At about 08:10 on the morning of Friday the 13th of May 2011 I went on the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire breakfast show to respond to the Cambridgeshire Police Chief Constable’s plans to restructure the force. (In a way only a man in uniform could, the Chief Constable has dubbed his plans “Operation Redesign”).
The police are proposing to align their structure to the local authority areas.
I said that this ought make it easier for elected local councillors to influence the police. I pointed to the system we have at a local level in Cambridge where city and county councillors set the local police priorities and hold the police to account for their performance against the priorities set. Hopefully the reforms will enable elected representatives to more effectively influence police priorities, strategy, tone and approach at a higher, district, level.
The Chief Constable has stated that the reforms will result in an identified, named, police commander for the Cambridge City Council area. The City Council has already appointed, via a vote of the full council, Cllr Tim Bick, as responsible for policing on behalf of the council. We may get locally in the City of Cambridge a relationship between Cllr Bick (or whoever may replace him in the forthcoming re-shuffle forced by a number of top Lib Dems being kicked out of office in the elections) analogous to that between an elected commissioner and a chief constable, but on the scale of Cambridge city.
I think we need to have routes of democratic influence, oversight and scrutiny embedded into our policing system at all levels.
I cautioned against the model currently used elsewhere Cambridgeshire where it is those who turn up get to set local priorities expressing my strong preference for elected councillors being those who get to vote on what gets prioritised.
In relation to policing Cambridge City I noted that the current City Council boundaries don’t match the real boundaries of the city on the ground. I think it’s right that Cambridge City is policed separately and specially compared to the very different surrounding area but the outdated official boundary of the city is a potential problem which the mechanism for setting local priorities ought take into account.
Other Elements of the “Operation Redesign” Proposals
The new policing districts are just one, headline, factor in the proposals for change. I support the Chief Constable’s overall strategy of saving money and re-organising, not by trimming the existing structures/procedures but by taking the approach starting with a blank sheet.
Seven principle work areas for “Operation Redesign” were outlined to Cambridgeshire Police Authority in April 2011. They were:
- Contact Management, including the force control room, the police service centre, the enquiry offices, the Crime Incident Management Units (CIMUs), the appointment system and demand management.
- Intelligence and Performance Management, including the Force Intelligence Bureau, the Divisional Intelligence Units and the briefing and tasking functions.
- Criminal Justice/Custody, including the Criminal Justice Units, the restorative justice/professional judgement programme and the custody centralisation project.
- Harm Reduction: including ‘Top 100 Families’, integrated offender management, the multi-agency referral unit, vulnerable adults and domestic abuse.
- Crime Investigation: including serious crime and volume crime.
- Local Policing: including area structures, resourcing, scope and command.
- Business Support: including the Joint Resource Teams, transactional support functions and resource centralisation.
More Police Powers for Civilians
One specific things the force are proposing to do is give more police powers to civilians. The force told a Police Authority Committee on the 9th of May 2011 they are considering extending their programme which began with giving Addenbrooke’s car park staff policing powers.
The new proposals include allowing civilians, presumably security guards and car park attendants, involved in managing traffic at events including Newmarket Races so that they can “manage routine traffic offences which would ordinarily require the attendance of a police officer. ”
I strongly oppose these moves. I cannot see any grounds for describing what took place at Addenbrooke’s as a success. Reports I’ve read to the police authority say the powers were hardly used; and procedurally and legally I think the exercise was on dodgy ground as I can’t find any evidence Cambridge City Council formally approved the delegation of police powers in this way.
Newmarket Races already have lots of PCSOs involved directing traffic; if anyone is to be given full policing powers I think it ought be PCSOs. I think this is a small step, as in Cambridgeshire many PCSOs go on to become full police officers. I think giving police officers full powers from day one (after training) is fine so long as sensible supervision and oversight provisions are in place.
I am very concerned about giving police powers to people like security guards and bouncers, and putting the reputation of the UK’s police into their hands; not least because they do not have the accountability procedures in place that are present within the police.
I think making more PCSOs into real police officers is one of the best ways of getting more accredited officers with full police powers on the streets. What we then need to do is keep more people as basic PCs in the force and not promote so many officers away from front-line policing.
Personally I don’t see this as being anti-PCSO; it’s very strongly in favour of the kind of thing PCSOs are currently doing, but so that they can be more effective I’d like to see more of them become real officers. The cheapest PC costs about the same as the cheapest PCSO I think it’s obvious that the PC is better value for money as they can do all the PCSO can – and more.
Getting Rid of Police Officers
The police authority chair also did an interview on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, during the Andy Harper show later in the morning. She drew attention to a constraint facing the force – that police officers can’t be made redundant. I responded via an email that was read out on air pointing out that the force can get rid of police officers – but only the experienced ones with 35+ years service. I argued we need to give the police chiefs more flexibility to choose who they get rid of, so they can create the force structure which best suites the role.
(As an aside I think the Police Authority Chair lied during her interview when she stated that police authority representatives attend all police priority setting meetings in the county. I don’t believe there are always representatives at Cambridge’s area committees – though they rarely identify themselves when they do turn up – on a couple of occasions I have pointed them out to councillors and the public)
Another aspect of the reforms that has got a lot of attention is the proposal to stop police officers always going out to people at home, in person, for everything, and where appropriate getting people to visit the police in a police station (or better do whatever it is online, or over the phone).
I think this is common sense; and the police’s current way of operating is bizarre and archaic.
After a burglary, of course crime scene investigator needs to come out to the scene in person; but if a statement is going to be taken well after the event that doesn’t have to be done in person, at the home, and there’s certainly no need to send a pair of officers round offering smartwater and leaflets a few days later.
I think it would be a great improvement if the police gave more thought to if it was appropriate to respond, in person, to particular calls on a case by case basis. I want to see more intelligent policing.
Openness, Democracy and Royalism
I observed the new Chief Constable at his first Police Authority meeting. One of the first things he did was defend lobbying government in private and said that compliance with Freedom of Legislation would be one of the first thing he’d stop doing if he had free reign. In order for the public, and elected representatives, to comment and contribute to policing from an informed perspective the police need to be open about what theyr’e doing.
When the Chief Constable, or the Police Authority Chair, talk about public engagement they rarely mention and certainly don’t stress the democratic element. In Cambridge the police have appointed an individual, a Mr Fuller, to a key role in public engagement who has told me he is very uneasy with democratic priority setting on the grounds that police officers take an oath of allegiance to the Queen, not the people they serve. I suspect this, rather nutty, view is widespread within the police, all of whom are avowed royalists.
This particular view from the police may be in part an explanation for the odd, and inexplicable, behaviour of the Cambridgeshire Police officer who arrested Cambridge freedom of speech campaigner Charlie Veitch apparently so he was in custody during the recent royal wedding, despite not apparently have a better reason for carrying out arrest other than “the computer told him to”.
Cambridge MP Julian Huppert who was on the Bill Committee for the legislation intended to bring in elected police commissioners told me that the lack of any detail on oaths for commissioners isn’t a problem. No oath to the queen is specifically mentioned in the bill, so Huppert thinks this means there’s as much chance of an oath to the queen being imposed as one to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I’m not so sure and would rather the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill had more firmly moved the police to a body working for the people rather than the monarch.
Some Key Facts about Cambridgeshire Police
The below are from the 2011-14 Local Policing Plan:
- £130.5 budget million for the forthcoming year
- £6 million funding gap in 2011/12 and a further £15 million to be saved by 2015.
- 1,391 police officers and 896 police staff, 195 police community support officers (PCSOs) and more than 200 special constables