Sir Hugh Orde speech at the CFA annual lecture
May 14, 2012, London
Current challenges in policing - protecting the public, protecting the service, protecting the model.
Thanks for your invitation. I don’t get out much these days!
Indeed, my presence here is all the fault of Richard who reminded me that he was the individual responsible for stealing one of the best Chief Officers I had when I was Chief Constable in Northern Ireland.
Mind you, with 35 years under my expanding belt, it is good to know that life continues post retirement! Richard is clearly very good at his job and I have now forgiven him, as Peter Sheridan now works in the third sector doing vital work with Cooperation Ireland, a truly great organisation committed to ensuring the fragile peace remains. It is led by Christopher Moran whose commitment is truly inspirational to those of us who hopefully played a small part in the Northern Ireland story.
Indeed I will touch on the complex yet critical mixed economy of policing and justice shortly, but clearly delivering a joined up service is in all our interests. I also want to speak briefly about some of the critical challenges ahead for policing in this country.
As Richard pointed out, I have now been in my current job as President of the Association of Chief Police Officers for two and a half years.
I had seven years in Northern Ireland, from September 1, 2002 to August 31, 2009. Seven years to the day. It was the best job I could have wished for: great people, a difficult environment, a massive reform programme, and serious risk management decisions to be made on a daily basis. A real policing roller coaster with immense highs and lows. But the bottom line was the people, some of the most outstanding individuals I have ever had the privilege to work with.
But I was in many ways spoilt, and it is easy to forget just how well looked after I was. For seven years I never drove! I was taken everywhere, delivered on time on the spot. When I arrived, all I had to do was what I was there for, before being whisked off to the next location. Close protection was exactly that. But all good things come to an end.
I remember my last day so well. I had returned to England to start my new job on Monday, and the weekend was difficult. We dared to shut a police station. As a chief, if you shut one in England and Wales you get letters from very upset people. If you shut one in Northern Ireland you could get a full blown riot. Trying to run that situation from a remote location - including use of baton rounds and talking about water cannon - went on and on; then came midnight. And it was nothing to do with me anymore.
At midnight Northern Ireland was no longer mine! It was the strangest feeling.
The next morning I made an early start, jumped into my car... then when nothing happened had to get out again and get into the driver’s seat!
To the station, £3,500 for a ticket! Even when I tried to explain I didn’t actually want to buy the train - just a seat. However, it was a good learning experience, I am now allowed to get the underground all by myself!
At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, an effective and legitimate police service that has the trust and confidence of the law abiding majority and is feared by the criminal minority is one of the essential hygiene factors in any society. So how does the British police service stand up to this benchmark? Well, crime is down again this year by 3%. Last year it was down by 6 per cent. In Northern Ireland between 2002 and 2009 (I would choose those years wouldn’t I!) we reduced all crime by 23 per cent (that’s 32,402 crimes).
In terms of confidence in our ability to do a good or excellent job, it currently stands at around 61 per cent. While we reminded by Government every time a reduction in crime is announced that “crime is still too high” I resist the temptation to point out that confidence in politicians is at an all time low. I simply reflect that a drop in recorded crime means we have less victims and that has to be a good thing.
Let me be quite clear, we must never be complacent, and always mindful of the general impact on confidence of high profile individual cases. You need only look at the moment to see issues of racism and failures of the past. But, broadly speaking, the headline figures suggest that the current model is not broken and any reform must be to make it even better and citizens even safer.
It is equally clear that cuts to police budgets of 20 per cent in this spending round mean the status quo is not an option, and traditional salami slicing of the current structure will simply not take out enough cash from budgets that routinely spend 83 per cent of their totals on pay and people. We need to think very differently about how we deliver the service looking forward to ensure that the front line is protected at all costs. No mean challenge.
It is against this backdrop that we are facing the biggest changes to our model of policing since 1829, and Peel’s vision of policing. I don’t intend to deliver a history lesson (but I can recommend to you Douglas Hurd’s biography of Peel published a few years ago - a fantastic book). But some of his basic principles have stood the test of time. It is not a coincidence that our model of policing is revered the world over, it is based on the principles of operational independence, the minimum use of force, and minimum intervention with the rights of citizens. We are and want to remain a routinely unarmed service.
Indeed, the famous quote “the police are the public and the public are the police” reminds us all of the crucial relationship between the forces of law and order and the citizen, and how that must be protected as essential to policing by consent if 136,000 police officers (and falling) can protect 65 million (and rising) citizens from 21st century threats. In other words, it is my clear view that these principles are non-negotiable in the reform and reorganisation debate.
If policing by consent is one of the cornerstones, another is accountability. Currently 17 members of a Police Authority hold Chief Constables to account (it was 19 in Northern Ireland - we were very accountable in Northern Ireland!). In November you will all be voting for your Police and Crime Commissioner, unless you are in London. And one elected individual will replace the old structure. This single change is in my judgement a huge shift. It is designed to deliver a more directly democratic governance structure at the local level, where the citizen elects the one person who will be responsible for holding the Chief to account.
This was a clear manifesto commitment of Conservative party before entering government and it is also a commitment of the Coalition. As such it is not for me to challenge the way by which we are held to account! However, it is right that we seek clarity on how it will work, and how the essential operational independence of Chief Constables is protected. This is very much work in progress!
But that is only one change of many. We have the recent announcements in the Queen’s speech of legislation to create the National Crime Agency. Add to this the abolition of the National Police Improvement Agency, which currently delivers critical national services to police forces, such as IT, training and so on; and the plan to create a Professional Policing Body (intended to represent the service and pick up some of the roles of the NPIA); and the landscape changes substantially. And all this to be delivered against a backdrop of a 20 per cent cut in budgets and a fundamental review of police pay and conditions.
Many of you would have seen the police march in London last week, indeed I am at the Police Federation Conference in Bournemouth tomorrow morning with, I suspect, a challenging audience. The march was an indication of the level of concern of rank and file officers about the impact of the cuts on their pay and conditions as well as their ability to deliver an effective service.
I don’t intend to expand too much on all of this as we would be here all night, and my last train will be long gone. The point is that I guess a number of you in this room will be fairly unsighted on the scale and depth of the programme of change. I’m also fairly confident that many of you would not be aware of the fact that you are expected to turn out in November to elect your Police and Crime Commissioner! You can be assured that we are working very closely with Government ensuring our professional views are listened to in order that they make decisions from a fully informed basis.
By way of example, it is essential that there is clarity between the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Chief Constable. We were successful in convincing Government that this was so important that it should be a protocol, on the face of the Bill. It now is. The protocol does in a way manage expectations and hopefully will be a useful check and balance that can be used at times when the distinction becomes, as it will, blurred.
A useful reference point, for want of a better description. How well it stands up in any kind of difficult event remains to be seen. The Police and Crime Commissioner is a very powerful player: they hire, and fire, the Chief, control the budget and own the assets, so if they were to make a public statement around lack of confidence in the Chief, or err into the operational arena, all the carefully constructed words on paper may not pass first contact. This will mean little post such an event. That having been said, I do think this is important and for the first time we have the concept of operational independence enshrined in Law.
Why is that important? Simply because it is the difference between policing delivered by impartial professionals, and policing directed by politicians.
The Strategic Policing Requirement is almost more important in terms of practical operational delivery of critical policing disciplines where 44 forces have to act as one. I am on record, to the point of boredom, about trying to efficiently and effectively protect the public from 21st Century threats with a 20th Century model designed in 1962. That was (for those that remember it) before colour TV, the internet, the age of international communications and more.
However, this and the last Government have steadfastly refused to engage in this debate and in the absence of political will a proper review of the 44 force model simply will not happen. Contrast this to Scotland, where the amalgamation of eight forces into one is moving ahead rapidly.
So how do you reorganise when you can’t reorganise? In operational terms the answer to this impossible equation is; through ACPO - the organisation I have the privilege to represent tonight. It is through us that consistent national standards are achieved and signed up to. So for example during the riots last year, we could move officers around the country knowing that they would not find themselves using different tactics and different equipment just because they were in a different force area. The same principle applies in firearms, terrorism and organised crime.
The challenge in the new world will be the tension between local policing and national demands. That is why we sought and got the Strategic Policing Requirement. It requires Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables to pay due regard to national matters, albeit through deploying of local policing resources.
We have some evidence of this obvious tension already even before the new system has started. In Manchester the Chief Constable was criticised by a local MP for deploying over 100 officers to London. That was without question the right operational decision.
We need to be very clear here, the national response relies on every chief constable doing the right thing. The whole thing collapses if one or two step back. Managing conflict between the local and national will come to the fore. Indeed on occasion managing the national risk will be at the expense of local policing and local commitments. Interesting times ahead I fear.
On the subject of riots, my favourite topic: I dealt with some pretty dreadful ones in Northern Ireland. In 2005 we had three days of serious rioting; we deployed every officer we had and over 1,000 soldiers including hundreds on the front line. We used water cannon for hours on end to keep warring factions apart; we fired hundreds of baton rounds and had to sadly return live fire on six occasions. Over 100 of my officers were seriously injured, five have never returned to work. In addition to traditional bricks and stones, petrol bombs and the like we were dealing with blast bombs (lethal hand grenades) crossbows and live fire, over 100 rounds incoming. That is a riot! It was described by my Deputy Chief Constable Paul Leighton as the worst since 1982 and the hunger strikes, and he, unlike me, had been at both.
What we saw on the mainland last year was clearly terrifying for those innocent citizens caught up in the maelstrom. People died but not one at the hands of the security forces, and terrifying though it was - and clearly the initial police response could have been quicker in some places - it was never a threat to national security. Put bluntly it was what I called at the time “criminal consumerism”. People just lost all norms of behaviour and stole and damaged things because they could.
As soon as we mobilised the 44 forces, got critical mass in terms of officer numbers and took the high ground we, as my good friend the Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin put it, put people in front of the courts, not in hospital. And the Judges sent the guilty to prison, some for the very long term. One of the things that worked was a joined up Criminal Justice System.
There was substantial public and some political pressure to use extreme force. Indeed, some polls wanted all the Northern Ireland tactics deployed to deal with the situation. As the Senior Officer in COBR (Cabinet Office Briefing Room, the Government’s crisis management structure) my job is to explain to government what we could and could not achieve. I was deeply grateful for my seven years in Northern Ireland. It gave me the authority and experience to explain to the Government the limitations of these weapons, but more importantly remind all of us that even in extremis, over reaction and excessive use of force against the citizens, even when they are behaving very badly, is not a good idea.
It takes me back to my opening, and Peel’s principles, now of course updated by the Human Right Act: and this is all best summed up by the word “proportionality”. The reason for this is quite simple, if we over react, or step outside the law to enforce the law, we live with the result of such unprofessional and illegal activity, not for days, not for of decades but for generations. I spent two years investigating allegations of state killing in Northern Ireland before I took the job of Chief Constable. I know what I am talking about in terms of legacy. These things never go away.
Before you think I have become some sort of apologist for robust enforcement, please let me remind you that proportionate force can - and sadly did in my last command - include legitimate use on occasions of lethal force. The Human Rights Act is not and never has been an impediment to good policing; indeed I see it as essential to support good policing.
I have to say it got quite hot and heavy in COBR and understandably so, the government was quite concerned - which is understandable too. But the importance of being able to give an independent, professional view of the service in times of national crisis, however popular or unpopular that view may be, is in my judgement absolutely essential in our model of policing. Whilst the future of ACPO is at present uncertain as all these reforms kick in, I do believe that having an independent person who has the confidence of the service to represent its views honestly and clearly is essential.
Moving on briefly before I invite questions:
I mentioned at the start the importance of working in a different way to maintain service in times of fiscal restraint. I firmly believe in a joined up criminal justice system where we do all we can to prevent “revolving door justice” with the same individuals repeatedly coming to notice. So what is the solution? Partnership is the solution.
In the public sector, partnerships are essential though struggling. It is worth remembering that many sectors have 25 per cent cuts not the 20 per cent we have in policing. As a result I can confidently predict my service will see increased demand as others are forced to retract and restrict services. This plays out in the ‘uncontrolled space’ we police. If you go to a hospital or take kids to school, that is a controlled space. Police officers are there for when the space is uncontrolled.
Indeed, I mentioned Co-operation Ireland earlier, and this is an excellent example of the role others can play. Particularly in the long term game, investing in people in communities prevents the vulnerable from becoming more so. As the first two Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, Rowan and Mayne, reminded us in 1829, it is through the absence of crime that we should be measured. Not dealing with it afterwards. So the 3rd sector continues to have a huge role in criminal justice and will have a role into the future to fill gaps where budgets contract and the public sector retracts to core services.
The private sector is also engaging at a level that we have not seen before. This is a good thing, subject to checks and balances. The 44 force model makes this a challenge as forces collaborate to reach critical mass and go to the market to look at other ways of delivering back office functions. But we are seeing many initiatives across the country with non-essential services being transferred out at lower cost.
We do need to be clear the office of constable must be protected. Indeed officers marching last week are not ordinary employees, cannot strike and take part in politics. This goes to the heart of our independence that I have already touched on, and by way of reassurance, there are no plans to change this status.
So, rather a whistle stop tour of just a few issues currently facing the service. Let me finish on an upbeat note. I have immensely enjoyed my service in policing. It is a fundamentally different service to the one I joined, and fundamentally better. In fact, if I were looking to join now, I wouldn’t get in these days!
But there is a constant theme and it is best summed up by the phrase on the Queen’s Police Medal. It reads simply, ‘to protect my people’. That is why people join the police service and it is why the future is safe in their hands.