What happens next?

As PCCs take up their positions today Peter Walker says the key question is “What happens next?”

When senior officers in the Japanese Navy were planning the attack on Pearl harbour, one of them told a briefing “This will give us naval supremacy in the western Pacific for 18 months.” Admiral Yamamoto is said to have responded “What happens next?”

As history shows, what did happen was that the United States waged total warfare with all the rage and might the most developed economy in the world could muster and the Japanese nation lay devastated five years later.

It is for this reason I have been discussing “What happens next” with many people over the past few months and a few days ago an analysis of the impact at Home Office level has been published on Conservative Home. However, I had also said to Sam a more localised version might help individual PCC's – if they have time to read his Blog anymore!

One of the greatest frustrations for police officers and I suspect Commissioners will initially share this) is the complete lack of understanding the vast majority of the public have of the complexities of their job. In my short and unspectacular political career (I unsuccessfully applied to be the Conservative candidate in North Yorkshire) I regularly asked people how many police officers they thought were on duty in their area at night. That I never received a correct answer was unsurprising, but communities thinking that more police are on duty by a factor of at least ten – which was their consistent response – is a misapprehension that creates a matrix of ill-informed judgements about what level of service can be provided.

One could give dozens of similar examples, including the time consumed in dealing with people who are mentally ill, the anti social behaviour caused by Labour extending drinking hours across the country without a thought as to the impact this would have on emergency services, the challenges of meeting national obligations to provide assistance in times of crisis, or working across force boundaries to disrupt and deter Organised Crime. Delivering criminal justice is a complex enterprise and to be blunt, many people just don't know that.

This is why locally elected Commissioners are so important. As you get to grips with these complexities, you will be able to really assist your communities and the standing of your Commission within them.

Rather than seventeen people who never really engaged with the public, cost a fortune and most importantly, levied taxes without having to subject them to a test at the ballot box, one person has the responsibility for determining priorities on behalf of their community, arranging for the money to be in place to deliver them and who, in a few months, will have to justify to that community what the Council Tax precept will be. It is they who will be able to explain to communities what the demands on the force are, how they are dealing with them and what help they need from the public and other agencies to do so.

Here's a prediction. The normal distribution curve will apply to the success of individual Commissioners, regardless of their political party.

Some will simply not be up to the job – they will have been fortunate to be selected in politically “safe” areas, not had their policies tested in the campaign (which has nothing to do with their campaigning ability but will provide for an interesting first meeting with the Chief Constable), they may lack the strategic skills for the post or not have the personal resilience required for the constant criticism they may well face. They will answer this by trying to blame the Government for lack of money.

The second group will “get by”, but make no real difference. The same old processes, with their accompanying bureaucracy will continue. Crime may continue to fall, but in spite of, rather than because, the Commissioner holds office. Few changes will take place in the staff inherited from the Police Authority. Partnership working will provide employment for people who go to meetings for a living. Expect heat, but not light, from these areas, accompanied by bleating about resources.

In the third group of force areas, we will see changes to working practices, some curtailment of the massive cost of sickness, greater visibility of patrolling officers, coherent approaches to victims. We will read about success in the newspapers, not just the recycling of the same old “initiatives”. Partnerships will be developing. Crime will be falling, public satisfaction genuinely rising, victims coming forward because they have confidence in the system. Expect to see other forces copying what is being done.

The top performing Commissioners will be achieving performance, yet keeping Council Tax low. A high calibre Chief Constable will be working seamlessly with the Commissioner, officers and staff will have morale as high as the public's satisfaction with the service. Crime will be down and victim care will be second to none. Highly developed partnerships will be creating savings not only for the police, but across the criminal justice sector and local government. A well-worn path to the Commissioner's door will evidence other people coming to see how they are operating a Public Sector enterprise with a Private Sector culture and Police Service values.

As the euphoria of electoral success wears off over the next few days and your mind starts to grip the enormity of the task you have taken on, I suspect the words of Admiral Yamamoto may be of help – not as a reason to reach for the Valium, but to use as a simple test of the decisions about the budget or the Policing Plan you are about to make.

“What happens next?” is a question that you will find enormously useful as your Chief Executive or Chief Constable briefs you about what is happening and what their existing plans are. As they tell you the sky will fall in unless a particular project continues, or Department retains the staff it presently has, you can form your own judgement.

You now own the risks associated with your force (as Ron Hogg in Durham has already found out, because they have recently received criticism at an inquest about a prisoner who tragically died in custody). Yet you cannot afford to be risk averse – your decisions about priorities must be couched in your careful assessment of force effectiveness, efficiency and value for money, with the aim of reducing crime and making communities feel safe.

The world (or your bit of it) will beat a path to your door over the next few weeks. Sam has covered the need for someone to talk to. I agree, but in a slightly different manner. It is true to say that MP's work in a collegiate atmosphere. After a hard day's work, they can get together with colleagues. So can Councillors. Council Leaders and Ministers may be in positions where their personal decisions are more exposed, but they have all either been Councillors or MP's and have seen how the decision making processes work.

Commissioners are a new breed of politician, doing a singular job. With the exception of very few, they have not been exposed to the strategic decision making involved in Criminal Justice. They will take tough decisions about people's jobs, force facilities, services provided. No matter how grand the office they have inherited from the Police Authority may be, it isn't the Palace of Westminster. The military concept of the “loneliness of leadership” is true. You will need someone to help you with this.

Some might think that this article is heading towards a sales pitch. Actually, I truly believe that to engage consultancy support to do the job for which you have been elected would be the daftest thing you could do in a presentational sense. It may be that you want to make headlines in your first few weeks. Please rest assured that paying for somebody else to tell you how to be a Commissioner – especially someone who is already on a Police Pension – will get you on the front page. However, you may not want to read the story!

So what to do? Look inside your personal network. Every political party contains people with a bank of skills. Independent candidates were not successful because the fairies delivered leaflets in the night. Your friends, your family, people that you come across as you embed yourselves into your new role. Learn who to trust and who to avoid – and be ruthless in that judgement with few second chances. Get one with political nous. One who watches your back, who will say “No” to you.

Most importantly – please remember at all times that any right minded person does not want to see you fail. Policing is too important for that.


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1 Response to What happens next?

  1. Sceptical of PCC's (and increasingly being proved correct) says:

    “Policing is too important for that.”

    If this was true would any sane adminsistration have pushed ahead with an untrialed and unproven policy?

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