Policing the nation and policing the police – arresting developments

A considerable backlash followed the refusal of the Metropolitan Police to apologise for errors and failures during its investigation of the accusations of child abuse against Lord Bramall, the former head of the British Army. It turned out that the accusations were based on very flimsy grounds and, to make matters worse, it took the Met the best part of a year to issue a grudging statement to the effect that the file on Lord Bramall was to be closed.

What next in this sorry affair? It would appear that those pursuing the Met will not be content until a rather fuller and more fulsome apology has been issued. It also seems to be the case that the anonymous finger pointer, referred to as “Nick”, is said to be under investigation for the offence of wasting police time.

An anonymous man makes just about the most serious accusation possible against a public figure, an accusation which, if proved beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law, would rightly be followed by both a protracted loss of liberty and the forfeiture of all public esteem.

The police, in the best traditions of the service, investigate the allegations – and after a protracted investigation decide that there is insufficient evidence to take the matter further.

It is clear that one element in abundant supply police time. The police are second only to Sir John Chilcot in their collective expertise in procrastination  – their policy appears to be to adhere to Parkinson’s first law: the time required to carry out investigations expands in order to maximise the duration of the task.

The public has grown so accustomed to the spectacle of reluctant apologies being squeezed out of senior police managers that there is a view in some quarters to regard apologies so elicited as a satisfactory ending.

Does Lord Bramall take this view? Do others in the public eye who have suffered a similar ordeal take this view? Does the wider public take this view? Do you?

I believe that senior police managers should experience consequences that reflect the scale of their incompetence  – at best to be reduced to the ranks, and, in the worst cases, a prompt P45.

The charge to be made against “Nick” by the CPS ought to be not the trivial one of wasting police time but rather a charge of conspiracy where the penalty could reflect the seriousness of the offence and the evil of its nature.

As far as the management of the matter by the police is concerned, the dereliction of duty requires not a grudging apology but rather the dismissal from the force of the senior managers responsible.

If a highly respected public figure like Lord Bramall can be subjected to this torment, what chance has anyone else got?

Let us consider two separate but linked issues. First, the abysmal performance of some senior police managers in recent years. Second, the need to improve the overall performance of the management of UK police forces, faced as they are with new and formidable challenges in key areas. These include the growth of internet crime and the alleged historical abuse of children. These challenges are over and above the prosaic diet of police work such as persecuting motorists, breaking up affrays, investigating domestic burglaries, rounding up drug offenders and so on.

Political and press pressures have catapulted cyber crime and the abuse of children to the front of the queue, leaving fewer resources to tackle more time-honoured felonies, and senior police managers, ever alert to the main chance, have been quick to use these new challenges as an excuse to put other investigations onto the back burner.

There was relief in UK law enforcement circles when Chancellor George Osborne told the House of Commons that the much-leaked plans to cut police funding were to be put on hold.  There was a reference to the need to maintain a strong police force, given recent events in France and elsewhere. Accordingly, and given the possibility that the optimistic forecasts used by Osborne to conjure up a fortuitous £27 billion to obviate the need for cuts in some areas might turn out to have been just that – optimistic – how ought the Home Office, the Met and regional police forces equip themselves to confront the new challenges to law and order.

Is there scope to cut police funding and police numbers whilst simultaneously maintaining the required high standard police service?

What do other police scandals such as Hillsborough, the death of 13-month-old Poppi Worthington in Cumbria, officers turning a blind eye to the abuse of children in Rotherham, tell us about police priorities, competence and integrity?

In an article in the Daily Mail (September 16 2016) Lord McDonald, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, wrote that Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald (presumably no relation,) the officer in charge of Operation Midland looking into the Westminster VIP scandal, believed that the witnesses’ tales of abuse were credible and true. But no charges have been brought.

The scandal over the death of Baby Poppi is still fresh in the public mind. While a new inquest is to be held, little is no known of the circumstances of her death in 2012. And coroner at the first inquest did not make details of events before her death known. The senior detective who led the botched inquiry into the death of Baby Poppi retired, at the age of 48, on a pension of up to £46,000 a year.

After being found guilty of eight charges of gross misconduct – sending explicit text messages while at work – three former chief constables called on Nick Gargon, Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police to step down. But he refused to quit, saying that he committed to learning from his mistakes for which he was deeply sorry. And that’s that. So, who can sack the sorrowing chief constable and why have they not done so?

The inquiry into what happened and who was responsible for the appalling events inside Hillsborough football stadium in 1989 when 96 people were killed continues. The effectiveness of the senior police managers on the day will come under further scrutiny, as will allegations that some evidence was withheld from the original inquiry.

The growth of cyber crime

And so to the new challenges. It seems that the extent, severity and scope of cyber crime is a cause for concern, that the scale of the problem is increasing on a daily basis, that the offenders operate on a global scale, that there is ample opportunity to enter this market and that many offenders are of tender years but with impressive IT skills.

There are those who argue that senior police officers are inadequately trained and equipped to tackle these formidable problems. Commendable efforts are being made to remedy these shortcomings, but there is a lot of ground to make up and while the necessary recruitment and training of cyber cops is underway the cyber criminals are working tirelessly to search out innovative methods to loot and plunder.

Possibly more worrying is that state-sponsored cyber crime in a bewildering variety of forms is being deployed to undermine and attack elements in our defence and financial arrangements.

One particular cyber crime was said to have originated in China, used equipment located in Nigeria and routed through a device in Brazil  – not an easy case for the local nick to hold.

The indications are that some senior police managers are struggling with the theory and practice of IT crime, and, reasonably enough, the public don’t accept that the burgling of their house is a minor matter in comparison.

The sexual abuse of children, including historical abuse, is most serious problem. A society which fails to protect its young is neither civilised nor healthy.

The response of the police has gone from being fairly relaxed when Jimmy Savile was on the prowl to a substantial swing in the opposite direction as the scale of Savile’s crimes became known. This triggered a number of ill-judged raids on the homes of some eminent figures against whom various allegations had been made. Possibly the most ill judged foray concerned the arrival at the house of Cliff Richard of substantial numbers of police officers observed by television cameras in helicopters. The raid was subsequently portrayed as a sort of keystone cops excursion to the chagrin of the police managers who were on the case, especially those accused of being more interested in starring in the TV news than in arranging a home visit more in keeping with the nature of the allegations and the identity of the accused..

The difficulties in getting the right things done are apparent in cases where the alleged crimes were said to be being carried out by people from ethnic minorities. If the police ignore considerable evidence of abuse , they are accused of a cover up. If they go in too hard, they are accused of racism. It’s a tricky dilemma and one likely to pose further problems in future.

A not dissimilar situation was evident in Germany on New Year’s Eve when recently arrived young male migrants were said to have been sexually harassing and intimidating local women.

In Britain, the introduction of elected of police commissioners has not been helpful. It soon became apparent that this constitutes yet another ostensibly democratic institution to absorb politicians fallen by the wayside in more conventional struggles for power. Some elections were held with turnouts barely edging into double figures. A notable feature of the new system has been the casual attitude adopted by some commissioners to matters such as expenses, and the appointment of family and friends to salaried public office. A predictable and sad outcome.

Police work can be about as stressful as it is possible for a job to get. But how prevalent is this stress among the senior members of the police force? By far the greater part of police work at all levels is non-confrontational and routine.

Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn argues that many police forces have abandoned the more robust traditional methods of law enforcement and adopted instead the more politically correct methods of the social workers, not because this is effective, but because this is the surest route to professional advancement. Does he have a point?

What about the recording and measurement of crime? Is crime on the increase? Decrease? About the same as last year? Or what? Are the police winning or losing the battle against crime?

The gathering, recording and, above all, the analysis of crime statistics are so deeply flawed that rational debate becomes next to impossible. What was criminal behaviour yesterday may be legal today, and the baleful influence of political correctness has become a major factor in determining which crimes are ignored and which crimes are investigated vigorously. This approach may make for social harmony but it makes it next to impossible to discern crime trends.

Given this shaky framework, it is not surprising that our law enforcers manipulate the system to their own advantage. The only consistent element in the annual reports of all chief constables is the plea for a higher budget. The plethora of confused and conflicting statistics are presented arbitrarily and capriciously, either to prove that the force is doing a splendid job, or that the crime under review is a symptom of a deeper malaise which can only be solved by an agonising reappraisal of social values.

The arrangements for promotion in the police service are worthy of mention. While much of the private sector has been fairly ruthless in reducing the number of layers between shop floor and boardroom, the number of ranks in the police service has scarcely changed for many decades with a total of six layers up to the rank of chief superintendent. And that excludes consideration of the additional status and rewards at each level with the insertion of the prefix detective. It is hard to see how this vertical management structure makes for effective crime prevention. It is easy to see how it makes for better salaries and pensions, especially senior police officers. It would be a simple task to spell out what needs to be done to reform the situation, but rather more difficult to persuade that most intransigent of trade unions, the Police Federation, to accept this.

The same weakness applies to the armed forces and helps to explain why we have more admirals than ships, more air commodores than squadrons and more generals than could be justified by the traditional pyramid organisation model.

Absentee officers

The high level of absenteeism in the police service is another issue. When are the senior police managers going to get absenteeism levels down to somewhere approaching the national average? The management of absenteeism is one of the more straightforward responsibilities of management. All that is required is for every absence to be followed by a back to work interview in which the reasons for the absence are discussed. Officers with a poor attendance record should be taken through the standard disciplinary procedure and those who with an unsatisfactory history told to improve or else.

An incident which was widely reported at the time illustrates the relaxed attitude of some police managers. A policeman who was absent from work due to stress was seen on TV officiating as a linesman at a football match. It was reported that he was not expected to face disciplinary action on his return to work.

Does positive discrimination in the selection of senior police managers make for a more effective police service?

There is a case to apply selection methods that use positive discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and so on when recruiting police officers because, so the argument runs, law enforcement needs to be based on the consent of the public.

The positive discrimination criterion should be abandoned after the initial recruitment stage, and thereafter promotion through the ranks should to be based on only one criterion: performance. Nothing more likely to deter the competent than awareness that success depends on factors other than ability. In the event that two candidates are evenly matched in terms of ability, there is a case to use one or other of the factors listed above to arrive at a decision. But we should be mindful of the absurdity of striving to achieve the right balance between the competent and the mediocre  – the crooks have enough going for them as it is.

Various home secretaries have had police reform high on their agenda. For reform, read making them to do more work for the same or less money. Nothing new here  – this has long been one of the core tasks of managers. Targets geared to these objectives have been spelled out but the Police Federation is accomplished in the art of hanging onto what their members have and hold.

This article was first published in Tribune on February 22, 2016

Image courtesy of BBC

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Author: holdenforth

50 years in management - mostly as a sharp-end man. Occasional contributor to Tribune.

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