Metro One (Cressida Dick) – Dismissed with thanks?

Metro One was the call sign of every Met Commissioner I served under. Since the unexpected and surprise resignation of Dame Cressida Dick, there has been a great deal written about her tenure as `Britain’s top cop`. Every Police Officer serving or retired, will recognise the title as it’s a phrase every one of them wants to hear on any operational event when they are finally stood down from their duty. I doubt that Dame Cressida ever wanted to hear the words that would end her policing career, and not in the manner that appears to have taken place.

On Friday 4th February she sent a message out to every Met Police officer and member of police staff, outlining her anger at recent unacceptable behaviour and poor conduct, and the damage it has had on public trust & confidence. This was a very strongly worded message and she made it abundantly clear that there was no room in the Met whilst she was Commissioner, for any type of hate or disrespect by members of her staff. The message urged everyone to do the right thing and not to let any behaviour or conduct, as we have seen reported in recent weeks, to continue. The phrase `not in our Met` was emphasised and the message concluded with a reminder of how serious this is and that everyone must take action to rebuild public trust and confidence.

She had been tasked to produce a report outlining her proposal to deal with these issues and give it to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, for his approval. I have heard from other sources that the report was a sound proposal, and the Commissioner was dedicated to ensuring strong action was taken which was supported by the above message to all staff. An unprecedented method and message by a serving Commissioner and the most strongly worded directive I have seen within policing. It shocked experienced Police officers but was the right action to take and I have no doubt that she would have ensured it was followed to the letter if she had remained.

On Thursday 10th February she appeared on news radio and confirmed her intention to remain in the job and continue with her desire and commitment to improve the reputation of the Met. It would appear that while she was saying those words, Mr Khan had already decided he did not accept the submitted proposal & let it be known he had lost confidence in her. I have also heard that he wanted a greater say in some management decisions within the Met, which would clearly subvert her own authority and leadership and undermine her totally. If that is accurate then she would have been left with no choice but to resign which would explain the sudden and unexpected announcement on Thursday evening.

I have met her on a number of occasions, and I worked at Scotland yard when she was an assistant Commissioner in the 2000`s. She is very approachable and friendly and has that inherent ability of the best managers to remember people and conversations. I have been involved in Policing for over 40 years and I have never known a commissioner so well respected and liked by her officers and staff. Sir John Stevens is often referred to by many experienced officers as one of the best Commissioners the Met has ever had and Sir Hugh Orde as the best Commissioner the Met never had. They both had similar qualities that Dame Cressida has but she possessed and portrayed a much softer side in her dealings with colleagues and politicians. It may be the appearance of that softer side has played a small part in the approach Mr Khan has shown in his dealings with the Commissioner. You do not reach the level in policing she has without some inner toughness and that strength and resilience was shown last Thursday. She made the decision to resign, for the good of the service and for the job she clearly and demonstrably loved in every rank and role, for over 40 years. I know many who worked directly with and for her and they all speak in glowing terms about her leadership qualities and abilities as a Police officer.

It was her public portrayal that started and has led to her demise and the frequent criticism directed towards the Met but with the overall responsibility laid at her door. There are no doubts that some horrendous actions by serving officers have taken place during her time as Commissioner and she must take some responsibility for those. She had done this but many of the historic cases being quoted started during her predecessors’ time as Commissioner. It is no secret that when Dame Cressida took over in 2017, the Met had exceptionally low morale within its workforce and arguably one of the lowest in its history. Significant and devastating budget cuts had been imposed with little resistance or explanation by the then Commissioner who had been appointed by the Home secretary Theresa May. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe initiated a re organisation of the Met and had a quite different management style to many of his predecessors. Many highly regarded and experienced senior police officers left the Met during his time in charge. By the time Dame Cressida took over, the Met was largely regarded as being in dire need of stability and required someone who knew and understood the operational demands of policing London. Yet from the beginning her history and involvement around the death of Jean Charles De Menezes set the tone for the media reporting of her role as Met Commissioner. Any opportunity to criticise the Met and question the ability or competence of Dame Cressida was seized upon and in the last two years, officers under her command have provided many such opportunities.

Policing has significant problems to confront if they are to regain some of the trust & confidence that has understandably been lost, but I believe that in Dame Cressida they had the right person to do that. The insurmountable problem she faced was that she had become the story and once that happens there is only one solution for the person involved and the Police service, and that is for them to step aside. I think she realised this and for the good of the Metropolitan Police and London she made the heart- breaking decision to stand down.

As for her successor, I hope that sections of the media and Political parties allow whoever it is to manage the Met as a senior police officer should be allowed to do. The resignation of Dame Cressida showed the line between the Mayor holding the Commissioner to account and actually interfering with managing the Met was likely to be crossed. Whilst Mr Khan is mayor, mine might be an aspirational hope, but the next Commissioner has an exceptionally fine line to tread whilst answering to both the current mayor and the Home Secretary. I would also ask that the next Commissioner is allowed to start with a clean slate, judge them on policies or activities that happen whilst they are Commissioner and not hold them responsible for historic events.

I doubt Dame Cressida will ever be dismissed with thanks by the London mayor with any degree of sincerity, but within policing and most definitely within the Met, the gratitude and thanks to her will continue long after she finally walks out of the revolving doors at New Scotland Yard.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word – Clapham

A popular song by Mr Elton John, but it seems some politicians and people in positions of authority seem to have a problem with acknowledging when they are wrong and using this word.

An independent review into the Met Police handling of the Clapham vigil was published this week and vindicated the Mets handling and actions on the day. I had no doubt this would be the outcome once the full facts and background were examined in the cold light of day. Officers body worn video and verbal accounts showed the level of hostility and confrontation once a minority group started to protest. The vigil had been respectful and dignified for over 6 hours with a minimal police presence and with female officers predominantly being used in the area. One officer was permitted to give media interviews where she gave a factual and concerning account of the type of abuse she and her colleagues were subjected to in the latter stages of the gathering. It was clear the vigil had now become a protest, with speeches being given and open hostility directed towards the police officers present.

I worked many events in the Met special operations room for major public events and know there would have been a lengthy discussion    between the event commanders as to what action to take. Decision logs would have been completed with the reasoning for adapting the strategy and tactics by Gold and Silver, discussions around intervening, withdrawing, or taking no action at all. Legal powers would have been debated and the safety of the officers and all those attending taken into consideration. The inevitable `what if` questions would be outlined on the whiteboards with everyone taking an active part from loggists to tactical advisors and ultimately Gold and Silver. The Gold commander has their own room or suite which is adjacent to the Silver commander’s suite. Essentially it is a large room with whiteboards on the walls and tv screens which can show live feeds from CCTV or the Police helicopter, plus access to the radio communications from the Bronze commanders on scene managing the police units.

Once it was clear that the mood and demeanour of some of those present had changed then in my experience the Police had a very difficult decision to make but they had to make a decision. The liaison teams would have been reporting that tension was rising, and a small antagonistic group was now present. Placards were now being waved with `ACAB` on them, a clear reference towards the police `all coppers are bas***ds. As this started as a vigil, then I doubt many intelligence teams or evidence gathering teams would have been part of the allocated resources. On other events one part of their job is to recognise and report any change in tension or attendance of identified hostile individuals or groups. Once that type of information is received then ideally, the Police will publish social media updates and provide media briefings that the situation at an event was changing. This can go some way to negating subsequent criticism if Police decision making is outlined by setting the rapidly changing scene. The report highlights the lack of an identifiable and effective communications strategy on the day. This is an area that policing needs to urgently address as once a narrative is out in the public domain it can quickly become the accepted version of events irrespective of facts that may later be established.   

The choices they faced were to intervene, withdraw or take no action at all. The implication of each option was probably debated but the final decision rests with the event command team after considering the pros and cons from all those present. If I had been present, I would probably have argued for withdrawing the officers to the periphery and standing by to deal with any confrontation. In essence, let those intent on conflict with the police make the first move towards the police lines. It would then be much clearer to those watching exactly who was initiating any resulting disorder. Regardless of personal opinions or views once the decision is made by the Silver commander then officers must follow those directions. The event command team have an overview of the whole area whereas officers on the ground are only aware of what is happening in front of them. If individual officers or units decide to ignore the instructions to disperse a crowd in a certain direction, then that could compromise the safe and controlled dispersal of the crowd across the whole area. 

The decision taken on the day would be based on facts provided by those on scene and what the command team were informed of and could see. The choice they made was to intervene at the bandstand and disperse the crowd who had started to encroach to hear speeches being given. As the police moved in confrontation started with some disturbing visuals being widely recorded and distributed by some of those present. Public order policing is often fast moving and dynamic but whenever there is confrontation it is never pretty or easy to watch. The Police are working within the law in respect of using force against some who are mainly non-compliant and others who are openly hostile.

It is widely acknowledged that the images of officers restraining individuals, in the main females, were distressing, concerning, and shocking. That would have been the last outcome any officer on scene or in the control room would have wanted. No officer works on a public order event like this and wants to have physical confrontation with anyone. Immediately after those videos and images were being shared there was widespread condemnation of the Police and calls for the Met commissioner to resign. Cressida Dick stood her ground and welcomed the independent review into the policing of the vigil. I have met her on several occasions, she understands policing and specifically the challenges of public order policing. She empathises with the officers managing and working those events and she totally gets the difficulty of the role involved. She knew the officers making those exceedingly tough choices and the decision-making process they would have been taking which would be methodical and fully documented.

It is commendable that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) have completed their review in such a timely fashion. There would have been many different groups and individuals to speak to and a vast amount of social media accounts to view and consider. There were several main-stream media outlets who ran significant coverage of the vigil and resulting disorder together with debates and discussions on tv and radio shows. It is noteworthy that the subsequent HMICFRS report has barely figured in being reported in the same degree by MSM and when it has, the only criticism of note in the report around communication, has been the focal point of many of the reports.

Politicians from all parties, the London mayor, celebrities, and various groups were all quick to pass judgement and many looked for someone to blame with Cressida Dick being the obvious and easy target.  Retractions and apologies have been noticeable in their absence from almost all the critics who denounced the report and questioned the independent status of HMICFRS. The HMICFRS have rarely been supportive of policing, understandably so given the nature and status of their inspections.

Their role is predominantly to inspect forces and highlight inconsistencies and areas for improvement. For this report to state so categorically that the Met Police have been totally vindicated in their decision making and actions on the night is unlikely but very welcome. Sir Tom Winsor has previously been widely criticised within policing for some of his previous comments and reports. That factor should not be used to pass judgement on the accuracy of a report produced by one of his Inspectors.

The fact that even Mr Winsor acknowledges “Officers are our fellow citizens, invested by the community to keep the community safe.  They rely upon and are entitled to receive public support when they act lawfully, sensitively and proportionately; in this case, in the face of severe provocation and in very difficult circumstances, they did just that.”1

This should for most impartial observers confirm the balance and truth of this report.

 You would expect that many of those who were quick to jump to a conclusion and post overly critical comments would now apologise and acknowledge that they were wrong. Policing has made many mistakes and will continue to do so, it is not an exact science dealing with people and incidents that involve such high emotions and reactions. Society has rightly questioned policing over many previous incidents and when found in the wrong we have seen forces and senior officers publicly apologise and state lessons will be learnt. Surely, we should expect the same from our political leaders and individuals who wish to be listened to and taken seriously. They should lead by example but that appears to be missing here as an officially commissioned review has found many of the comments inaccurate, unwarranted, and demonstrated a lack of respect for policing. There is no doubt that many of those comments will be remembered long after the subsequent HMICFRS report has been filed away. 

Words came easily for many in the aftermath of a vigil on Clapham common that descended into a protest and disorder directed towards police officers. It now seems that the hardest word for those same people seems to be sorry………

1= comment sourced from https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs/news/news-feed/metropolitan-police-acted-appropriately-at-the-sarah-everard-vigil/

Kill The Bill – Policing protest and violence

Protests over the last week or so have taken a distinct turn towards violence and disorder, and some seem to have taken literally the adopted title above, completely missing the real objective.

These protests start with the best intentions of many organisers and organising groups to be peaceful protests or as we saw in Clapham, a respectful and dignified vigil. Several separate `causes` have driven a desire for many to take to the streets and `protest`,

violence against women in society,

black lives matter,

environmental issues,

democratic and fundamental right to protest –Police and Crime Bill, in short entitled `Kill The Bill`.

There is currently a review into the Metropolitan Police handling of the vigil on Clapham Common on Saturday 13th March. As an experienced former Public order officer and intelligence officer with numerous events under my own kit belt, I have my own views. The vigil was conducted in exactly the way many of us hoped for the first six hours. The lack of clarity from the High court or any messages of support from many in government prior to the event itself left the Met in an invidious position.

The organisers cancelled the official event late at night on the Friday and understandably so, but that left a vacuum and no one for the Met to approach or liaise with on the day. The Police could not be seen to assist in organising what in effect was an illegal gathering but when you have identified organisers and official stewards, it provides a distinct barrier, that allows the Police to take a step back and leave the event organisers and stewards to deal with minor incidents.

In addition, as this was a vigil then I very much doubt there were many resources deployed to the event and few if any intelligence teams or evidence gathering teams. As is the norm these days the event command team were relying on their liaison teams to provide the information link between those attending and the command structure. This became key when after six hours a small minority started to arrive and start to give speeches to the assembled crowd. Some of these were clearly looking to confront the police and were carrying `ACAB` placards and in possession of spray paint to commit criminal damage with. The mood and demeanour of a section of attendees had significantly changed into a confrontational one.

Officers who had been thinly deployed throughout the area around the bandstand started to receive verbal abuse and hostility. Many of these were female officers and were subject to vile abuse along the lines of they should have been the victim of a serious assault. The decision was made to move the crowd from the bandstand and as this took place the confrontation escalated. I can understand the reasoning behind making a decision, but I am not sure in the circumstances that was the right timing or surroundings to enforce the current covid legislation.

There was a distinct lack of updates or information from the official Met social media accounts throughout the vigil and no update that this had now become a protest or that officers were being confronted and facing physical assaults. It does help to explain and justify what may be seen as pre-emptive and unnecessary police intervention if you paint the scene first and give media updates. In summary, I think whatever the Police had decided to do they would have been criticised. As we have seen there was widespread criticism of police using force primarily against women attending a vigil, although the initial vigil had now clearly moved into being a protest. Several public figures came forward to express their guidance and advice on how to police such an event, but all with the benefit of hindsight. Public protests can be exceptionally challenging to police in maintaining a balance between peoples` rights and upholding the law. My personal view is that improved information and updates may have provided some explanation as to why the decision was taken to intervene although the review should provide some clarity on the justification of that decision.

It is arguable that frequent and constant criticism has led to some officers being reluctant to intervene and use lawful force when appropriate and required. It was noticeable that on Saturday 20th March the Met had another large unlawful gathering in Central London primarily against the lockdown and the Police and Crime Bill. I noticed an increase in what appeared to be intelligence teams and evidence gathering teams and deployment of the Mets` level 1 public order teams, the Territorial Support Group (TSG). This resulted in prompt and effective policing and reported figures of 33 arrests. There were some incidents of disorder but largely brought very quickly under control.      

The following day, Sunday 21st March, there was an advertised `Kill The Bill` protest in Bristol.  This was another protest about the proposed Police and Crime Bill that is progressing through Parliament. Ironically, the protest was to protect the right to hold non- violent and peaceful protests which many believe is threatened by the Police and Crime bill. I have already written a separate blog covering the new bill, which I believe preserves and protects the right to democratically protest within a lawful framework. In short it provides legislation to make public assemblies subject to the same notification and guidance that processions fall under. A public procession is legislated by Section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986, yet an assembly is not subject to the same restrictions which means an assembly can take place at any time and place without notifying the Police and potentially cause significant disruption to public life.

Avon & Somerset Police deployed officers to the event but initially appeared to have a very low-key visible presence. When the evening drew in and darkness fell several hundred protestors moved from College Green towards Bridewell Police station where the building itself and police vehicles came under sustained and violent attacks. 

The confrontation directed towards the Police appeared co-ordinated and directed from a minority within the group but then gained support from many of those present. I have seen this happen at many previous events where a small minority will urge people to confront police and initiate violent acts but then blend back into the crowd. The Police deployed their additional resources in full protective equipment with protective shields, often referred to as `riot` equipment but is designed to protect the officers. The police station came under missile attack and many windows were smashed and officers and staff were effectively trapped inside with a hostile mob trying to gain entry. Police vehicles were set alight, and the command team had to deploy their resources to form a protective line outside their own police station. The decision was taken to request additional public order trained officers from neighbouring forces. In incidents like this the priority for the command team must be to protect the officers in the building and hold that line outside the premises. That appeared to leave them little or no capability to distance the crowd by advancing towards them as that would have left gaps in the cordon outside the police station. They did deploy mounted branch and dogs but as many have been saying for years, these specialist units have been steadily reduced in number since 2010. They are not yet back up to sufficient strength to provide adequate resilience and support in this type of situation.

The images and videos I have seen showed the officers displaying commendable bravery and courage to face this hostility for a considerable period as additional resources were deployed to the area. I have no doubt that the officers who sustained injury, especially the ones dragged to the ground and stamped on, feared for their lives during this incident. Your training does take over and you do not think too much about the danger at the time, but no amount of training can really prepare you for the realisation that someone is intent on causing you serious injury. The one image that stays with me is the individual trying to place a burning item under a police carrier as its reversing with officers inside. The potential for that to ignite the fuel and cause the vehicle to burst into flames is undeniable, the thought process to carry out such an act is beyond words.

This event on the Sunday went far beyond protest, it was clearly driven by a minority determined to confront the police and cause damage and injury to the officers’ present. Public order events like these are extremely difficult to manage and control, they are inevitably fast moving where you must react to spontaneous incidents whilst trying to maintain control of a crowd.

My fear is this may signify a difficult and challenging summer for UK policing as we move out of lockdown, coupled with frustration and resentment towards what is viewed as state control. Policing needs the silent majority to speak up in support of maintaining law and order and those in government to be visible and vocal in their support for policing. There has always been a small section of society who regularly attend any protest to garner support and attract attendees to their own events. The anarchist ideology of no gods no masters lends itself to there being no identifiable leadership structure as such, which makes intelligence gathering difficult and convictions for conspiracy or organising these events exceptionally challenging. The police need to improve their intelligence gathering capability at these events and ensure information is shared across forces and increase monitoring and use of social media.              

There will be a determined and lengthy post event investigation by A & S Police where officers body worn video, evidence gatherers footage and CCTV will be collected and analysed. This takes time as the footage is viewed in real time and images throughout the day will be compared to those committing offences.

The true test will be when anyone convicted is sentenced and if those sentences are a sufficient deterrent based on the level of violence and hostility, we saw in Bristol. I hope that the Crown Prosecution Service use the most serious charges available to them and do not decide solely based on the likelihood of a conviction or accept offers to plead to lesser offences.

We face a difficult few months and society needs to decide what response to wanton violence and destruction they want from their police service. Dealing with confrontation of any kind is never pretty or tidy and does not always go according to any training manual.

Mainstream media has a significant role to play – there has been an increasing tendency to maintain a negative narrative around policing. Snap shots of a policing incident are often discussed and analysed with a variety of commentators and they all have the benefit of hindsight but lack the knowledge of the full facts.

Policing and police officers more than ever need to know and believe they have the support of those in government and the vast majority of the public.

That is the true test of policing with consent.     

Policing protests – HMICFRS report 2021

A distinct sense of déjà vu swept over me as I read the latest report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Policing and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS). The report is titled `Getting the balance right – an inspection of how effectively the police deal with protests`.

They were commissioned in September 2020 by the Home secretary to inspect how effectively the police manage protests. This was because of the serious disruption caused by Extinction rebellion (XR) protests in London in 2019, and then the Black Lives Matter protests, and the criticism levelled at police tactics in dealing with those and other protests.

Ironically, it was the same body who were then titled HMIC, who published a report in 2009 into Police protest tactics, `Adapting to Protest` because of the policing at the G20 protest in April 2009. That report made several distinct recommendations around stop and search and the use of intelligence teams on protest events.

     Recommendation 9: Monitoring use of stop and search powers

HMIC recommends that chief officers should monitor the use of stop and search powers during public order operations in their force area to ensure:

(a) stop and search is conducted under the correct legislation and in line with force policy; and

(b) all officers (including those providing mutual support to the local force) are adequately briefed on, and understand, the legal powers under which they are exercising their stop and search powers.

Recommendation 10: Clarification of the role of Forward Intelligence Teams

HMIC recommends that the Association of Chief Police Officers and the National Policing Improvement Agency should clarify the precise role of Forward Intelligence Teams (FITs). Public order training should include guidance on the function of FITs and the specific tactical parameters under which FITs should be deployed in public order operations.

 * `Adapting to Protest – Nurturing the British Model of Policing 2009 HMIC`

This latest report finally addresses both of those recommendations and also looked at improving legislation relevant to protests. It takes account of the importance of pre-event intelligence and benefit of utilising intelligence teams during the event. The 2009 report was widely interpreted within some policing circles as meaning intelligence was a `dirty word` and forward intelligence teams should be limited in use and largely replaced by liaison teams to improve dialogue and communication. This was based on a model from Sweden where they use `dialogue officers and teams`. I met with Swedish officers in the mid 2000`s when they visited Scotland yard and I gave them a presentation on how intelligence teams (FIT`s) are used in UK policing. After the presentation, their assessment was that in Sweden, they might have some use for intelligence teams working alongside dialogue officers. I was surprised that dialogue officers had no role whatsoever in gathering or disseminating intelligence and information. We decided that both roles would be of benefit in policing protests, but neither could replace the other and that protest policing in Sweden was quite different to the UK.

The recommendation in 2009 about intelligence teams suggested `tactical parameters` for using them and identifying their function at public order events. The inference was that they should be limited in use and only deployed when really needed. In my view this was where policing started to lose effectiveness in policing protests and this 2021 report does go some way to recognise and identify that.

Intelligence is essential in all aspects of policing and especially so in policing demonstrations and protests. They can often be fast moving and dynamic situations that require fast time information and intelligence to enable the command team to police it safely and effectively. In recent years since the 2009 report by HMIC many forces have reduced or stopped using intelligence teams preferring to rely solely on liaison teams (PLT), to manage a protest. Liaison is a two-way process and, on many occasions, those attending a protest are not willing to liaise with police officers. That is where for me the 2009 report was wrongly critical of intelligence teams, viewing them as confrontational based on the premise that if disorder took place then intelligence teams were often on scene. This was a misconception and if intelligence teams are correctly deployed and concentrating on those intent on disorder and committing offences, then when disorder happens it is surely common sense for your intelligence teams to be present?

They were not the catalyst but were often part of the solution by their mere presence and ability to pass fast time information and collect intelligence on those committing offences.

Recommendation

By 30 June 2021, the Home Office should consider laying before Parliament draft legislation (similar to section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986) that makes provision for an obligation on organisers of public assemblies to give the police written notice in advance of such assemblies.

Recommendation

By 30 June 2021, the Home Office should consider laying before Parliament draft legislation (similar to section 13 of the Public Order Act 1986) that makes provision for the prohibition of public assemblies.

*Getting the balance right HMICFRS 2021.

In respect of legislation, the 2021 report rightly identifies the disparity in the public order act of 1986 where processions (marches) must be notified and approved but assemblies do not require any notification. Protest groups and legal advisors have identified this potential loophole over recent years and will often announce an assembly or vigil which can then turn into a `procession` from one location to another. In my view, this caused the police significant issues specifically in dealing with the XR protests which often announced meeting points at short notice and then moved across London. Reducing the serious disruption caused by this type of protest was exceptionally challenging and lacked suitable and applicable legislation to support police tactics.

The proposed changes would make assemblies subject to same notification and conditions as processions and allow the police to make informed decisions around disruption caused by a proposed assembly. Section 14 Public Order Act 1986 already allows for conditions to be imposed on assemblies. It must be the senior officer `present at the scene` which legally caused the police issues when the assemblies were spread over a wide area. It also prevented them from placing conditions on future assemblies or restricting them to a specific geographic area.

Policing protests is about balancing the freedom to assemble and express your views but remain within the law. It should have some understanding around minimising disruption to society and allowing the public and businesses to go about their lives. Throughout my public order policing career, it was often incredibly challenging to meet that balance between allowing protests to continue but reducing the disruption to the public and business community. On many occasions, we had to use legislation to control and manage demonstrations that were starting to cause serious disruption.

I believe that this latest report and associated legal recommendations, allows the police to meet that balance in a way that is fair to those wishing to protest but allows life to continue with minimal disruption. It remains to be seen how many of these recommendations reach the statute books after debate and discussion in Parliament and the House of Lords.  

Cor Blimey I wanna be a cop (Fed)

`Ello me old china, let me have a gander at that job application for the Old Bill before you pop off down the frog to get yer barnet cut.

Still with me?

You may not need to be a cockney or understand rhyming slang,  but it seems the current Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police would like to resurrect the policy of only recruiting from people who live in London. This is based on the premise that they know London issues better than anyone who lives outside London. This policy was tried a few years ago under the previous Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan – Howe, who hails from Sheffield and it may return under Dame Cressida Dick who comes from Oxford. I wonder how many of the Mets current senior leadership team were born in London. Not many from the ones I know and not many of their predecessors either. I worked with many of them and found them to be highly competent and professional in their roles, despite the fact they were not a Londoner. If being from London and knowing community issues is so key to policing, then why has it not been a requirement of any of the previous Commissioners or members of the senior management team? Surely if you are going to lead policing in an area, then on this proposal, a local person would be better than a senior officer from outside London? Unless that would prevent career progression in the upper ranks of policing……  

This resurrected policy failed the first time and prevented many excellent candidates from being able to join just because they did not have a London postcode as their current address. I personally know children of serving Met officers who were unable to apply to join and follow the career path chosen by mum and dad. Their parents had moved outside of London due to house prices combined with raising a family and the children were rejected under the residential criteria because they no longer lived in London.

I also knew of some who had gone off to university after growing up in London and parents had then moved outside of London. After finishing university, they applied for the Met but because their parents address was now outside of London they were rejected, despite being born in London and living there until they were 18. Conversely, someone who had lived in London for the previous two years and had a current London address could apply, so two years residency appears to count more than 18 years education and lived experience….who will really know and understand London better?

The residential policy will prevent many potential excellent candidates from joining the Met, some county forces will welcome this news!  

This poorly thought out residential policy is also combined with a target figure of 40% of Police recruits into the Met to be from BAME applicants. That figure will never be realised and most certainly not if it is combined with the residency criteria, they tried it before and after two years the number of applicants started to reduce. I hope this does not become a target driven process to the detriment of the quality and standards required for Police recruits. London deserves the best Police officers it can attract, not just those who live in London and are predominantly from the BAME community.  Surely if you are on a significant recruitment campaign so that policing can return to a sustainable establishment figure, then you need to widen your target audience not restrict it?

Balance, fairness, and proportionality used to be key words in Policing and these policies do not appear to fit any of those.  

Policing should not be about targets or being visually reflective of a particular community but should have police officers who are capable of responding and dealing with communities concerns and fears. The fact someone has lived in one part of London for a couple of years does not mean they can police any part of London any better than an applicant from outside of London. Consider this scenario, someone from Hounslow in West London applies to join the Met Police and is posted to Romford in East London but an applicant from Basildon in Essex would be rejected. Despite the fact that Basildon in Essex is geographically closer to Romford and due to the local road & transport links they probably have friends & family from that area. I am also curious to see if this 40% BAME figure and London residency criteria will apply to the Direct entry schemes or Police Now schemes that the Met are currently part of?

I`m hearing they are likely to be exempt yet Police Now candidates are recruited specifically to work on neighbourhood teams. This is the headline text taken from the Police Now website –

Police Now attract, recruit and train outstanding graduates with leadership potential to be inspirational detectives and police officers who transform communities. Not just for people today, but for generations to come.

Leaving aside the leadership suggestion, it seems these Police recruits do not need to be from the communities they are going to be transforming and I wonder how diverse previous Police Now and Direct entry schemes have been? Do they even match the figures of BAME officers the Met has achieved? The Met has the most BAME officers of any force with around 5,000 of its 32,000 workforce which equates to about 15% and those numbers have increased significantly in the last 20 years. The work is already being done to improve the diversity of the Metropolitan Police and the target figure initially was for 19% BAME to be recruited, which is an attainable figure and one I fully support. I have been involved in police training for the last seven years and it is noticeable that diversity is increasing with some outstanding candidates joining policing and often against their family and community wishes.  

The challenge is that in many communities policing is not seen as a good choice of career and lacks the financial reward for the commitment and dedication required. It does not matter what figure is set as a target recruitment from the BAME community, what is really needed are role models and positive messaging about policing as a profession and career from police leaders, politicians, community leaders and the media.

In reality, people just want a competent, capable, and caring Police officer to turn up when they are needed and provide safety and security at all other times. It matters not to them what ethnicity the officer is or where they live, and for those who commit crime its even less so, as they just see a uniform. I was born in London and policed the area I grew up in for around ten years and yes, it helped me personally to know where I was going but a benefit to the community? I never thought so and there were equally capable officers working with me who had never set foot in our area before they arrived from training school.  

You really do not need to understand the opening line in this piece to police London but you do need to be dedicated, committed, caring and be able to communicate with people, all people, not just those from one community or ethnic group. I worked with officers from a variety of nationalities and ethnicities and I have taught many more, they are all part of the policing family once they take the oath to serve the crown. I will leave you with that oath, whilst I wait for lockdown two to end and I can pop off down the road (frog) to get my hair (barnet) cut….    

“I do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law.”

Nothing about postcodes, addresses or ethnicity in that, nor percentage targets. Who does that target really serve?    

Policing with the Military in a Covid Crisis

I watched & listened to the Prime Ministers address to the nation and heard the reference about the Military being used to `support` the Police in enforcing the Covid regulations. He clearly mentioned `backfilling` and putting more police on the streets which for me are two separate aspects in any increase in enforcing the regulations.

Backfilling –

I have listened to several radio phone ins and read several views online about how the refence to the military may mean troops on the streets in a policing role. That is categorically not what was meant or what policing would ask for or request based on my knowledge and experience. I worked for many years in the Public Order Branch of the Metropolitan Police and sat through many strategic planning meetings and emergency planning meetings with senior officers. Police chiefs across the UK know and fully understand their role in society and that they police by public consent, they are not a military force but maintain strong partnerships with our military forces. Policing and the military can and will work together if need be, but not as joint patrols on the streets or in using the military for dealing with demonstrations or protests.

The reference to `backfilling` is to a contingency and option that is already in place, that if Policing requires the release of additional officers from certain specialised roles then the military may be used. That means that police officers used to protect and secure Crown properties, government buildings and Defence establishments could be replaced by military personnel. Those officers would then be available for Covid enforcement roles or other recognised policing roles, whilst the military perform their security functions. I have never seen any plans or been present in any planning meeting, where the option of using troops on the street for policing roles was a viable option or proposal.

Additional Officers –

This is where it becomes interesting and, in some ways, aspirational and arguably unachievable. As many in policing, and those of us who previously worked in policing, will tell anyone who still wants to listen, that there are NO additional or extra officers available in those commonly understood terms. Policing has little or no resilience in officers available to be re deployed to another role or bolster a specific function such as any increase in enforcing Covid regulations. Since the `lockdown` was eased some months ago we have witnessed a return to violent crime levels and serious crime incidents on a similar regularity as they were before March. In some areas of crime, they are increasing, as criminal groups look to retain & regain their area of criminality and prevent other groups from taking over. Drink related offences have also increased once the pubs opened again, which may explain the new move to close pubs and bars at 10pm to alleviate the burden on policing and health care services. There was already an increase in mental health related calls to police, coupled with a significant rise in domestic abuse related cases.

Policing is and was already stretched to the limits, however during the lockdown they were able to return to some more pro active work as calls reduced in many other areas such as violent incidents or public disorder as people stayed home. That situation changed when the lockdown was eased, and people were urged to eat out and return to work and pubs and public areas re opened. The cuts to budgets and resources in policing has been well documented but that is a primary cause for policing now lacking the numbers to react to these challenging times.

There are no additional officers ready to be deployed – they will be taken from existing areas of policing and local response teams which places extra strain on officers left to deal with those areas. It also means cancelling much needed rest days and increasing hours at work for officers, so 8/10-hour days become 14- or 16-hour days or more on occasions. This is not a healthy place for our Police service and the public can play their part by following guidelines or legislation as it frequently changes.

As in previous times, the military will step in and assist the Police service but in a supportive role by taking over some of the non-operational or non-contact roles. It is irresponsible to suggest military forces will patrol the streets of the UK carrying out Policing roles and enforcing the laws of the land. That has always been the role of the Police and is done with the consent of the public and for the protection of the public, even when some sections of the public may not believe or accept it is for their own protection. 

Every person has a part to play irrespective of personal views on the benefits of restrictions or lockdown measures. At times, policing can be quite a blunt implement to achieve compliance with legislation with officers only having the option to report or arrest any offenders. The policy for policing throughout the Covid crisis has been based on the Four `E`s – Engage, Explain, Encourage and if they fail to achieve compliance then Enforce as the last option. The vast majority of officers have used discretion in their dealings with anyone breaking the regulations – they have not made these laws but are expected to ensure they are followed. That is predominantly achieved by the first three `E`s – engaging and explaining why they need to be followed or finally encouraging the public to comply. Enforcement has always been the last option if for any reason the individual will not or cannot comply with the law.   

As with most offences –

The way to avoid being fined or arrested is to abide by the laws of the land –

The way to challenge is through our democratically representatives and in Parliament –

That way you are supporting Policing and protecting yourself, your family and society.    

Stay well.   

4th July Drink Independence Day

How will people react to being able to go out drinking?

What could possibly go wrong?

Obviously, the government and local authorities looked at and considered all the possible problems and impact of opening pubs on a Saturday in July, and with a full moon as well! No idea how or why but yes, ask any experienced police officer and they will confirm that for some reason a full moon does seem to coincide with even more inexplicable behaviour from the public. We have not quite witnessed any werewolves as such, but on occasions some individuals have only just stopped short of literally howling at the moon.

I do fear for crime and disorder this coming weekend with pubs opening for the first time since March and some official encouragement being given to go out and `have fun`. We have seen gatherings in parks and open areas with people `socially drinking if not quite socially distancing` but what can be done and how does the Police service cope?

Why do we need the Police service to cope and is it just policing and the other emergency services that will be expected to manage the predicted chaos from permitting the public back into licensed premises? Is there not a responsibility on breweries and landlords to manage their own businesses? Do they need to open all day from Saturday?

In sequence then – yes Policing will be needed to deal with the inevitable increase in alcohol related calls to the emergency services, together with the paramedics and accident & emergency departments dealing with any resulting medical needs. They will be needed because I doubt common sense will prevail amongst many eagerly anticipating the opening of the pubs. We have seen examples of a lack of common sense amongst a minority of the public throughout this pandemic. We have witnessed the stockpiling of toilet rolls and pasta to the hordes of people swamping public beaches and attending various protest events in their thousands, despite pleas and reminders that there is a killer pandemic in our society. So, the Police service will be needed this coming weekend because I foresee significant sections of society being unable to drink sensibly and control their behaviour. I really hope I am mistaken for the sake of every police officer working Saturday and Sunday and every paramedic and A&E member of staff.

Why is it just the emergency services who will be expected to manage this alleged chaos?

I really hope it is not and I did hear a very welcome and positive message during a radio phone-in last week. A manager of a pub called in and said that the brewery had taken the decision themselves to open on the Monday to avoid the anticipated rush for a drink. They had introduced social distancing measures in their pubs and would monitor and manage any excessive drinking from their clientele. Any sign of disorder or violence and the manager had the authority to immediately close the premises and stop serving.

That sounded a reasonable and sensible approach – does beg the question why government had not considered staggering or having a slower and more gradual return for the opening of the pubs. We are where we are – unprecedented times, these are two sayings that have almost haunted every news bulletin or government briefing since the start of this several months ago.

I could never see the government performing another U turn on policy by moving the opening of pubs back a few days. So, it is left to the licensing trade and the responsible breweries and managers, to start the process of slowly and carefully introducing alcohol back into general society.

As in the full moon example, ask any Police officer or paramedic if there is any impact on their workload from pubs and the consumption of alcohol and they will look at you as if you just asked the most stupid question in the world. Of course there is and on some days and nights it increases, such as a Saturday evening in the summer just after the end of the month when people have been paid – factor in a full moon and you almost have a full house! At the risk of being labelled killjoys, most Police officers and paramedics working this weekend will be practising their `rain dances` and hoping that the good old British summer that usually coincides with a very wet Wimbledon tennis will not let them down. The best policing available comes from `PC rain` to dampen the desire to stand in the street and shout and swear and fight whoever happens to come along because you drank three too many extra strong lagers.

Across the UK, Police chiefs will be drawing up plans to post their `extra` officers into mobile support units and await the increase in calls for assistance. I would anticipate a highly visible police presence in many towns and cities as officers are taken from their local policing areas and away from response policing and community teams, so they are ready to respond this weekend. Numerous officers will have had their rest day cancelled, shifts changed and to expect a much longer shift to meet the demand placed on them by the decision to open pubs on a Saturday night.

I wish them well and hope they all stay safe  – if you do intend taking advantage of the pubs being open, then please drink responsibly and be courteous and respectful to any emergency services personnel that you may encounter. Follow their guidance or requests and comply with any instructions given.

That is not too much to ask as you celebrate your drink independence is it?

Recall to Duty – Dads army of Policing

There will be obvious references to the old TV series now that the Police service has officially announced they are asking retired officers to return. In order to assist in dealing with the crisis caused by Covid – 19, the largest UK Police service, the Metropolitan Police, has advertised for retired officers to return and support policing.

This is an unprecedented move in unprecedented times and maybe exemplifies the challenge that faces society and law enforcement. Personally, I think it is a sensible move by the Met and other forces have followed suit, if they believe they need the resilience provided by additional staffing levels. There are some strict criteria to meet and you need to have been retired between one month and five years to apply to return.

Eligibility:

  • Must have 30 years pensionable service.
  • At least 1 month minimum & 5 years maximum retired from policing.
  • Retired as Constable or Sergeant to apply – more senior ranks can return as a special constable. (That tells its own story!)

Notes:

  • Its designed as a fast track return process.
  • You will be posted to a role/location that best suits your needs & abilities.
  • The Met will try to ensure you receive appropriate training and able to be deployed as soon as possible.
  • There is a minimum 6-month tenure.
  • This is subject to satisfactory vetting.
  • It is a full-time role – 40 hours per week.

There is some translation needed based on my experience & understanding of jargon used in Police job adverts. They will `try to ensure` you receive appropriate training – means be prepared to teach yourself on NCALT or just learn by doing it. The next is `you will be posted to role/location that suits your needs & abilities – means they will try to use your skills & locate you near to your home address but, as any serving or retired officer will tell you, you sign up to work anywhere in London and in any role the Met decides it needs you to perform.

Having said that, would I join again? Absolutely, and I know that there will be many who will do so but I also know quite a few that would not go near policing which makes me quite disappointed. You will often hear many serving and former officers describe policing as a family and it really is. You spend many hours and days with your colleagues, and some become as close if not closer than many of your own family. I do find it strange when former officers categorically state that they would not go near policing again, albeit some may have good reason to hold that view. I think that often, their anger or bitterness is primarily against the organisation itself and rarely against their colleagues who they still hold in high esteem.

The Police service is a very hard task master and employer, it demands almost total loyalty and service and often to the detriment to your personal life and well- being. If you delve deeper into those who categorically state they would not go back, then it is often because a department or senior manager did not treat them well. They would run towards danger for their colleagues but not for those above them or for the job itself.

Despite all that, I have taken four calls today from former colleagues who have all retired more than five years ago, who would join me again in policing the streets. One call started, `we are getting the band back together, you in? ` Another asked me what I fancied for my refs (refreshments) for late turn Saturday! I am still employed in a teaching role within policing which is likely to be essential in maintaining establishment numbers but anyone who returns has my full support and admiration.

When you leave Policing its often said you miss the circus but not the clowns – and its telling that the advert from the Met is directed at Constables & Sergeants, those who in the main, police the streets.

Maybe once we are out of this then Policing as a profession will take a long hard look at who exactly should be valued and recognised within its own organisation. Society also needs to re assess the workers and jobs that really are essential to its own well-being. Our NHS workers are heroes as are many delivery drivers and those in the food supply chain.

It is often said that Policing is a vocation, despite recent initiatives to suggest it should be just a career move or should initiate a `healthy churn` in staff turn- over.

The Policing family now need support and help and maybe not all, but many will answer the call to once again help and protect the public.

They are heroes and I am proud to be part of that family.

Policing a virus attack whilst policing targets

I have avoided writing many blogs in the last few months as policing was allegedly subject to significant change and increased support and funding. Recently, we have had the first indication of the commitment and associated demands of the Boris Johnson government, as they outline their promise of increased funding and the magical or maybe mythical increase of 20,000 new Police officers.

Stop press – 20,000 new police officers will not reduce crime and to propose that setting Police forces targets as a quid pro quo for providing 20,000 officers is completely misguided and wrong in my mind. Those 20,000 will need to be recruited, trained and then supervised whilst they gain much needed experience in preventing and then detecting crime. This isn’t a quick fix solution, although more officers are much needed after ten years of cutting Police numbers by the Tory government. It also needs recognising that it wasn’t just Police officer numbers that were reduced – they also removed over 20,000 police staff posts. Those members of staff carried out essential roles which released police officers from administrative functions so they could be out of police stations, preventing and detecting crime. It isn’t that difficult to understand that if you reduce a workforce by over 40,000 people then you will not see as much `productivity`.

Now we have the pending threat of a widespread virus for the Police to contend with, which may well pose a significant challenge to law and order. Covid-19 is likely to impact on many aspects of society and there are advanced contingency plans in place to maintain law & order. I worked within the planning and resourcing department of the Met Police in London, and I am aware of the well-established links with the national co ordination centre to enable police resources to be sent on mutual aid across the UK. There are several options available which may include extended tours of duty, cancelling rest days and redeploying officers from non- operational roles to assist in maintaining law & order. There are also options available to request assistance from the military in providing security at government and iconic locations which would allow for other forces, such as ministry of defence police & civil nuclear constabulary, to be released from their normal roles to provide increased policing resources.

Targets – This really is re-inventing the wheel, and, in my experience, they never worked and were just a method of government or the Home office being able to criticise policing for not meeting targets. Invariably, the targets are set by people with no understanding or concept of policing demands and rarely meet actual local or national issues. The real injustice around the whole implementing targets aspect, is that because they have returned 20,000 police officer posts, that policing must reduce crime. An awkward fact is that crime reduction doesn’t just rest with the Police. That may sound perverse but, policing can have a restricted impact in reducing crime and specifically volume crime, because most crime is committed by the same individuals over & over again. If there is sufficient evidence the CPS may decide to charge them, they will then appear at court and you are then reliant on witnesses and victims turning up to give evidence. If that happens then maybe the jury or the magistrate will accept that evidence and convict the suspect who is then sentenced. Very few will receive a custodial sentence and many that do will be back out within a relatively short period of time and start re offending. The whole process starts again as there is no real deterrent to prevent some from committing crime. Years of cuts to the prison service and probation service mean little or no rehabilitation is carried out and monitoring of released offenders has also been reduced.

Reduction of crime requires a more widespread approach from various agencies and services, the police need more resources to prevent and then detect crime and offenders but that is just the start. If you continually fail to imprison prolific offenders or attempt any form of rehabilitation, then the cycle of crime will continue, and it will not be reduced simply by returning 20,000 police posts or by setting poorly conceived targets. I welcome the return of 20,000 Police officer posts but it should be unconditional and not target led as those officer posts were removed without conditions and without reducing targets and with no recognition whatsoever from the government that if you have less resources then you get less in returns.

The next few months will be exceptionally challenging for policing in the UK and to suggest imposing targets whilst recruiting and training 20,000 new officers and simultaneously managing a potential widespread virus outbreak is foolhardy and ill conceived. I wish my former colleagues well but I have no doubt that come what may they will still get themselves into work and maintain law & order whilst working exceptionally long hours and with very few days off…….that 5 % pay rise proposed by the federation doesn’t come close to paying Police officers what they are worth, especially at time like this.

Yes, Prime Minister…. we weren’t crying wolf

Been a while since I wrote a blog, didn’t seem a lot of point with Mrs May in charge as nothing was going to change whilst she held the power & controlled the purse strings.

That has all changed now Boris leads the country and has made key appointments in the pivotal positions in government. The previous Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who did sound like he understood the crisis facing policing, has moved into the key role of chancellor and now has control over budgets. The very first speech made by Boris, (everyone seems to prefer being on first name terms with our latest PM – wouldn’t have tried that with his predecessor!) and he opened with a declaration about increasing police numbers and investing in the health service. Clearly with my professional background and experience I will focus on the policing headline, but I think it is equally important to put as much money and attention into improving our NHS. In respect of care of people in the community and dealing with mental health issues, then any failings or lack of resources from the NHS are likely to increase demand on the next and most readily available organisation, the police service. It is as vital for policing that our health services are improved as it is for the NHS themselves as demand on policing is one key aspect that needs urgently addressing.

It has been widely reported that whilst Mrs May was home secretary & then PM and over the last 9 years, that 20,000 police officer posts were cut. It is therefore a relatively easy `quick fix` for our latest PM to announce that 20,000 Police officers will be recruited within the next three years. Those are the simple figures that 20,000 were cut and so 20,000 are needed and in simplistic terms policing is back where it was and almost as if Mrs May was never in charge – if only that were the case, in respect of Mrs May and for just 20,000 being the answer.

The policing crisis caused by the government, and in my view, there is some collective responsibility albeit it was largely driven by Mrs May, will take much more than just returning 20,000 Police officer posts. Over the same period and to meet the reducing budgets imposed on Police forces, there were around 15,000 to 20,000 police staff posts also cut. Many of those roles are essential in policing so serving officers have been taken away from operational roles to perform these support roles. The actual cuts to the overall police establishment was around 40,000 employees which includes both serving officers and support staff. Easy maths to work out that although 20,000 will be very welcomed then it only goes halfway to restoring policing to where it was. When you also factor in that demand has increased over the last 9 years and policing now deals with far more `social` type calls than ever before and other crimes have increased including cyber offences, human trafficking and violent crime. In short, more has been demanded from far less and many have given their all in trying to maintain the reputation of British Policing as being the best in the world.

Boris, his new home secretary and the policing minister plus whoever they choose to consult with in dealing with this crisis have a very difficult task ahead of them. Recruiting 20,000 police officers is achievable within three years but in my view that isn’t the key issue facing the group assembled to address this task.

The real key issue is the retention of experienced staff, both police officers and support staff as they are the ones who will assist and guide those 20,000 in their careers. The real crisis facing policing is the fact that many Police officers are leaving before they complete their full service and taking their training and experience with them into the private sector. The very first job of any group is to begin to make policing a vocation again for those currently serving. To review and increase the pay and working conditions and for those in parliament from every party, to support those working for law and order in the UK. Training a new Police recruit from first day of being attested as an officer to the first day on the street takes approximately 21 weeks. At that point they know their basic legislative powers around arrest, basic crime scene investigation and stop and search but putting theory into practice in real life situations can be very different. The role plays they are assessed on during training are as realistic as possible, but nothing can really prepare you for your first actual arrest, interview or investigation. Those 20,000 new recruits will be found and sworn in during the next three years, but they need police officers with knowledge and experience waiting for them when they reach the streets.

For me, that is the one priority and first point that needs addressing by those tasked in doing so. Look at retaining experience by making it a financial option to remain a police officer once you have completed your pensionable service. There was a scheme called `30+` where officers received their full pension but then remained in the police service beyond their 30 years. I would take a long look at a similar scheme to ensure Policing retains its most valuable asset, its staff. I would also consider a return to work scheme for those who have left the police service within a reasonable time period but again make it financially viable. I know of too many former officers who now earn more money outside Policing but still use the knowledge, training and experience that they gained from being police officers.

Policing was once famously accused of `crying wolf` by the previous prime minister although she later refuted that she ever said those words, despite being played the recording. Evidentially, I would suggest that her case was proved but, in any event, it has now been proved unequivocally and beyond reasonable doubt that Policing was not crying wolf.

Yes Prime Minister, the main job is now yours and so is the task to save a profession and vocation referred to by many of the holders of that office as `the job` and one that the majority just want to be able to do and be given the resources, finances and support to do so.