In the Media

Interview with Nick Ephgrave

PUBLISHED May 18, 2013

Q: The government is enforcing 20% cuts in central funding to police forces, asking the police to reduce the crime rate at the same time. Is this possible?

A: We?re all grappling with the challenge that represents. You can?t really achieve those kind of cuts by just slicing a bit here and a bit there. This needs a re-think about how we structure ourselves and deliver services.

Every part of the Met is being looked at. For example, our new approach to neighbourhood policing, the "local policing model?, is about increasing the footfall on the streets, changing our officer mix so we have fewer senior officers and more constables. The Met?s supervision ratios are lower than the national average and increasing this ratio is one of the things that we are doing to boost constable numbers on the street and also save money.

In criminal justice, we?ve just implemented the joint prosecution service. The JPS is leading the digital case file transition. The technology means a reduction in manual in-putting, photocopying and so on, allowing us to streamline our criminal justice units: rather than have 32 borough-based criminal justice units, we?ve centralised that service into the JPS.

As for cutting crime, the backdrop to that challenge is that, as we all know, crime has been falling. We?re aiming at a "virtuous circle?: you invest more time in anticipating and problem-solving so that you don?t have to invest as much time in reacting to events after they?ve happened. This, in turn, releases more time for prevention and so it becomes an improving position. The start is to put more officers into neighbourhoods who will be more proactive in understanding the local crime problems and putting in place problem-solving initiatives.Nick Ephgrave

Q: HMIC?s "Policing in austerity? report last year said that the Met is doing less well than other forces in maintaining victim satisfaction levels. Are things going any better now?

A: There are two measures here: one is victim satisfaction and our results on this are not good compared with other parts of the country. The Commissioner feels this is an absolute priority for us and we now have a victim satisfaction improvement strategy. For example, we introduced Operation Promote to give victims a choice: they can simply report the crime over the phone or, if they prefer, we commit to getting an officer out to see them either on the day or we book an appointment to suit the victim?s commitments. This has meant that we have seen an awful lot more victims of crime than we did before.

The other thing is confidence. Again, confidence levels are lower here than they are in some other force areas. We have a series of activities, for example Operation Big Wing, which is about mobilising as much as we can of the Met on a particular day. Members of the Met who the public don?t normally see ? those in professional standards or intelligence ? we get those people and we add them to our stock of uniformed officers and we conduct a series of high visibility police operations over the course of 18 hours or a day. The last one was at the end of February and we made nearly 700 additional arrests, deploying approximately 7,000 additional officers.

Yes, there is an element of PR to this but there is a purpose to it. We had those people arrested. And there are reduced levels of crime in the days afterwards.

Q: As you may know, there are to be drastic cuts to the criminal legal aid budget. From your perspective, do you have concerns as to the effects of this on justice, long-term?

A: The obvious concern which any citizen would have is that, if the interests of the defence are not well-served, you may end up with miscarriages of justice. Clearly, it is in all of our interests to have a criminal justice system which is efficient, balanced and fair. I don?t think police officers feel it is in our interests for defendants not to be properly represented. It saves time: you don?t have appeals, for example. It also goes to the confidence issue. Most people talk about victims or witnesses but there is another set of customers or clients ? the defendants.

Q: Magistrates have expressed concern about current charging policy and some of our members feel that the reduction in case volume is due to a much-increased use of disposals such as cautions and penalty notices. What is the Met policy on charging and are you happy with it?

A: The Met has reduced the number and proportion of out-of-court disposals over the last few years and increased the proportion of charges. Our Met policy is that we align ourselves with the national guidelines: you judge each case on its merits and you look at the pros and cons of each disposal option. There?s a number of gravity or aggravating factors in the guidance from ACPO.

We also take into account local initiatives. To take an example from my time in south London, as one measure to reduce unemployment among young black men, in certain circumstances, alternative case disposals were used for minor first time offending that avoided the stigma of a criminal conviction and the consequences that held for future employment prospects.

Q: If there was an element of racial aggravation in an offence, would you be happy to drop that and dispose of the matter outside court?

A: We are very strong on any kind of aggravation. Anything that is violent, the presumption is that you charge in the traditional way. Anything that is aggravated by way of racial or sexual discrimination, the same applies.

Q: When a caution or other disposal is given, do the police satisfy themselves that there is enough evidence to lead to a charge?

A: This is absolutely clear in all the guidance: you have to have a PACE compliant admission; and you have to have sufficient evidence that you would have to satisfy if the case went to the CPS.

Q: Plebgate has been bad for the police?s image recently, not to mention the revelations about colluding with the tabloid press. What effect has this had?

A: I think these things always have an effect on morale. None of us is happy when a colleague does something dishonest and corrupt; it?s a betrayal of the ethos that we all work to. No one has any interest in those individuals. Why should we? No one?s interested in protecting them.

We have a very rigorous department of professional standards. Transgressions are dealt with speedily and the penalties are
significant. It?s important to distinguish between honestly made mistakes which should be dealt with by way of learning, advice and guidance, and deliberate wrongdoing for which there is no tolerance in this organisation.

Q: Our newsletter has published a report on a recent study of the work of duty solicitors in the police station which found that, where police interviewed a suspect who was represented, they took five hours longer to prepare. Why would that be?

A: I?ve interviewed many people for many years, for everything from shop-lifting to murder, and my preparation was exactly the same, regardless of whether the individual represented themselves, had a duty solicitor, or a solicitor from a family firm. I wouldn?t know why people take longer. I would be surprised if this study reflected what goes on in London.

Q: The report also showed some lack of co- operation over such things as allowing solicitors to enter custody suites.

A: The expectation is that, as soon as a solicitor arrives, unless there?s something happening in custody which is a matter of safety or security, you get them in as quickly as you can. I can?t see whose benefit it is to delay. In my experience, it doesn?t happen.

Q: Your job title is "Commander, Criminal Justice and Capability?. What does that mean?

A: I?m responsible for delivering criminal justice across London, including most of serious crime (apart from homicides), and we deal with that through the JPS and so I?m head of that. I also have responsibility for custody across the Met. As for "capability and support?, essentially it?s an HQ function so I have a team of people who do audit and inspection on borough, looking at specific issues or general performance. I?m responsible for administering the Met?s performance meetings at what we call Crime Fighters every month, a meeting when all the borough commanders come in.

I?m responsible for some proactive units as well, such as the London crime squad and the national mobile phone unit and, as an interim measure, I?ve also got 999 and first contact and crime recording for the Met.

Q: Would you mind giving me an outline of your career to date?

A: I joined the Met 23 years ago. As a PC, I worked in the East End. I became a detective and went to work in Special Branch. This was when there was a lot of IRA activity in the capital, such as the Bishopsgate bomb.

I went back to uniform as a sergeant at Brixton, where I enjoyed the busy environment, got promoted to inspector and went to Peckham, which was also a dynamic place to work. I went back into the CID at Peckham, ending up as detective chief inspector.

And then I went to the south London homicide squad as a senior investigating officer. My highest profile job was the reinvestigation of the killers of Damilola Taylor. It took us six years to convict those two. I got promoted to detective superintendent and stayed in specialist crime before going to Southwark as a detective superintendent. Then I became Sir Ian Blair?s staff officer for his final year in office which was a pretty tumultuous time.

Then I moved into counter-terrorism, as a detective chief superintendent, and set up the national counter- terrorism co-ordination centre. My last job before this one was in Lambeth as borough commander. That is the front end of policing; that?s why we all join.

Q: Do you have time for any personal life outside your work?

A: I?ve got four daughters and a lovely wife, who I?m very proud of: she has done 25 years? service in the NHS as a nurse and midwife. Time at home is pressurised because my work is demanding and so is hers. All but one of the girls are teenagers now. I don?t think any of them will become police officers: they?re not interested in it!