Friday, 18 September 2009

Home Secretary Sets Out His Position On Policing

Earlier this week the Home Secretary spoke to the Superintendents' conference about the future of UK policing...

Alan Johnson MP addresses Police Superintendents conference

In his address to the Police Superintendents Association conference, Home Secretary Alan Johnson said:

"Your association was indeed the first Home Office-linked organisation I met after becoming Home Secretary. In that short meeting with your executive, I had the luxury of not being expected to know anything and the benefit of hearing from people who knew an awful lot.

Since its formal recognition in 1952, the Superintendents’ Association has been a crucial influence not only in advocating on behalf of superintendents, but in shaping modern policing as we know it today.

I have been indebted to Ian and his colleagues for their advice and insight over the last few months. I don’t want my address today to be a simple recitation of flattering statistics, but it would be remiss not to mention the significant reduction in crime over the last 12 years – a fall of 39 per cent since 1997.

It is important to mention it because it is a real and genuine achievement. It’s your achievement and it is testament to the incredible commitment and dedication of Britain’s police. But crime is the area of government policy where statistics matter the least and perception matters the most.

The achievements in crime reduction need to be balanced against the fact that people's concern about crime isn’t declining at the same rate. And fear of crime, as well as being debilitating in itself, dilutes public confidence. The police have always had to ride two horses; a police force for those who break the law, and a police service for the law-abiding public.

As Sir Robert Peel once said: “the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen.”

It is testament to this legacy that while in many other countries in the world, the police are feared and reviled, in the UK, they are respected and admired. While the renewed focus on the relationship between the police and the public through neighbourhood policing echoes the fundamental purpose of the police, as articulated so well in the 19th century, some of the challenges faced by modern police forces would be unrecognisable to Peel and his colleagues.

When the first modern police forces were established, they had to confront the impact of industrialisation and urbanisation – people flooded to cities like London, Manchester and Glasgow - where the demand for cheap, unskilled labour was insatiable. Overcrowded, squalid slums quickly became breeding grounds for violent gang wars as rival “Scuttlers,” as they were called, in Manchester, terrorised people with their sustained and brutal street fights.

If the challenge was industrialisation in the 19th Century, then it’s globalisation in the 21st. Terrorists and criminal networks pay scant attention to national borders. On Monday, the three ring leaders of the airline bomb plot, who planned unimaginable carnage, were sentenced to 40 years, 36 years and 32 years respectively – sentences they fully deserved.

The success of Operation Overt is a salient reminder both of the unprecedented and international scale of the challenges we face. It also highlights the fact that our police and security forces are a precious national asset that we diminish or constrain at our peril. While the primary duty of the state, as exercised by the Home Secretary and the police, has always been to keep people safe, fulfilling that duty, under the threat of terrorist attack, has never been more complex.

We in the UK have a long experience of terrorism. But the sustained nature of the threat we face today, has taken us into new territory, and demonstrated the extraordinary capacity of the police to adapt to changing circumstances. But they need the right tools to do the job. Having considered the House of Lords Judgement, I have to decide whether control orders should be abandoned or maintained. They are not and never were intended to be the first line of defence.

Where an individual is suspected of terrorist activity, our first objective will always be for that person to be tried and prosecuted in an open court, or deported if they are foreign nationals. But there is a very small number of people who undoubtedly pose a substantial threat to public safety, and who for good reason, we can neither prosecute nor deport.

In handing down his judgement on control orders on 10 June this year, Lord Justice Scott said: “The duty of the courts … is not … to protect the lives of citizens. It is…to apply the law.” It is however, my primary duty to do both.

So while the courts are bound to be an impartial arbitrator of how the law is applied, it falls on police and security services to protect the public. In their efforts to prevent dangerous individuals from doing harm, they must use a range of measures which the law allows.

Control orders are a practical and proportionate legislative tool that can be applied in such cases. They are not perfect and one day, I hope they won’t be necessary. But for a handful of people, they remain the best option we have for ensuring the public is safe and our security services are able to do their work effectively. That is why I have decided to maintain their availability within the constraints of the House of Lords judgement.

There are those who claim that a global sense of purpose sits uneasily with the renewed focus on neighbourhood policing and public confidence. But every police officer knows that it is only through earning the trust of local communities, that their cooperation can be secured in tackling organised crime, gang violence, and yes, even terrorism. We know that public confidence is at its highest in areas where the police are a constant visible presence; where they make themselves accessible to local people, and where they explain what they are doing to tackle crime whilst listening and responding to people’s concerns.

The surveys show that those who feel properly informed about the measures that the police are taking in their area are nearly twice as likely to believe that crime is being effectively addressed.

Having completed my first three months in this job, I am very clear from all that I’ve seen and heard that there’s no need for more central targets, radical reorganisations or eye-catching initiatives. We need to further consolidate that which is already in place, and we need to do more, much more, to tackle antisocial behaviour.

Petty acts of vandalism, fly-tipping, abandoned cars, intimidating or threatening behaviour – these are not trivial or, as they are sometimes dismissed, “low-level problems.” For the people who have to live with them on a daily basis, they are far from trivial - they have a profound impact on their health and wellbeing.

But in a lot of communities, there’s a “why bother?” sentiment. They don’t raise these issues with the police or others because they think they think it won’t make any difference. Or even that it will make the problem worse. This is despite the fact that the police and local authorities have more powers to deal with antisocial behaviour than ever before and the statistics tell us that after any kind of intervention, two thirds of perpetrators desist. After 3 interventions, all but the most persistent 7 per cent desist. But if we cannot convince the public to come forward, because past experience tells them their complaint will be passed from the local authority to the police and then back again, then we are fighting a loosing battle.

Everyone has the right to feel safe where they live. Tackling antisocial behaviour must be a priority for the police and local authorities and the public need to believe that their complaint will be acted upon. Last Friday, I spent some time with Merseyside Police. They have a taskforce dedicated to tackling antisocial behaviour in areas where it’s a big problem. As well as taking tough action on the perpetrators, police officers regularly visit the victims of antisocial behaviour to check that they are satisfied with the action the police have taken. It can be no coincidence that public confidence in this area has increased from 50 per cent in September last year to 56.9 per cent in March this year. The police also say that being tough on antisocial behaviour is helping them to address other issues like gang violence and gun crime, because often those involved in antisocial behaviour are connected to more serious crimes too.

The White Paper, which will be published shortly, won’t be an overwrite of the Green Paper but will embed those principles further and I hope resolve the issues which are making their implementation more difficult.

I know that one of the Green Paper issues that is at the forefront of your concerns is accountability. I’m adamant that there’s no case for elected members of police authorities, and neither this nor elected commissioners will feature in the White Paper. Ian is wise to warn us to be wary of those who offer simple solutions to complex problems.

When the public say they want the police to be more accountable, that doesn’t mean they want the dubious delights of elected police boards. It certainly doesn’t mean they want politicians pulling the strings, or telling the police how to do their jobs – in London or elsewhere. Locally, they want a name and a number they can call about problems they see in their neighbourhood and they want that problem to be dealt with quickly, preferably by a police officer with a familiar face.

If they think that a police officer hasn’t followed up the crime they’ve reported, or failed in some other way, they want their complaint dealt with quickly and proportionately. Most would rather have a speedy apology and an assurance that something similar won’t happen again than a lengthy investigation into that officer’s conduct. They also want to see the criminal justice system working for victims, not, as 79 per cent of people believe, for offenders. This is why Justice Seen, Justice Done is so critical. It is no coincidence that when people see criminals and perpetrators of antisocial behaviour being brought to account, their confidence in the police goes up.

Whilst as Home Secretary, I will advocate remorselessly on the public’s behalf, I would be doing them and the police a disservice if I thought that meant telling police officers how to do their job.

Similarly, I’m very clear that while centrally imposed targets may have once been necessary, that phase is over. There is now only one central target on public confidence and there are no accompanying government diktats about how this target will be delivered.

I recognise your concerns that the single confidence target will somehow be undermined by more complex arrangements for monitoring police performance. Simultaneously holding the police to account, while allowing for freedom and flexibility, will be a difficult balancing act. The Policing Pledge is not just another list of targets , and neither will it be monitored by the Home Office as if it was. The Pledge sets out the minimum that the public can justifiably expect from their local police force, to ensure that consistent standards are applied across the country. But I am clear, that whatever arrangements HMIC agree with you about how performance is monitored, it must not place unnecessary bureaucratic burdens on the police.

Over the last few years, we’ve made huge efforts to cut the laborious and unnecessary paperwork that chains police officers to their desks.

Thirty-six data collection requirements have either been removed or significantly reduced.

Scrapping activity-based costing alone has saved around 260,000 hours of police time.

The foot-long Stop and Account form has gone – saving another 690,000 hours.

The hand-held devices which are steadily replacing the iconic bobby’s notebook mean that police officers can do on the beat what could once only be done back to the station, saving half an hour every shift.

Analogue radios have been replaced by infinitely more powerful airwave handsets, making it easier for police officers to communicate, even on the London Tube network and saving more time for officers.

In addition, we will also explore whether we can reduce the requirements of the Stop and Search form. Currently, regardless of whether someone who is stopped and searched is arrested, police officers still have to fill in the form. It’s obviously essential to record the ethnicity of the person and the reason they were stopped, so that any complaint can be properly considered. But there should be no need for the police to record anything further.

In the forthcoming Policing, Crime and Private Security Bill, we will take the first steps towards radically slimming down the form for such incidents.

Despite these developments, I know the bureaucracy dragon has not yet been slain. Central government may have been slashed, but we were never the only manufacturer of red tape. Local requirements are often, equally, if not more burdensome, and these need to be addressed too.

To give one example, while the Stop and Account form has been abolished, I have heard of instances where neighbourhood police officers are still filling in the form even though it’s no longer required.

The confidence target was introduced to ensure that police officers could focus on what really mattered – that they were chasing criminals, not statistics, and so that they can exercise their professional judgement in making their communities safer. We have rightly been challenged by you and others to go further in reducing bureaucratic burdens on the service. But making further inroads will require more action at force and authority level. It is on this element that Jan Berry’s forthcoming review will concentrate.

I want to end by saying something about a subject that I’m sure has caused much discussion during your conference – future funding. I know it must feel like an uncomfortable squeeze between meeting rising public expectations and improving efficiency. When we talk about greater productivity and efficiency, commentators find it convenient to interpret this as a euphemism for cutting frontline staff. But when 43 police forces have between them, many hundreds of IT contracts, when many of those forces have separate arrangements for buying uniforms, vehicles and equipment, you cannot convince me that improving efficiency means abandoning neighbourhood policing.

We have not spent the last 12 years building frontline police numbers to record levels to see all these advances reversed.

I don’t believe that the way to respond to this tighter financial climate is to hang the sword of Damocles over frontline officers. The three year settlement up to 2011 is a good one, and in contrast to our political opponents, we have no intention of cutting into it The three year pay deal will be honoured, and because we recognise that we are asking you to deliver a challenging agenda, I can tell you today that the Basic Command Unit Fund will not be scrapped. It will continue in 2010/11, providing £40 million for the police, working in partnership with local authorities, to improve public confidence in communities they serve – whether that’s by tackling antisocial behaviour or investing more in neighbourhood policing.

I began by talking about the complexity of modern police work. How the challenges faced by police officers don’t just go from neighbourhood to national, but from local to global; from antisocial behaviour to terrorism. All are of equal importance to the public. But the overriding principle is very simple. Keeping people safe, providing them with security and serenity in their lives is the most basic duty that any government owes its citizens. The principles at the heart of the creation of the modern police service in the 19th century are as relevant today.

It is through greater engagement in neighbourhood policing, genuine accountability, collaboration and strong leadership that we can ensure that policing is carried out both with and for the public.

It is my role as Home Secretary to support the police in their difficult and dangerous work, and I will fulfil that role to the best of my ability."

Reprinted from :-

Comment :-

Some fine words Mr Johnson. We feel sure they were received with rapturous applause. However, the frontline bobbies and response troops have heard these words before. ACTION is what is needed and speaks louder than any of your famliar force fed platitudes. Forgive us if we reserve our trust for the word of this Government, but we will not raise our expectations until we see positive results and action.

The list of reasons for doubting the word of this Government is endless. Years of "Jobs for the boys" in the form of expensive and doubtful community projects where funding would be better spent on real frontline resource allocation, manipulated crime statistics (and make no mistake, the word is out), the MP expenses scandal, the lack of support for the National Victims Association families, the treacherous trading of justice for the Libyan killer of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, the worldwide condemnation for the release of the convicted Lockerbie murderer to name just a few of the more recent betrayals that have eroded trust in words alone.

From a policing perspective, there needs to be a clean slate. That requires an immediate acceptance that the crime figures you happily broadcast have been consistently manipulated for political benefit for many years and the time has come to spill the beans and start afresh. If you are sincere about seeking the return of public confidence, YOU MUST EARN IT. That requires a brave man and a brave party, but better the public knew the full truth, and adequate funding is allocated for policing that this fanstasy world in your headlines that crime is decreasing. This only perpetuates the problem.

Mr Johnson, you mention the disparity between the the reported crime figures and actual crime. You make the statement "They don’t raise these issues with the police or others because they think they think it won’t make any difference. Or even that it will make the problem worse".

What you don't say is WHY they feel it won't make a difference. Once again you fall back on the political cushion of  the extra police powers that have been introduced. That is all very well, when they get the chance to use them, (and believe us they would love to) when they are not chasing detections, protecting their own backs against petty internal attacks, tied up for hours with paperwork that is largely excessive.

Can you not see, this is what lies at the very core of public confidence. The very system that has been created down the years has drifted away from common sense and the back to basics approach must be taken seriously if the service is to recover from its current malaise. The public have seen for themselves that through no lack of commitment or desire on the part of the response officers, public calls for help all too often go unanswered due to the tangled web of obstructions to justice that have evolved down the years.

Accept that as a Government minister, it is unlikely that you will live in proximity or circumstances where you will come face-to-face with the violent and criminal face of Britain. That does not mean you should shut your eyes to what the average tax payer sees every day at the corner shop, on the High Streets or in the town centres.

An open and honest start would be to create a forum where police officers from the front line can speak openly and honestly about the real issues preventing the return to common sense back to basics policing, without fear or reprisals of threat to their career. You have started with the Superintendents, now deliver your message the the constables, sergeants and inspectors, ALL OF THEM, especially those on the front line, the response officers, who deal with real life policing every day. Create an environment where they are unafraid to voice their concerns. If you turn up with Chief Constables' or SMT Officers in tow, you can hardly expect officers to put their neck on the line and openly criticise the hierarchy, bureaucracy and processes that obstruct them from delivering the policing the nation deserves and you so speak of wanting.

The truth of policing in the UK will not be discovered in your office or that of senior officers, but out there on the street, where the real problems are being handled by real coppers every day. If you are to gain the confidence of these officers, get out and meet them, one-to-one, see the real world that they have to deal with. You will find the picture is far worse than you could ever imagine or are being fed by the SMT's, many of whom are part of the problem that needs solving.

We do not imagine for one moment that you would actually turn up on the wildest parts of London, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol to see the situation for yourself, but until the word of the experienced frontline bobby is taken more seriously and action is taken, the state of our society will spiral ever downward taking the aspiration of public confidence down with it.

Whether you are in office for twelve months or for years to come, the time to start is now.


The Crime Analysis Team
Nice 1 Limited


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