Policing: know your meerkat

Earlier this month, the uniformed and civilian leaders of policing in England and Wales met to outline their vision. With change and reform at the top of the agenda, we know there are opportunities for the private and voluntary sectors to play a larger role. But we also know that the shifting sands of police structures and governance can be hard to navigate. Here, Crest Advisory’s Head of Stakeholder Relations, Michael Clarke, explains what to watch out for in the policing market.

The police ‘family’ met in London this month – or at least two of its senior branches did. But the title of the ‘NPCC-APCC Partnership Summit’ might have been designed to deter outsiders with a random selection of initials and corporate jargon. It was, of course, a joint meeting of the National Police Chiefs Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners – two key leadership bodies in the police service. Or are they? How important are they? How do they differ? If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.

The first thing to realise is that the UK police service is a patchwork of jurisdictions and service providers. The second thing to realise is that many of these organisations’ boundaries are the result of historical evolution or political expediency rather than logic or efficiency.

The service is made up of 45 territorial forces, defined by a geographical area. These vary enormously in size of territory, population covered and number of staff. The Metropolitan Police, responsible for most (but not, of course, all) of London, has almost 32,000 officers; Warwickshire Police has just over 800 – fewer than some single borough command units of the Met. Police Scotland covers 30,000 square miles, while the City of London Police, of course, covers just one. The population covered by each force also varies enormously, from around eight million people in London to around 500,000 in many rural forces. Budgets vary enormously as a result: the Met’s annual budget is more than £3 billion, while Warwickshire’s is just £90 million.

In addition, there are specialist forces responsible for protecting particular types of assets, wherever they are across the country. British Transport Police covers most rail networks. The Civil Nuclear Constabulary protects nuclear power stations. The Ministry of Defence Police protect military bases (this could be about to change, however).

On top of this, the most serious types of organised crime are investigated by the National Crime Agency, the latest in a series of Government attempts to create ‘Britain’s FBI’ to take down the most serious and organised criminals responsible for fraud and money-laundering, major-league drug dealing, people trafficking, cybercrime and child sexual exploitation. The NCA’s remit does not, however, extend to terrorism – that is overseen by the Metropolitan Police, supported by regional counter-terrorism units. However, control of ‘CT’ – as insiders invariably refer to counter-terrorism – and the prestige and huge budgets that come with it is a perennial bone of contention between various policing and security agencies, and another round in this struggle could erupt soon.

These, then, are the operational bodies, deploying men and women in uniform and plain clothes on our streets, and increasingly online, to keep us safe. Alongside them are a wealth of oversight bodies, regulators and advisers.

41 of the 45 territorial forces are (since 2012) responsible to a Police and Crime Commissioner, a directly-elected official responsible for setting its budget, appointing its chief constable and giving ‘strategic direction’ to the force’s activity. The Metropolitan Police is responsible to the capital’s directly-elected Mayor, while The City of London Police is accountable to the City’s unique government, the City of London Corporation. Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland are responsible to those nations’ devolved governments, while the national specialist forces are accountable to the relevant national Government Department or, in the case of British Transport Police, an authority whose Chair is chosen by the Secretary of State for Transport.

The Home Office is responsible for legislation and funding arrangements for the police, and the Home Secretary bears political responsibility for providing an effective and efficient police service (except in the devolved governments). Clear?

Alongside all this, a variety of national bodies of varying official status seek to support and hold the police service to account:

  • The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, whom we met earlier, provides a collective voice and vehicle for collective action for PCCs, as well as information sharing between them.
  • The National Police Chiefs Council, co-host of last week’s summit, represents the service’s operational leaders (chief constables, their deputies and assistant chiefs).
  • The College of Policing was established in 2012 to help professionalise policing by improving training, professional development and best practice. In time, it is hoped membership will become a badge of achievement similar to membership of the medical Royal Colleges, but that day remains some way off.
  • HM Inspectorate of Constabulary is an independent body, accountable to the Home Office, charged with maximising police effectiveness and efficiency. Until recently it was always staffed by former senior police officers; the current Chief Inspector, Sir Tom Winsor, is the first non-police officer to hold the post, and he has appointed several non-police officers as his deputies. Despite predictions to the contrary, this has not caused the sky to fall in.

Underneath these labyrinthine structures lies police culture: fiercely dedicated to the task at hand, intensely pragmatic, and with a strong sense of identity. This culture supports officers in doing an often difficult and dangerous job. Some, however, argue that this culture has also acted as a major block to reform of the service. As shown by the complaints about the appointment of Tom Winsor, many in the service believe it is unique among public services in the UK, and unique among police forces around the world. It is sometimes claimed that this, in turn, means nobody from outside the police can truly understand it, let alone reform it. The introduction of police and crime commissioners, many of whom lack a policing background, has helped to reduce this feeling. But a tendency remains among some senior officers to look to each other for advice and approval, rather than to other services or disciplines for fresh ideas or inspiration.

Perhaps this is why the first session of the NPCC-APCC Partnership Summit was on a ‘self-reforming’ service, picking up on a phrase coined by the new Policing Minister, Brandon Lewis. One might speculate that he has chosen that model for reform after seeing too many others, going back decades, run into the sand.

 


Michael Clarke is Head of Stakeholder Relations at Crest Advisory, and has 20 years’ experience in communications for major corporations, government, charities and media outlets. He previously covered policing, home affairs and politics for the BBC, Press Association and Police Review.


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