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!”