Two matters have generated some debate recently about this issue. The first was the independent panel report into the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989 and the other the so called Plebgate affair.
The former policing minister Nick Herbert said that the cancer of corruption in the police needs to be rooted out. Keith Vaz chair of the Home Affairs Committee seemed to anticipate the result of his inquiry before it ever began by announcing that we now need a Royal Commission into policing.
The Hilsborough Case is extremely serious and worrying but most police officers were not serving at the time it happened, some were not even born. A cover up clearly took place but it was not a very good one as the police failings which led to the deaths became evident during the inquest and public enquiry. I will not comment on the Plebgate affair except to say that a private conversation between a police officer and a member of the public should not be leaked to the press. The Levinson Enquiry which looked at relations between the police and the press found no evidence of corruption neither did a recent inspection carried out by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. On the other hand we must not be complacent about this. Policing is about the exercise of power and power corrupts. GMP maintains a counter corruption unit which is proactive in seeking out threats to the force.
In an interview for The Times (14th Jan), I expressed the feeling that some of this debate felt divorced from the day to day reality of policing. There is a growing gap between what is discussed in the media and the often somewhat simplistic deliberations of some columnists and commentators and what we see on the streets. Sometimes this is due to the way that short items on radio and television programmes often force us to deal in soundbites and the headline conclusions rather than being able to get into the complexity of issues. I also feel that part of this gap is that some in the middle classes or to define it another way people who live in more prosperous areas feel that the police have abandoned them. Police under new targeted patrol and offender focused approaches tend to spend more time in socially deprived, high crime areas. They have moved away from a simple law enforcement model into what some have described as agents of social change. Some commentators still feel we should go back to that more narrow role. In any case it feels that the day to day reality of policing in very difficult economic times is getting divorced from the debates taking place at the national level.
I have been a police officer for almost 32 years. I have seen a huge change in the level of professionalism and expertise in policing. When I started, dealing with a domestic abuse case led to a two line entry on a message pad often "domestic dispute no offences ". It now results in a 27 page risk assessment form, multi-agency risk assessment conferences and considerable numbers of dedicated domestic abuse officers. The standards of integrity have also changed enormously. When I started as a young officer interviews were conducted with suspects without any form of contemporaneous recording. After the interview you then wrote down a supposed verbatim record of the interview which may have lasted for half an hour. Weeks, sometimes months later, you went along to the crown or magistrates court and went into the witness box and swore under oath that this was the truth the whole truth and your record of the interview was word for word. It was clearly physically impossible for this to be so and everyone present in the court including the lawyers and the judiciary or magistrates must have known this. The procedures in effect encouraged officers to be unethical and untruthful and created tremendous personal dilemmas. It created the conditions where some criminals were "fitted up" to use the jargon of the time and it led to miscarriages of justice such as the Birmingham 6.
This system was reformed by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in 1986 and this in time brought in tape recording of interviews and a complete turnaround in the culture of criminal investigation. It became very clearly a search for the truth. If the evidence was not there than that was that. There had to be complete honesty.
As I continued my service the next profound change probably came in the early 90s when efficiency and effectiveness were given much more prominence. A series of reports and inspections exhorted the police to be more like a business to measure things and identify the costs of different procedures. This in time led to the world of league tables and targets and if it could not be measured it was probably not important. There is no question that this helped to drive up performance and standards of service but as years passed targets became an end in themselves and dominated police leadership action. As there was plenty of money around at the time it did not matter particularly how much an operation cost as long as it helped you achieve your statistical target.
Alongside all this however a more profound change was happening. Police leaders identified that a gap was opening up with the public and that we were concentrating on reacting to problems than actually solving them. Cases such as Stephen Lawrence were like an electric shock to the system and forced us to realise that it was the basic day to day relationship with victims and people who lived high crime areas which was the key factor for a just police service which put the needs of the most vulnerable first. This is best seen in areas such as Moss Side in Manchester where the relationship has change from trying to control the local population to working alongside local people to deal with the long standing problems which generate crime and disorder and gang activity.
We continue on this journey today and as we make the budget reductions we have to make keeping that relationship we have created through neighbourhood policing is our number one priority. Measures of public confidence in policing and the satisfaction of victims of crimes is just as important to us as the rate of certain crimes. Our success in fighting crime is dependent on our relationship with the public. Arresting offenders is crucial but so is working long term on the underlying causes of crime and reoffending.
The Police and Crime Plan which is being drawn up by the Police and Crime Commissioner is an exciting opportunity to allow GMP to concentrate on those issues most important to local people, to allow us to make a long term difference to the level of criminality and to ensure the system of accountability drives what works in policing. It will allow the force to move away from an over emphasis on statistical targets as the measure of success to those activities which will improve the service to the public. In many ways it is easy to hit numerical targets it is far harder to solve the really difficult issues which drive anti-social behaviour in local area or to solve the issues which cause burglars to continue offending within days if coming out of prison.
Some of this is quite fundamental. It causes to reflect that we spend a huge amount of time and money trying to get offenders into the court system despite the fact the system is poor at stopping reoffending and produces poor victim satisfaction. The court system is entirely appropriate for serious cases but it often struggles to deal with long term patterns of less serious offending driven by drugs, alcohol or low self-esteem. We cannot really afford this wasted effort and wasted human potential.
This has been a sad start to the year. The tragic death of PC Andrew Bramma who had recently transferred to North Yorkshire from GMP has been followed by the death of PC Gareth Francis killed while on a night out off duty in Stockport. These were great officers who will be deeply missed. I know that Andrew's colleagues spoke movingly about him at his funeral and it is particularly sad that two very young children are left without a father. The force and the Police Federation are doing all they can to support the families.
We also held a ceremony to mark taking down the memorials to deceased officers from the old headquarters at Chester House. We had managed to find the widow of an officer killed in 1975 PC Rogers. He was killed by train while searching for some lost young children who had wandered on to the railway. As always while the passage of time meant he had been forgotten about in force the memory was still very fresh for his widow who had not married again. There will be a new memorial for deceased staff at the new force headquarters and we have a memorial garden at Sedgley Park training centre.
The Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd has issued the draft budget for next year and is proposing an increase on the council tax on policing of 3.46 per cent which means on average an extra £5 per household per year. I realise this is not easy for folk during these hard times but on the other hand is vital if we are to maintain the service to the public of Greater Manchester over the coming years. We have already lost over 1800 staff from the force and it is getting harder and harder to sustain such losses. The extra council tax will help to reduce the overall loss of staff and provide some security for the future. We will do all we can to ensure that this money is spent wisely so as to maintain the protection of local people.
Sir Peter Fahy
Greater Manchester Police