• Who will lead the police in 2013?

    Yesterday the BBC published an article by Keith Vaz MP in which he stated “Public confidence in the police has been hurt by a "dangerous cocktail" of controversies including the critical Hillsborough report and Andrew Mitchell "plebgate." Keith Vaz, who is the chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee called for talks between government and police at this "defining moment."

    The article refers to the Home Office stating that public confidence in the police remains high. This is argued against by Vaz who states "We have confidence in the police not being as high as it should be, we have police having little confidence in their jobs, we have half of those surveyed who want to do another job.” Vaz refers to the dangerous cocktail of events surrounding Hillsborough and ‘plebgate’ and adds into the mix (sic) the fact that 26 out of the 43 police forces of England and Wales do not have a permanent chief constable.

    This is an interesting fact as it relates to a period in the late 1980s when the police themselves, rather than an MP, recognised that a series of high profile miscarriages of justice (Birmingham Six and Guildford Four) coupled with increased spending on police at a time of rising levels of crime, falling levels of detection and nationwide public disorder (e.g. the miners’ strike) were posing a challenge to police legitimacy. The falling level of confidence was captured in the British Crime Survey of the time.

    The threat of government intervention was recognised by the police and Chief Constable Hirst of Leicestershire Police emphasised the requirement to act, and so deal with haemorrhaging public confidence, and threat to the legitimacy of the police when addressing the Quality of Service Seminar held at Police Staff College on 8th December 1992.

    This is what separates the issue of public confidence between 1990 and 2012. Action in terms of the introduction of a ‘quality service’ mandate was driven by experienced senior police officers in the shape of Hirst, Sir Charles Pollard of Thames Valley and Chief HMIC Sir John Woodcock. These senior police leaders established a ‘quality of service committee and began to attempt to change the style of policing to address public confidence.

    In 2012 who are the influential police leaders? As Vaz points out over 50% of the police forces in England and Wales have a ‘temporary’ Chief Constable. The introduction of PCCs has had an impact on both resignation and appointment of Chief Constables and processes are underway throughout England and Wales. The Chief HMIC in 1990 was an experienced police officer whereas the Chief HMIC today is Tom Winsor, a man with no policing experience.

    Add in the fact that ACPO is perhaps being held to account more than at any period in its history. This year has seen a Chief Constable sacked; a number of ACPO officers suspended from duty pending investigation or being forced to resign. So, if Keith Vaz is right, and there is a question mark over public confidence in the police, where are the Woodcocks’, Hursts’ and Pollards’ who will lead the police in 2013?

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