Saturday, 28 November 2015


My thanks go to Dr Rodger Patrick, renowned expert on crime statistics, and the noble The Earl of Lytton for his recent speech to the Committee on Standards in Public Life on 23rd November 2015.

Dr Patrick's written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee looking into crime statistics can be viewed here:

The Earl of Lytton's full speech and responses can be seen by clicking this link :- 

The speech follows on from the investigations following the death of Georgia Williams in West Mercia. Whilst having every sympathy for the family and sharing their view on the IPCC, scapegoating the officers involved is unlikely to have any impact on the 'gaming' behaviours they have been employing (cuffing a criminal damage to an RTC and the inappropriate use of non judicial disposals). The problem as we know is organisational in nature and the scale is no doubt being reflected in the exposure of such behaviours in domestic homicide reviews and complaints.  

Lord Lytton raised the issue in a debate on the report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (reprinted below). His comments encapsulate many views of serving, retired and former police officers and as such it was though worthy sharing with a wider audience via this site.

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The Earl of Lytton
Committee on Standards in Public Life 23rd November 2015 : Lord Lytton’s speech

Police: Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life

Question for Short Debate
4.35 pm
Asked by The Earl of Lytton

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have to improve police leadership, accountability and ethics in the light of the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life Tone from the top.
The Earl of Lytton:
My Lords, I am delighted to introduce this short debate on the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, entitled Tone from the Top. My interest in police accountability is not original. It started with Lord Corbett of Castle Vale and his researcher, and the fact that I was able to source a PhD paper from one Dr Roger Patrick, which delved into all sorts of matters on the reporting of crime. I then raised the issue before the House in a short debate in March 2013. Subsequently, the Public Administration Select Committee looked into the matter. Following that, the Committee on Standards in Public Life made its investigation and report. I am delighted that the author of that report, the noble Lord, Lord Bew, as chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, is with us. I congratulate him on his committee’s report.
I continue by declaring what I believe is an important matter: the fundamental importance of policing in this country. It is a vital first service. It must command the confidence of the public at large, of business and of government. I pay tribute to the many officers who willingly face danger in the interests of protecting the public. There remains a high level of public confidence and support, even though it has taken a bit of a hit over recent years because of a number of high-level failings and revelations referred to in the noble Lord’s committee’s report. Stories continue to come out weekly, if not daily.
Responsibility for checking crime recording is claimed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, so it is unsurprising that following the Public Administration Select Committee’s report, the Committee on Standards in Public Life turned its attention to the means of accountability set up under the coalition Government—namely, the police and crime commissioners and the panels that work with them. The Home Affairs Committee described this as the creation of,
“a system that relies on local scrutiny and the main check is at the ballot box”.
It also remarked that this comes round only every few years.
Since their creation, several factors have come to light. First, it is fair to say that there has been a bit of a democratic deficit in terms of poor voter response. That feature has not been improved on in subsequent intermediate elections for replacement PCCs. Secondly, many of the police and crime commissioner candidates came from party-political backgrounds. From my own standpoint—from where I sit in the House—I think that a greater degree of political neutrality would have been more appropriate.
Thirdly, some PCCs came to their posts with a history of police or allied area involvement. In some cases it appeared that this might—and in some cases did—impede their role of holding a chief constable to account. Fourthly, while PCCs have a sanction against the chief constable, this may not drill down to the culture of policing in the middle ranks. Example may be from the top, but leadership deficits pointed to by others may mean that this does not permeate through the force, leaving some cultural practices effectively unchanged and unchallenged. Fifthly, PCCs, and indeed their panels, seem to have had a reluctance to challenge anything remotely associated with what the police might choose to claim to be operational matters. I note that the CSPL report comments on the reluctance of one PCP to cross that line.
In respect of police and crime commissioner performance, the report makes some significant recommendations, which I shall paraphrase because I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bew, will want to flesh some of them out. They fall into the areas of standards, evaluation, sanctions, disclosure and transparency, objectivity in dealing with complaints and safeguards in appointment procedures.
Although the intention was that PCCs would better hold the police to account, that was never the only mechanism. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the College of Policing, the Home Office, parliamentary committees and so on all have a role to play, but it seems to me that none of the issues of “gaming” of crime figures, which I referred to back in 2013, has gone away. Dr Rodger Patrick—yes, the same one—tells me that it is continuing. He believes that it is institutional and, having seen some of his evidence, I have to agree with his interpretation.
Even HMIC seems to admit that police under-recording of crime may be significant, but then it gave the West Midlands force an improbably high approval rating of 99% for its recording procedures. However, at the very time that it was carrying that out audit, circumstances were unfolding which led to the eventual murder of Jacqueline Oakes in January 2014. Apparently the force knew about Ms Oakes’s killer and the history of violence and abuse. It seems that the IPCC has now served notices on 26 serving officers, seven police staff and two officers who have left the force in connection with this case. This suggests an institutional issue and a failure to record information—the precise factor that HMIC was supposed to audit. I am told that, subsequently, the West Midlands PCC examined 13 domestic homicide reviews from that force and found that in more than half of them there was a failure by the police to take robust action. So, even had incident reporting been as good as HMIC suggested, the resultant action was defective.
Middlesex University reported on West Midlands’s domestic homicide reviews in July 2014. This found that the process remained less than joined up, with many stakeholders, different and poorly integrated areas of focus and an absence of holistic management. Dr Patrick, whom I regard as a great expert on crime recording and statistics, has pointed out that the HMIC methodology of auditing forces’ performance is weak. Of course, we will probably never know whether these factors contributed to the death of Ms Oakes.
There is a line in the sand on the question of oversight of police operations. The definition of “operations” as a term of art matters and is based on understandings that go back to the 1920s or earlier. The details of response to an emergency, the sources of information used to disrupt criminal activity and the methodologies for apprehending wrongdoers would of course qualify as being operations. However, there has to be transparency and accountability by the police. If, as I apprehend, freedom from interference in operations can in certain circumstances translate in modern terms into a denial of any oversight rights at all, I think it is time to redefine what is or is not “operational” in this context.
In a conversation today with one of the police force deputy commissioners, other issues came to light, particularly in connection with youths in custody, where there are few, if any, common protocols linking the police activity with that of local authority education or social services departments. Furthermore, it seems that there are no protocols setting out the respective areas of activity of HMIC and IPCC and how these interleave. If either had a clear road map of their scope and activities, such a protocol would be unavoidable. So on one level agencies defend their turf vigorously; on others, there is unnecessary overlap; and, on a third, there are some significant gaps which erode confidence and ruin, degrade and may even cost lives.
My point is this: all the regulators of the police—police and crime commissioners, HMIC, the IPCC, the College of Policing, the Home Office and so on—are themselves to a degree embedded with policing, and I wonder whether this does not in some circumstances interfere with true independence and objectivity in holding to account those who need to be held to account. For their part, police and crime commissioners walk a tightrope: they need to work with their chief constable in a collaborative manner but yet be able to take the ultimate sanction if need be. But they can only be as good as the performance of other regulators permits.
I finish, with his consent, with a quote from the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, at the annual Newsam Memorial Lecture 2015 hosted by the College of Policing. He said:
“It is no good preaching principles and codes in an organisation if, for example, promotions, pay and other incentives actually encourage something quite different. A number of investment banks had exemplary statements of values. But what was actually rewarded in them, right up to their chief executives, was excessive risk-taking and the pursuit of profit at the expense of customer service”.
So ongoing indifference, acquiescence, rewarding poor performance, an administrative Nelson’s eye, if you like, and poor leadership remain. Indeed, Tone from the Top is a prophetic title. This matters. Confidence in the forces of law and order and the cohesion of society are at stake—as, ultimately, is the rule of law. That is why this report is important for what it says and what it infers, and why it requires government attention.


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