In the Media

Radical police reform will help criminals

PUBLISHED March 17, 2012

There is a part of the public sector which has continued to deliver in its role of cutting crime. It has made significant improvement in public confidence in what it does, achieving levels of satisfaction among its users which the private sector would be envious of. There is a part of the public sector whose staff are highly flexible, accepting sudden changes in duties, long working hours, changes in work location and a requirement that duty comes before their personal lives.

Members of this service regularly show extreme courage, confronting violent situations unarmed, using minimum force. It is alongside people at the worst moments in their lives, showing compassion, kindness and care. It is accommodating drastic budget cuts, but without threats of industrial action. It makes mistakes, and a tiny number of its members fall prey to corruption or the pressures of their work, but all know they will be investigated, and publicly held to account.

I could go on. Yes, the police service can appear defensive at times, but it is because we are bemused at being acknowledged as one of the finest in the world, at the same time as being told we need people to come in from overseas to shake us up.

The submission made to the Winsor Review on Police Pay by chief officers highlighted that policing has become more specialised and complex. We have talented, committed staff who need to be rewarded in a way which recognises expertise, not just rank and length of service. We need to have the tools to deal robustly with under-performers, who are resented by the vast majority of their hard working colleagues. We need models like that used in nursing, where frontline staff can earn more for gaining skills which benefits the service user, without going into management positions.

The difficulty is that pay reform is best done in times of growth, not austerity. Police officers and other staff already have a two-year pay and increment freeze, an increase in pension contributions and a sharp reduction in promotion opportunities. Forces face a four-year period of significant budget cuts. Chief constables need to achieve savings while maintaining morale and motivation and continue to attract and develop talent.

There are improvements that can be made in our working practices. Our staff want more responsibility and control over their ways of working. We do not need crude performance measures such as number of arrests; we need to help our staff to develop their expertise. This in turn will allow forces to reduce the costs of bureaucracy.

The public want police officers who are streetwise and physically resolute, they value the sort of reassurance patrolling officers provide. They also understand that when bad things happen, the police need the capability to investigate murder, monitor dangerous people and do all the other things that keeps the public safe; policing has to be about both brain and brawn. British policing has stayed true to the principles laid down by Sir Robert Peel in 1829, which stated clearly that the measure of police effectiveness is the absence of crime and disorder, rather than the evidence of police activity. We need reform, but if we lose public support along the way the criminal will prosper.

Chief Constable Peter Fahy is the ACPO Lead for Workforce Development