appointed. We are pushing very hard with the Home Office to get that post appointed as soon as possible. I am a firm believer that someone who is going to undertake this role should be very much part of the organisation that starts to build, develop and create it; I would like them to own it right from the word ‘go’. We hope to see an advertisement shortly.
"The challenges this new operational body will face will be substantial and many. The scale and scope of the activity against a ‘no more money’ as a starting point, and I’m absolutely clear on that, will mean substantial risk will have to be borne somewhere in the system. If one looks at emerging issues such as cyber crime, which is evolving at a rapid rate to say the least, the NCA will without question play a major role in the response to that truly worrying threat and they will have to find the money from somewhere.
"Organised criminals as we all know are nimble, determined and entrepreneurial and embrace new markets and opportunities as they arise, shifting their money-making schemes from one criminal area to another.
"So that is a growth area of policing against a reducing financial backdrop. I think it will start quite simply by bringing together what is now SOCA (the Serious Organised Crime Agency), the UK Border Agency, CEOP (the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre), which is a bit of a strange fit, and parts of the NPIA which are linked to crime; and indeed it may be some of the more covert training processes they currently undertake.
"Whether or not terrorism can be brought into the fold at some later date remains very much open in my mind and I think it would be fair to say, the service’s mind. I would caution against haste in this critical policing discipline. The current structure is effective, it is well-organised, it’s been heavily invested in and supported by both the previous and this government; it has the support and confidence of chief officers.
"Indeed, through an agreement brokered via ACPO, the national coordinator for CT in the Metropolitan Police Service, can in certain circumstances assume command from local chiefs across police force territories and that shows just how flexible chief officers can be. And that can be delivered without offending the operational independence of chief constables in the routine of policing.
"So we have one clear structure and some emerging thoughts around the delivery of IT and support services at the national level. I’m also clear that some NPIA issues, in all probability, will revert to the Home Office. Procurement springs to mind as one, though we won’t be buying quite so much in the future! We have a lot of planning to do, and looking forward, designing our future capacity to develop policing does appear to me, to be missing.
"I am pleased to put forward a proposal that through much hard work over many, many years is starting to gain some traction. It starts from recognising that the basic building blocks of policing in the UK remain a 44 force structure. The debate around whether that model is right goes back many years and has been discussed, I know, at the institute here. The Commissioner [of the Metropolitan Police Service] Sir Paul Stephenson looked at this matter for us in 2003 when he was the chief constable of Lancashire. And he made recommendations then, that one could argue, should have been implemented, that included the development of strategic forces: and that was eight years ago.
"The Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Denis O’Connor, also came down in favour of strategic forces in his report in 2005 called Closing the Gap. It’s also a fact that other organisations in the criminal justice world are reorganising around us. The Crown Prosecution Service, only three weeks ago now, announced it is going down from 42 areas, which pretty much mirror police forces, to 13. Courts are changing the way they’re organised and one could argue that the police service is in danger of being left behind. But the 44 force structure is unlikely to change as there is no political will to lead it.
"The majority of chief officers think we should look at this now, but we are realistic. It will only happen with political leadership but that is absent, and it was absent in the last government. What is interesting is that Scotland is moving in the opposite direction. No change there then you may well say! But they are looking very clearly, and there is much work going on, at creating one Scottish police force from the current eight. What’s interesting is that there appears to be cross-party political will there and, I think it’s fair to reflect, less clarity across chief constables. So the opposite of what we have down here. The reality is that with political will it can be driven through. I think it was Mr Salmond who made the point he wanted Bobbies, not boundaries.
"So following on from an acceptance of reality down here, we’re stuck with what we have. The proposal I intend to put forward recognises there is a clear need for an over-arching organisation that builds on what ACPO currently does and formalises a structure in such a way that builds confidence in both government and the citizen. That is a difficult and not a straightforward challenge.
"If we can achieve such a shift, we create a body that can play a key role in the development of national policy and policing strategy with government. That can effectively coordinate and, where necessary, create standards and procedures guaranteeing interoperability across the 44 forces: in the critical strategic areas of policing where seamless tactics, equipment, training and approaches are required to keep people safe. Those will be areas such as public order, major crime and terrorism, to name but three. It would also own the development for standards of training, develop critical senior leadership training, which currently rests with the NPIA, and provide professional advice for government which informs the debate and decision-making.
"It would of course have to be structured in such a way that does not cross that line between, or compromise in any way, the operational independence of chief officers, which we describe as the jewels in the British policing crown. To achieve this it will have to have a structure of governance that recognises that principle while being as transparent and as open as possible. It may even need to be two, parallel organisations; the jury is very much out at the moment.
"If we achieve this it will, in my judgment, represent a step change for the service. British policing is widely recognised for its professionalism and the universality of its tenets; legitimacy, independence, minimum use of force, accountability, impartiality and politically neutral. Indeed I sometimes think it is more respected and recognised on foreign shores than it is from within.
"A future institution of policing, like comparable institutions, can build on that professionalism by making policing a profession. A shift from the culture of blue-coated worker to a profession of policing underpinned by a chartered institute, or if we can dream, perhaps even a royal chartered institute.
"Over time it could develop and enhance relations with the international policing community and similar organisations. It would provide a proper structure for retired colleagues who remain involved in policing: to remain members, tied to the standards of the institute. In so doing I think we would provide a mechanism for protecting the British model, which is revered across the world and is frequently held in high esteem. It would also of course raise revenue for the institution.
"We have done quite a bit of work on this. We are confident that the basic requirements for such a transition can be met; the Privy Council appears supportive. Policing is a noble profession that merits chartered status. But to be entirely realised, this vision will need some radical thinking from within and involve substantial challenges to our culture.
"Firstly, we as leaders of the service have to recognise that to succeed the institute must be open to all who deliver policing services, not a so called ‘club’ for senior officers. Clearly the leaders of any organisation have to lead; indeed the Royal College of Surgeons is not led by a house doctor. Success has to be a collective desire to share inspiration of the institute across all ranks and all grades of the current service.
"I was interested to see on the Police Review website only last week, in the context of a report around this idea, the response to an unimaginative, one-dimensional question aimed at its core readership of officers of federated ranks. The question was, “would you pay a fee to become a police officer?”, or in other words, “would you pay to become certificated member of an institute of policing?” A slim majority of those surveyed said they would; 49% ‘yes’, against 48% who said ‘no’. This was the first time officers would have had this idea even mentioned to them, and against a very difficult backdrop of course, of the Winsor Review, Hutton Report, a 2-year pay freeze and rising inflation. So I thought that was quite an interesting starting point on which we can indeed build.
"That having been said, I do not underestimate the challenges around for example the shift of responsibility for self-development and training away from the organisation to the individual. We have had to become used to, in my time at least, a substantial degree of spoon-feeding. When I joined the service, I joined and then trained. Some forces are already moving towards pre-entry qualifications. If you look at New South Wales and Vancouver, you have to be almost entirely qualified outside before you are eligible to join the police service in those particular jurisdictions. So, there is a shift of costs as well away from the service and on to the candidate.
"As a service we want to continue to attract entrants from all sections of society, and I expect very much a debate around the levels of entry to continue into the immediate future. Is it now a time to move from all officers entering at the basic level of constable to higher levels of entry within reason. The jury’s out on that frankly. There is something within me that feels it is a bad idea; but some chiefs are beginning to raise it and urge we consider this. So it’s a debate to be had. We also need to recognise that consultation and engagement with colleagues of all ranks will be critical. The recently-retired Chief Executive of the NPIA, Peter Neyroud, has submitted a review on police leadership and training to the Home Secretary that was heavily informed and advised by the membership of my association. That’s been with the Home Secretary too long in my view; we are assured it will be published as a public document before purdah begins in for the Scottish elections in the next week or so.
"So where are the rubbing points of this big idea, if it is a big idea? Well, such an organisation will have to mesh with others operating in the policing environment. In terms of oversight that includes the Independent Police Complaints Commission [IPCC], and indeed the incoming Police and Crime Commissioners. In the case of the former, the IPCC has a very clear mandate which may remove from a proposed institute one of the traditional roles of such a body; namely discipline, although I am yet to be persuaded of that. Police and Crime Commissioners I anticipate will be more focused on local issues and will need to be reassured and be engaged with the creation of such a body dedicated to professional service delivery. They also must understand it is not designed to circumvent the declared intent of this government to rebalance, and I quote, ‘the democratic deficit’ nor part of a determination to aggregate as much as possible away from the local.
"In the current climate the biggest challenge I feel will be money. This sort of step change will not be achieved in an effective way unless the project is properly funded and resourced. It is I think quite staggering that, in the 21st century, almost all national coordination and policy development is achieved through the goodwill of chief officers. They volunteer their expertise through ACPO on top of the day job; there is no national structure. It’s all done by a band of volunteers on behalf of colleagues and agreed through a Cabinet and Council structure which I have the privilege of chairing.
"So whilst it is attractive for some to comment negatively about ACPO plc and spin unfounded stories off the back of that particular image, without the goodwill of chief officers almost all national policing stops. If ACPO went into receivership, national policing stops because no chief has a mandate to operate on behalf of other chiefs. So without ACPO, or something in its place, national approaches on critical areas such as terrorism, organised crime and public order, will not be delivered. Standards for interoperability, likewise. Mutual aid across the 44 forces, again.
"It was quite interesting only last weekend, my chief of staff spent much of his time coordinating Wales, the Metropolitan Police Service and the South West Region who collectively provided the Foreign Office response to the crisis in Japan in terms of Casualty Bureau. All of which was done through an informal structure; highly organised, highly effective and was delivered quietly behind the scenes. Just one of the things that goes on behind the scenes of the ACPO bandwagon.
"So to pull off this transition will require dedicated resources and money. I think it is deliverable and, over time, self-funding would grow and central support, while necessary, would become less vital to the institute.
"So I began this address by stating that the history of British policing is one of change. And, fundamentally, the change has been for the better. I want to end by recognising that in large parts, that achievement is down to the dedication and professionalism of the workforce which we as police leaders are privileged to command. Regardless of what can seem like an unending stream of negativity in some sections of our national media, the public continue to show high levels of trust in their police service and confidence in its ability to keep people safe. And independent survey data shows that to have been remarkably resilient in the face of such negativity.
"These are, again, times of huge change but I remain convinced that the professionalism of our service and its ability to adapt into the future, will deliver. We do not underestimate the challenges ahead but we do believe the great strengths of our culture will sustain us through them.
The ACPO Press Office can be contacted via 020 7084 8946/47/48 (office hours) or via 07803 903686 (out of office hours).
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is an independent, professionally led strategic body. In the public interest and, in equal and active partnership with Government and partner agencies, ACPO leads and co-ordinates the direction and development of the police service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In times of national need ACPO, on behalf of all chief officers, co-ordinates the strategic policing response.
ACPO’s 311 members consist of 223 chief police officers from the home forces of assistant chief constable rank (commanders in the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police) and above, plus 60 senior police staff members from the 44 forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Non home forces such as British Transport Police have 25 chief police officer members and there are three members from the Service Police.