PermaLink Challenging times and the daily business07/20/2011 11:45 AM
The events of the past few weeks have been bewildering for policing as we have seen events in London being used to effectively denigrate policing nationally. Obviously I know Sir Paul Stephenson and John Yates extremely well and have the highest regard for them both professionally and personally.  

They have done many fine things to protect the public and serve their country. They have been open and honest in admitting misjudgements and shown courage in resigning. What is bewildering is that this case is being used by some to suggest that corruption is endemic in British policing, which it is not.

We have always admitted that we have some staff in our organisation that do bad things including disclosing information to others - sometimes criminals, sometimes journalists and sometimes family or friends and we take this very seriously. Officers have been jailed for doing this, but that does not mean corruption is endemic or institutional.

There have also been suggestions that there are unhealthy relationships between police officers and the media. Well, the relationship with the media is a day-to-day part of policing as we make appeals for witnesses or tell the public through the media what they have a right to know. This is a crucial part of our accountability. Some of the conversations we have with the media are what is known as on the record some are off the record, as they seek background information or guidance which they know cannot be published for legal reasons. It is also clear that there are a small number of officers who pass information to journalists when they should not. Most of this is for malicious reasons because, unfortunately, they want to embarrass the force but, to repeat, this is a tiny group of staff and there is no suggestion that they do this for money.

It is fair to say that some journalists see part of their role as trying to get unauthorised information out of officers that is just seen as something reporters do. Whether we like it or not the tabloid press in this country has huge influence and for a number of years leaders of public services have experienced a situation where what is covered in the tabloid press is of great concern to national and indeed local politicians. It is true this has almost become an obsession and leaders of public services, like me, spend a lot of time worrying about how we are portrayed and how we can improve that. On the other hand I have never received more than a cup of coffee from a journalist and the stories of dinners etc is something chief officers in GMP have never accepted. We are clear that all offers of hospitality have to be declared and indeed any suggestion that this could be misinterpreted means that most offers are declined. We take this issue very seriously.

There is also a lot of speculation in the media about who will be Sir Paul Stephenson’s successor and I am likely to be named as a potential candidate however, I would like to clarify that I myself will not be applying for the role.

This year is the 30th anniversary of the Moss Side riots, an event which tore apart Manchester. It was of course, part of a series of inner city riots in Toxteth, Brixton and Handsworth, places that became synonymous with mistrust between police and communities and descended into awful levels of violence and destruction. I had just joined policing at that point and remember listening to the reports coming in on the news one particular violent night and wondering what I had joined. At points it seemed that certain parts of certain cities would become virtual war zones and we would replicate the American experience.

Thirty years later we must not be complacent, but on the other hand, policing has learnt many painful lessons.

· We have learnt that there is only one way to do policing that is with the consent of the public, listening to their priorities and concerns.
· We learnt that the police are there to serve deprived communities not control them.
· We learnt that police powers have to be used in an accountable and open way, respecting the right of the individual.
· We learnt that when there are incidents which damage community confidence we have to be proactive in talking to the community, dealing with rumours and explaining our actions.
· We have learnt to be a police service rather than a force, not something that everyone agrees with and it is interesting that in forging stronger links with some communities it seems to have generated resentment from others.

The Moss Side riots were a very difficult time for GMP and its staff. Many officers showed great bravery and a number were badly injured. The Force is facing an equally difficult challenge at the moment but one which will continue for the next four years. The budget situation will challenge our resourcefulness and determination. It is easy to feel worn down by the constant stream of announcements and the constant media questions. We have to maintain our determination however to do best by the public and best by our staff. We cannot let the criminal have an easy time out of this.

Two weeks ago we announced 868 job losses - 616 police staff posts and 270 police officers. All these numbers can be confusing. The 616 police staff posts include a large number that are vacant at the moment so these will just be removed from the establishment. We have also received about 400 expressions of interest in voluntary redundancy. We will make every effort to ensure that those colleagues who are in posts which will be removed and don't want voluntary redundancy are redeployed to other roles. If we cannot find other roles, then compulsory redundancy is the final option, but we will do all we can to avoid that happening.

For the police officers the situation is different. The police officers in the posts to be removed will be posted to vacancies created by others retiring. Police officers cannot be made redundant. We have not recruited any new police officers for some time now so gaps are opening up. This whole thing has been a very painful process and will continue during the next three years at least. The announcements last week related to areas such as administration, intelligence handling, forensics, call handling and police station front offices.

There have been some very difficult choices. The one which has probably caused most debate has been the proposal concerning the closure of some police station enquiry counters. We have 55 of these open at present and quite a few 24 hours a day. They come from a time when few members of the public had a telephone at home and mobiles had not been invented. There was more of a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude to the way the police provided a public service. There were a number of activities such as producing driving documents which could only be carried out in person whereas now much of that is computerised.

In GMP, we have moved to a system where if we cannot sort out your issue over the phone and it is not urgent we will give you a fixed time when we will come to you or meet you at the police station or elsewhere. We think this is a better way of providing service than you having to turn up at a police station on spec. Our staff try and make visiting our front offices as pleasant as possible, but the fact is that with the security measures such as chairs bolted to the floor and with people hanging about for their friends to come out of the cells they will never be that nice.

Our town hall meetings continue and as I write we have completed three. The themes have been similar. There is a general distrust of crime statistics. Interesting given that we spend a lot of time collecting them but this probably means we need to explain more about what we do, to try and make sure they are accurate. People also understand that more money should be spent on administrative support for police officers and voted for this ahead of forensics, enquiry counters and police horses. There was also a theme that people should take more responsibility for their own actions and not always expect the police to sort out their problems.

We have more town hall meetings over coming weeks which are advertised on the website and I do hope you will come along to debate some of these issues if there is one in your area.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a great evening at the National Police Bravery Awards with our two GMP nominees PS Chris Flint and PC Phil Bainbridge and their wives. These two fine officers confronted a burglar who attacked them with a knife but they still made the arrest. The evening was similar to previous ones in that the celebrities who presented the awards thought the acts of bravery were remarkable but the officers receiving the awards saw it as all in a day's work and knew that there are many other acts of bravery carried out by their colleagues every day. It is a great shame that the attention of the media is not more on this aspect of policing.

Last week saw the release of the national annual crime figures for the year up to April. In GMP we had a seven per cent reduction in crime and the press office got us onto the national news with filming of officers investigating burglary in Longsight. I did a lot of media interviews which were all similar in that the first question was ‘are you pleased with the reduction?’ and the second was ‘surely now crime will go up because of the spending cuts?’. The story was also confused by the release of the British Crime Survey figures on the same day which showed that the level of crime nationally was stable, but there had been a sharp rise in burglaries. People can also find information on crime levels from the Crimemapper system which shows details in their area.

Over recent weeks we have seen outstanding examples of the work of GMP every day. There have been great arrests from pursuits both in vehicles and on foot, thorough searches and great investigations. Operation Fill on South Manchester saw a total of 58 years imprisonment given to a team who have carried out very nasty burglaries and robberies. The work of our analysts has contributed to a number of successful operations netting significant criminal outfits which shows why we have to make sure that their work is focused in the right areas. The air support unit has been involved in a number of great jobs and the Automatic Number Plate Recognition intercept team has also had outstanding results. There are a number of major trials currently ongoing hopefully heading for successful outcomes. At the same time the Town Hall meetings have shown huge public support for neighbourhood policing and particularly the work of our Police Community Support Officers.

All in all a picture far apart from the one painted in the media in recent days but yet again showing that whatever those in London are obsessed with. Our GMP staff are focused on serving you and making life difficult for the criminals in Greater Manchester.

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