Looking At The Other End Of The Lead

This article is an updated version of one published as part of my campaign to become a Police & Crime Commissioner candidate.  At the time, some forces were thinking about engaging private contractors such as G4S to undertake the duties of Dog Handlers.  A combination of poor performance and scandals engulfing the companies concerned has put such a proposition off for the foreseeable future.

However, as Police & Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables reshape their forces to take account of new financial realities, concern is being expressed by many rank and file officers about the perceived focus on reducing “specialists” such as Dog Handlers.

Very few Chief Police Officers have a detailed understanding of how some of their specialist departments operate.  Most haven’t spent that long in junior ranks, many have found their niche in planning or development work.  Given that you will have been promoted eight times to become a Chief and will have spent at least two, if not three years on the courses that train you to get there, take away the probationary two years and the average time in each rank is about two to three years.  Most Dog Handlers have their four-legged partners for seven or eight years, so it’s a safe bet that there aren’t many Chief Police Officers who have been Dog Handlers and some who have little idea how Dog Sections work.

The partnership of human and dog is one that has provided benefits in the law enforcement arena for decades. It is fair to say that this partnership can be achieved quite simply. Once the dog has been trained to undertake the task required, whether it is to search for explosives or track a fugitive, all it needs is a handler (in this case a Police Officer and if you need convincing of that, read on).

If, for example, it is important that the dog is able to be taken at speed across a Police Force area, it is a good idea that the human has been trained to drive quickly, yet safely and is allowed by law to do so. If the dog is needed to act as part of the containment for a severe public order situation, or to keep a street clear during such an incident, it would help if the human was able to be there when that was happening. The same would apply when the dog was being sent into a house as part of a firearms operation. If a Burglar is being chased, it is helpful that the human is able to arrest the criminal when he or she is caught by the dog.

In the Policing context, the dog spends a lot of time waiting to do the things for which it is trained. Not every day will bring the need for an explosives search, a firearms operation, or a burglar to chase. During this time, the dog is relatively cheap to keep. Dog food and visits to the Vet cost a few hundred pounds a year. The Police handler, however, is very expensive. Having the handler doing nothing but go for walks or sit in a van is not at all cost-effective. If handlers are able to patrol the streets or get sent to an incident where he or she can look after the public (even though the dog plays no part in this) it makes them offer much greater value for money.

Those Police Officers drive a van with “Police” written on it, so why not get them to park in a market square or city centre, to get out and talk to people, giving reassurance and stopping badly behaved people getting up to no good. Listening to the Police radio system and going to help a fellow Police Officer who needs reinforcement at an incident, or stopping a suspicious vehicle that he or she sees whilst driving around  – there are so many opportunities for Police Dog Handlers to assist in reducing crime and helping communities feel safe.

People who just look at the dog and think they can save money, need to “look at the other end of the lead” for a while. That’s the part of the combination of human and dog that costs the money. It is the Cop holding the lead that makes the difference – use him or her properly and you will get more value than you could imagine.

And the reason I know this? I was fortunate enough to spend nine years as an Inspector on my way up the ladder.  I have had dog handlers as part of my team and as a Senior or Chief Officer, I’ve reviewed Dog Sections on a number of previous occasions.

Police Officers who are dog handlers are devoted to their task – and usually not managed or led very well. The moment you give them responsibility, let them demonstrate just how valuable they can be and above all, provide them with some understanding leadership, you will be astounded as to just how much value they contribute to the Policing operation.  “Look at the other end of the lead” before taking away the dogs – and use the expensive bit of the partnership more effectively.

It’s not the Government – It’s local choices that are taking away the Police Officers……………

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This article was published as part of my campaign to become a Police & Crime Commissioner candidate

I went shopping for clothes in Leyburn at the weekend. Of itself, an unremarkable activity. Mrs W. seems to enjoy it, although I struggle to see the attraction – especially when it comes to clothing. Shopping for clothes involves taking numerous jumpers, shirts, etc off a shelf or rail, unfolding them if needs be, holding them up against yourself and then folding them again.

I missed the bit of teenager training that involved folding clothes (I may not be alone amongst men in this, ladies) so I find it to be a boring activity at home. I do not think the level of enjoyment improves if I have to drive across the countryside to visit shops and fold things. Actually, it is something I actively try to avoid if it involves going to a city, where there will be armies of people randomly unfolding and folding jumpers in big shops.

These also have the added disadvantage of people who spot something in a colour they like – even though it might be wholly unsuitable for them – and suddenly stop, so you have to be constantly on your guard to avoid bumping into the back of them, because they will look at you as though you should have intuitively been aware of their attraction to an item on display. (They will usually unfold it, look at it, fold it again and move on.)

It follows that I don’t go shopping for clothes very often. In fact, so infrequently, that if I make a purchase in three separate shops, I will be contacted by the anti-fraud section of my debit card provider, which is reassuring, if a little inconvenient.

On Saturday, Mrs W. announced that I needed new clothes. This, I have learned over thirty years, is a conversation with only one ending. The only thing I am going to achieve is a possible influence on the location. Being trained to negotiate with terrorists in a former life gives you a number of skills that can be deployed in the domestic environment and by using these to the full, I managed to get Leyburn selected as the destination for our expedition in the retail jungle.

I like Leyburn. Which, I hasten to add, is not a slight on other towns nearby, the journey is pleasant, it has a decent menswear shop and unusually around here, one can buy country clothing in my size. (Most men’s country wear is stocked in sizes to suit folk far larger than me.) The “clincher” in the negotiations was the chance to call in on some good friends who live in the town and who would present the opportunity to catch up after the shopping was completed.

I have known my role in the process of clothes purchase for some time. I am allowed to offer comments on comfort or fit, but not colour. This dates back to the emptying of my clothing drawers shortly after Mrs W. and I got together, which was accompanied by a rather uncharitable comment about the “Rainbow Warrior”. I stand and have recently unfolded things held up against me, get sent to a changing room to put things on and then walk up and down the shop (I’m actually quite good at this, but it’s not a career I would choose) and generally do as I’m told until the selection is complete.

I then get to pay – which seems to happen whoever is getting the clothing – and I must say this is the point where I reinforce my love of Yorkshire. I know that sometimes the local culture is described in an uncharitable manner, but everyone is expected to know the value of money round here. Try asking for a discount in the South and you will be consigned to the funny farm. Up here, the reverse is true and my request for the (excellent) assistant to “sprinkle some Pixie Dust on the numbers” generated a further reduction on the “closing down for refurbishment” prices.

Wardrobe requirements fulfilled, off we went to see our friends, who were delighted we had called by. I’m not going to identify them, but they are closely involved in the community, although not in a political context. They are aware of what is going on, bright, well read and equally well informed. I haven’t a clue what their political views are and I wouldn’t ask – indeed I don’t really care – they are friends in the truest sense.

I hadn’t seen them since I announced my intention to apply for the Conservative candidacy for the elected Police & Crime Commissioner post, so they were interested in what the Commissioner would do, how the process would go and what I intended to achieve on their behalf if elected. For the reasons outlined above, their questions were relevant, penetrative and informed.

They shared my view that there needs to be a focus on the Operational Policing requirement and that bureaucracy and bureaucrats need to be cut to achieve this. But the key issue that surprised them about what has happened over the last few years was based on a question I have started asking quite a lot of well-informed people lately.

Obviously the location varies. The question is simple and this time it was - “How many Police Officers do you think are on patrol in Richmondshire at night?” 

My friends gave this considerable thought. They even asked what I meant by “at night” to which I replied “after midnight” They then talked amongst themselves for a minute or two. Eventually, they agreed on a number. “Forty” they said. (They had come down from 100 during their discussion.)

When I said the actual number would be far less than this - I am told that it is two, but appreciate the number may vary, so I tend to invite people to look at the force website and do some long division about areas, shifts, rest days and annual leave, my friends were surprised, to say the least. They said – “But if they arrest someone, they have to go all the way to Northallerton to get them into custody.” (I told you they were well-informed!)

This conversation and the many others I am having in similar vein once again reinforced why I am embarking on my candidacy. Reducing Police Officer numbers in North Yorkshire to 1970’s levels will mean there are simply not enough to provide the critical mass to deliver the Patrol and Detective workforce.

My friends appreciate, like many others, that Government funding for public services is being reduced. They have a business which supports tourism in Leyburn and they know the austerity measures mean that the investments they have recently made have been helped by borrowing at interest rates lower than those which the Government of Italy can obtain.

What they cannot understand is that local choices in Policing have impacted so hard on the number of Police Officers – even before the Government started the spending cuts – choices that plan to reduce Police Officers by a further 141, but only 10 bureaucrats over the next two years. Choices that have 5 people in a “Directorate of Communications” (Up from two in the “Press Office” when I retired). Nine people in the Police Authority office (again up from two, but I don’t think you will find a more “back” back office). Choices that maintain the number of PCSO’s, despite their limited capability in an operational environment.

It is these, local, choices that must be changed. Changed to choices that boost effectiveness, increase efficiency and drive value for money.  But it’s got to happen to get Policing in the City of York and County of North Yorkshire back doing what it was created for – making people feel safe. Conversations like the one I had at the weekend make me more determined to do it.

This country didn’t get the finest Police Service in the Developed World by selling its soul to the private sector……Which doesn’t mean that companies should never be used to support Operational Policing….

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This article was published as part of my campaign to become a Police & Crime Commissioner candidate

This morning’s Guardian carries an article about “privatisation of the Police”.  Whilst I would not believe anything I read in a newspaper without checking it elsewhere, this issue contained enough background information to check out what was proposed more thoroughly than usual.

It is also pretty clear that whilst no doubt Ministers have been briefed on the issues, the scope of what is proposed is not Government Policy – it falls within a general encouragement to the Public Sector to seek beneficial partnerships with Private Sector organisations, but the particular features of this are a matter for the Police Authorities concerned.

Helpfully, the Tender Notice, describing the services involved enabled me to see exactly what was being proposed.

Whilst there are no doubt opportunities for greater use of outside bodies to support the delivery of operational services, what is contained in the tender notice issued by West Midlands and Surrey includes everything from the management of Major Incidents to Patrolling neighbourhoods.

The question that I had after reading it was - “If all that is being done by someone else, what will the Police actually have left to do?”

Let me make my position absolutely clear - this is not something I would support and I don’t think the people of the City of York & County of North Yorkshire would support it either.

I suspect the issue will become a major point of debate in both the West Midlands and Surrey Police & Crime Commissioner elections, because whoever is elected has the final say in whether this approach is adopted.

My approach is that where something is being done in North Yorkshire Police that does not need the training, skills and powers of a Police Officer to do it, the first question needs to be “Why are you doing it in the first place?”

If the task is required, the second consideration is “What is the most effective and efficient way of doing it?” Which presents the opportunity to consider whether the additional flexibility brought by having Police Officers undertaking a task, or the way in which the post holder thinks about the context of the activities being undertaken may have a beneficial effect.

The final issue is “How can the best value for money be achieved?” Which enables you to deliver a support service using whoever can deliver the quality required in the most cost-effective manner. My intention is to simplify the procurement process to enable small local businesses to compete for these opportunities, which will enable the recirculation of money the force has to spend within the local economy, thereby promoting further growth and employment opportunities.

My experience in business has led me to believe that effective relationships with small providers of services generally work to the benefit of overall achievement and that they are far more flexible than larger organisations.

The respect and honour that the people of this country have for their Police Officers is presently being evidenced by the massive and adverse response on various social networks to the proposal, with West Midlands Police seeking to “clarify the position” on Twitter and their spokesman – Chief Superintendent Kay – appearing on the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme – Today – and saying that many issues contained within the tender notice will not be passed to the private sector.  This just begs the question as to why they were put in the document at all.

It seems to me that the notice goes too far in describing the services to be privatised.  Effectiveness, Efficiency and Value For Money have to be delivered – but Policing has to be independent and with the consent of communities – the means of ensuring that is to keep the Office of Constable at its core.

Those who want to read the detail of the tender notice may find it here

We’re Not Just Report-Takers, We’re The Police!

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This article was published as part of my campaign to become a Police & Crime Commissioner candidate

The headline probably sums up in a simple sentence what I think should drive a fresh approach to Policing the City of York and County of North Yorkshire over the next few years.

Before anyone accuses me of being capable of original thought, I should attribute the core of the philosophy – it is taken from the New York Police Department’s approach to delivering a vastly-improved service to the citizens of that city in the mid 1990’s.

Those unfamiliar with that era for the NYPD may need to be reminded that Commissioner Bill Bratton and his Deputy Jack Maple (now sadly no longer with us) galvanised what had become an ineffectual organisation, riddled with bureaucracy and with morale that had no lower to sink, into a proud and capable operational police force which once again deserved the title “New York’s finest”.

I was lucky enough to visit NYPD to study what they were doing.  I was impressed with the change in attitude the Commissioner had inspired – and whilst the media and politicians in the UK and elsewhere focussed their attention on “CompStat” – the name of their performance management process – and various academics commented at length about the “broken windows” criminological theory being adopted, I was of the view that the real driver of their improved performance lay somewhere else – the street cops, whether Uniformed or Detectives.

“We’re being allowed to do our jobs” – would be the way in which the change was explained to me in canteens within the Precincts I visited.  Officers made it very clear that the fact they had been freed up from just submitting endless reports about incidents they had attended – rather than just getting on and dealing with them and focussing on the criminals involved – had changed their attitude to their work – and with that, the attitude of the public towards them.  

The other issue which was blindingly obvious was that at the very top of the NYPD, Bill Bratton and Jack Maple were absolutely focussed on providing clear, consistent and visible leadership.  They wanted their officers to be seen to take action whenever they encountered offences – and were not afraid to do so themselves.  They were to be found visiting Precincts at any time of the day or night, despite the punishing schedule that went with their jobs.

This gave them the opportunity to meet and talk with officers at all levels – but also let them see how the changes they were making translated into effectiveness, efficiency and value for money.

The piston that drove this engine of change was indeed the CompStat meeting every week, where Borough Commanders came to present their performance analysis.  Usually three Commanders would deliver their presentation and would be subjected to detailed questioning.  Gathered in the room were the Heads of all supporting Departments and the other Borough Commanders.  It was a robust process and lack of knowledge about issues in a Borough or failure to have acted upon a problem by a Commander or support Department would be rewarded by withering feedback.

It was clear that some of the Commanders were simply not up to the job and Jack Maple would be tasked with driving improvement after the meeting – however, what was also apparent was that in general Commanders had been forced by the process to really find out what was going on in their Boroughs.  This was reflected back by their junior colleagues, who reported seeing more of their Bosses.  “We see more of our Captains and Commanders than ever before” was another comment frequently heard in the canteen discussions we had in Precincts.

The overall performance improvement by NYPD has been hailed as good practice across the Developed World, but the trick is to identify what were the key components that really made the difference.  My view – which informed a lot of my activities subsequently – is that simply remembering what a Police Force was created to do (and doing it) increased the morale of the workforce – the most important element of any high performing organisation – and this in turn made the public realise the Police could indeed reduce crime in their communities, leading to more involvement and information being given.

The underpinning activity by leaders – driving effective Performance Management about outcomes – led to greater understanding of the tactics needed to solve problems and the barriers to success their Officers faced.  For once, senior officers really understood what made crime reduction happen – and focussed all their attention on those activities that led to this.

So – should my application to the Conservative Party membership in York & North Yorkshire to be their candidate in the forthcoming election for Police & Crime Commissioner be successful, my drive towards greater effectiveness, efficiency and value for money in the Police will have at its core a simple sentence to change the approach of all members of the Force – and especially the Police Officers – never forget “We’re not just report-takers, we’re the POLICE!”