Text of Chairman's Speech at Federation Open Meeting 20th November 2013
Chief Constable, Commissioner, guests, ladies and gentlemen welcome to Kent Police Federation's Open Meeting at the Mercure Great Danes Hotel.
In fact Chief Constable, let me welcome you to your last Open Meeting….but perhaps more of that later.
We also have two open meeting virgins here tonight.
Mrs Barnes I welcome you to your first one as the PCC.
Mr Price welcome to your first one as our new ACC.
Let me begin by introducing the platform to you.-
Before I start my speech it is only right and proper that we remember fallen colleagues. Since last year policing has seen the loss of a number of officers. In Kent we witnessed the tragic loss of Detective Sergeant Ben Turner, a truly popular and professional officer whose loss was felt so keenly by so many. Our thoughts continue to be with his family, friends & colleagues. Let us stand, united as the police family, for a few moments of quiet reflection and remembrance.
On 15th November the Police Arbitration Tribunal met to consider compulsory severance and the issue of restricted duties for officers. We await the outcome of their deliberations.
Let me be clear, the introduction of compulsory severance will fundamentally change the status of the office of constable. It will undermine the independence of that role, an independence that has assured the use of individual discretion linked to a policing style firmly rooted in consent. Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls ruled comprehensively on this independence in a case involving the Metropolitan Commissioner, a ruling oft quoted:
"I have no hesitation, however, in holding that, like every constable in the land, [the Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police] should be, and is, independent of the executive.
No Minister of the Crown can tell him that he must, or must not, keep observation on this place or that; or that he must, or must not, prosecute this man or that one. Nor can any police authority tell him so. The responsibility for law enforcement lies on him. He is answerable to the law and to the law alone." How will holders of the office of constable maintain this independence with the sword of compulsory severance hanging over their heads?
Whilst there are some that see policing as just another job its constitutional status and independence of political control is paramount if we are to maintain policing by consent. We have evolved a model of policing, it's not perfect, but it is a model envied and copied the world over.
Such an important and fundamental change must be a matter for Parliament alone.
Matters of such importance should not and must not be decided as if it was abolishing some archaic allowance. When writing this speech I had in mind the type writer allowance but looking at the age of some in the audience I anticipate a question - what's a typewriter?
I'm afraid Chief Constable that ACPO as a body has acted shamefully in the way they have supported compulsory severance. However, I am also aware that a significant number within ACPO have voiced their opposition to it.
The officers here tonight would like to know where you stand on this. Are you in favour of or against compulsory severance? Not wishing to let anyone off lightly, Mrs Barnes, I suspect the officers would equally like to know where you, as the keeper of the money, stand on compulsory severance.
Now to local issues.
I will now turn to local issues. Last year I said,
"Sir, I know there are times when, putting it mildly, I probably irritate you ever so slightly."
I think your response was something like,
"No Ian you don't irritate me just ever so slightly."
Sir, having watched your speech again only the other day, I am concerned that perhaps you put too much emphasis on the word "just".
Before I commence, I believe it is important to remind everyone that I stand here as the official spokesman for Kent Police Federation, an organisation that represents 3,200 police officers. At times that means I have to give difficult messages; in fairness difficult messages that you, the membership, don't always agree on unanimously. I don't do that for the good of either my health or career………..obviously. I do that because I am passionate about policing; I am passionate that police officers have a voice and that voice is heard.
So, if I tread on any toes tonight……, well, I am more than happy to have it TIC'd.
Last year we met at a difficult time; 5 officers from Maidstone had been arrested under Operation Art, and that provoked a media firestorm. Kent Police was on the front page of the Times……but for all the wrong reasons.
It would be wrong of me to speak in any detail about Operation Art; 4 officers remain suspended and face gross misconduct proceedings in the New Year.
However, it is important you know that none of the officers has faced any criminal charges, serious or otherwise. I think it is fair to say I cannot remember a case that has attracted so much interest from officers.
However , it is an exceedingly ill wind that blows no good at all. At the end of my speech last year I asked you, Chief Constable to carry out research primarily around the performance culture.
Sir, you took a decision to conduct a review of performance. You assembled a team; they went out into the workplace and interviewed around 400 police officers and staff. I must congratulate Chief Supt Jon Sutton, Supt Andrea Bishop and the rest of the team for the candid report they produced. More importantly, I must congratulate the 400 officers and staff for their courage; they pulled no punches and perfectly highlighted how we were hitting the target but missing the point.
Whilst, as predicted, dishonesty & corruption were not found, the review did establish that numeric targets for both individuals and teams were firmly in use. Furthermore the review established these numeric targets were skewing activity.
Sir, I know this report was a real shock to you, a report that broke through your gatekeepers; gatekeepers that had whispered reassuring messages about the non-existence of numeric targets; some had whispered more loudly than others. I also know that you have embraced those findings and we have embarked on a change to the performance culture of Kent Police, a culture that has been at least 20 years in the making.
Has that culture completely changed? Ultimately only time will tell. I can say that I am not receiving any information about numeric targets being set for individuals or teams. However I am told of some in the superintending ranks who clearly can't live without numeric targets so are setting themselves targets. If true, this will ultimately only serve to undermine the progress we have made.
Let me be clear, changing our performing culture does not mean abandoning a culture of performance. Performance cultures are like cholesterol, there are good performance cultures that focus on quality of service recognising risk and harm to the public, and bad performance cultures that focus on ticks on boxes.
If you are aware of numeric targets, even if they're thinly disguised as benchmarks or ambitions, then you need to let me know. Supt Bishop and her team are conducting reviews on each of the divisions. If you are approached then tell them. You can use the anonymous email system. Failing all that please tell me; your information will be treated in the strictest confidence.
If the abandonment of numeric targets is to become embedded into our culture then we need to hold the line, particularly if crime rises and/or detections fall. Mrs Barnes, as the PCC you have a pivotal role to play in holding that line and I welcome your commitment to review the use of numeric ambitions in your policing plan.
Chief Constable, whilst numeric targets are being consigned to the history books, it is apparent that sheer workload is now the biggest issue facing the Force, its officers and staff.
We have seen 500 police officers disappear coupled with 700 police staff. Any over-population has vanished. We know that CSR2 could see another 100 - 150 police officers disappear along with more police staff. If that happens we will be left with about 3,050 police officers.
In 1985 we had 2,850 police officers. Mobile phones were virtually non-existent, the internet was a distant concept and domestic abuse was largely ignored. The PIRA posed the main terrorist threat. Yes, a group of callous murderers but not overly keen on dying themselves. This terrorist threat is now posed by an evil that plans for mass murder and whose terrorists see their deaths as a glorious martyrdom. There was no Bluewater, Dartford Bridge or Channel Tunnel. I could go on. Kent's housing and population has exploded and consequently demand has grown exponentially. Policing and the demands placed upon it have changed out of all recognition. By the end of CSR2 we have will police numbers closer to the 1980s than those required to police the complexities of the 21st Century. That simply cannot be right; it cannot be right for police officers, our staff colleagues and, more importantly, the people of Kent.
Sir, you have said on many occasions that people are "creaking" under the strain. I would go further. They are at breaking point and some are beyond that. Long term sickness is up and worryingly 61% of those currently on long term sick leave are suffering from some form of psychiatric condition. People are on their chin straps! What is amazing is that we continue to provide a first class service to the people of Kent.
But………….for how much longer can we carry on?
You have always said that neighbourhood policing is at the core of our policing model. Let me remind everyone what I said last year:
"Let me tell you what neighbourhood officers tell me - there isn't much neighbourhood in this model. Once they have dealt with prisoners, crime reports, the diary car and constant supervisions, there isn't any time left. They rarely if ever get onto their allocated districts. They describe neighbourhood as a volume crime team………just in uniform."
We all knew that neighbourhood policing would be different but we must surely reach a point when it so different that it ceases to be neighbourhood policing in any form recognisable to either the officers or the public.
Sir, I know that you are aware of much of what I say. Chief Superintendent Neil Jerome is leading on the work around CSR2. Many will ask, and we've heard it at this open meeting before, what are we going to stop doing? What we're short on is answers to that question. Reducing demand must be a top priority for the Force. Whilst I don't pretend to have all the answers, here are some areas I believe are worth exploring.
- Policing has understandably become increasingly risk averse. High profile cases over a number of years have attracted national criticism; McPherson, Climbie, Pilkington, Baby P, Bichard to name a few. Policing has rightly sought to develop policies and procedures to prevent a reoccurrence. Perhaps we have developed a platinum standard. Let me give what appears to be a real and recent example - the 2 page "Non-Custodial Interview Risk Assessment" a two page document and guidance that contains fine words but effectively turns constables and their line managers into pseudo custody sergeants. I am sure this has been created with the best of intentions, but I am equally sure it has been created in isolation of officer workloads. I can hear the cry now - It's only 2 pages! But is any account taken of the collective impact these policies and associated bureaucracies have? I am told that our approach to missing persons is still driven by a fear they will all be found in a shallow grave on the Romney Marsh. My question is this. Can we, should we still operate to these platinum standards, standards developed to be used before CSR1 let alone CSR2? Have we become bogged down in bureaucratic policies and procedures that we can happily wave in the face of criticism? That doesn't mean we let risk go to hell in a handcart; it doesn't mean we become reckless in our approach. It also goes without saying that mistakes will be made, but frankly they are now. We will never be risk free.
As Aristotle said, "There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing."
That will never be an option for us.
- I have a huge amount of respect for the staff who work in the Force Control Room, but they are trapped in a straight jacket of policies and operating procedures. If a victim of crime says they don't want to see a police officer we still send one. Why? Not because it is a crime that should be attended such as domestic abuse, but rather because their policy says we have to send a police officer. If an officer goes to a crime and establishes it isn't a crime why is the officer still required to complete a crime report just because it has initially been recorded as such. If a call is taken that isn't a police matter, the caller should be referred to the relevant agency. We must, as a matter of urgency, free the FCR staff to use their professional judgement and discretion. I firmly believe there is real scope to reduce demand at this first point of contact.
- As spending cuts hit other agencies we must push back to ensure their cuts do not become our problems. Too often we are filling the gaps in the service provision of other agencies; a prime example being mental health services. I appreciate there is significant ongoing work in this area and there will always be times when officers need to be involved in mental health issues but it has become too frequent and it must be addressed. It is positively Victorian when the mentally ill are housed in police cells. Cells are for suspects not for the mentally ill and vulnerable. As we know to our cost, when it all goes tragically wrong it is not the mental health professionals under investigation; they do not find themselves in the Crown Court dock. No, that's reserved for police officers doing a difficult job in difficult circumstances. That cannot be right.
- There is a need to let supervisors and managers do their job. I do not understand the temptation for some senior managers to micro-manage officers from one priority to another. It is highly counter-productive and destroys any job satisfaction. Experience tells us that officers are fairly resilient to high workloads, but that resilience crumbles if they feel their workload is out of their control. They need time to complete files, deal with crime reports, etc. The people best placed to manage that are their sergeants, inspectors and chief inspectors. We must let them get on with their jobs, jobs they're paid to do. Above all else we must trust them.
- I will say this; I do not believe the greater use of technology is the panacea some think it to be. Technology may keep officers out of the police station but I repeat there needs to be a forensic examination of the bureaucracy that drives activity. If the bureaucracy remains then officers will disappear out of sight to complete the forms. They won't be back at the police station but they won't be visible either.
- I know the Force are looking at some quicker fixes for demand management but Chief Constable I will let you elaborate further.
Sir, there is one aspect of this new look at demand reduction that is causing enormous concern amongst officers - the review of shift patterns.
I know there are some who believe that 8 hour shifts somehow provide greater cover. However when KPMG reviewed shifts in Kent a few years ago their view was crystal clear - variable shifts provide better coverage than standard 8 hour ones, if they are managed properly.
This did not come as a surprise to us. There has been much research conducted over many years by a range of different organisations looking at shifts and demand management. It is not, as some might think, a simple science. It is not as simple as cutting a smaller cake into ever smaller pieces. The consistent conclusion from the research is, and I shall paraphrase; there are no great shift patterns just some are better than others. Alternative shifts are without doubt better than the traditional 7 on 2 off earlies, lates and nights!
There is a real fear of a return to the traditional 8 hour shifts, 7 on and 2 off. Instead of 146 rest days per annum, you get 104. Many of us will have worked that pattern. I can describe it in one word, & it isn't traditional, it's barbaric. A little earlier I described how people are on their chinstraps. Morale is not on the floor but rather through it and half way to Australia. The introduction of an 8 hour shift pattern would be the final nail in the coffin of goodwill. Chief Constable I ask to put your officers' minds at rest tonight. Let's leave 8 hour shift patterns where they belong, in the past with numeric targets.
It is important that we all work together to try and reduce demand. Nobody has a monopoly of good ideas and solutions. There is no single solution to this; it will be an accumulative effect over numerous areas. My plea to everyone is to engage in the process. The performance culture review has shown that you will be listened to.
However, reducing demand and shift patterns can only ever be part of the solution. What we actually need is to start reversing the erosion of police officer and police staff numbers. Frankly there is only one person in this room tonight who can achieve this. This government has passed the baton of responsibility to PCCs, but has then fettered their ability to increase policing precepts to discharge that responsibility. It's localism on central government's terms. Mrs Barnes you have been openly critical of government cuts, but are you prepared to raise the precept to increase resources? If you do so you will have wholehearted support of this organisation. If we slip back to the resource levels of the 1980s then I fear policing will fall over.
Chief Constable, Mrs Barnes
As the numbers of police officers and staff dwindle further it is ever more important that we find solutions together. That will mean the delivery of some difficult messages internally, to government, to other agencies and indeed the public. It may mean we stop doing some things that we have done in the past. In fairness, that is nothing new.
If we are to succeed in managing down demand, and we will, that will mean the top listening to the bottom and the bottom listening to the top with the middle hopefully joining in too.
We will continue to work with the Force to find solutions. I have to say I have never known a time when that engagement has been stronger. However, ladies and gents you need to engage in this process too. Whether that is via your Federation Representatives, supervisors and managers or directly to Chief Officers, you are the people that work the systems day in and day out.
It is you who must engage.
If we have collectively learned one thing since the last open meeting it is this. If we work together we can better understand and influence change for the benefit of policing in Kent.