Category Archives: Policing

Winsor will mean more cops on the beat

PolicePolice forces have hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of keen qualified applicants queuing to join up, many already working successfully as PCSOs or special constables.

The  Winsor reforms announced yesterday should be welcomed, first and foremost because they  will allow many of those brave men and women, who would otherwise be blocked, to step up and become full-time, fully-fledged police constables.

A lower starting salary of £19k, with existing PCSOs and Specials allowed to join at £21k, rising to £22k or £23k after 2-3 years, means the public will get more full officers on the beat. The current system where officers have to start on £23,259, rising to £27,471 within two years, means forces cannot let excellent PCSOs train as police officers, because they cannot afford to pay them, while other well qualified applicants are turned away or made to wait for years.

Click To Enlarge

I recently served for four years as a member of the Kent Police Authority. Because we planned properly, made savings and took difficult decisions others avoided, Kent Police are increasing neighbourhood policing by 520 officers and are still recruiting and training new constables.

Unfortunately many other forces have imposed long-term recruitment freezes and resorted to sacking all officers with over thirty years experience. These are the only two ways they have to manage police officer numbers under the current extraordinarily inflexible police regulations. These in effect guarantee officers a job for thirty years if they get through two years probation.

I was disappointed that Tom Winsor did not initially seem prepared to reform this, particularly as I had already taken much of the flak by introducing a bill in parliament. That led to an unflattering cartoon of me in Police Review, but it also got Chief Constables on the record to support reform of a police privilege the like of which is enjoyed by no other profession.

Winsor has now grasped the nettle and recommended severance, the equivalent of redundancy, to be available where necessary for police, albeit subject to generous compensation, and for this to be available as early as April 2013. This should stop the absurd current practice of police forces sacking experienced and specialist civilians so that unsackable police officers can be paid more to do their jobs, and I hope that minister will have the courage to push this through.

I believe that Tom Winsor is also right to insist that officers should only be paid for having the full range of warranted officer skills if they can actually be deployed.

However,  I know some officers who have been disabled by violent attacks in the line of duty, yet are still doing valuable police work, albeit that they cannot, because of the attack, perform the whole range of police work. They might, as Winsor recognises be as well or better off financially taking an injury award and ill-health pension, but  some will still not want to give up their police warrant. In such special and sensitive circumstances I believe we should allow Chief Constables discretion.

As a fit and spry 54-year old Mr Winsor might have been wise to see discretion as the better part of valour before entering into so stark a critique of male Met officers’ fitness or quite so detailed a prescription of the future fitness regime to which they should be subjected. However, as Winsor has written 80 pages about health and fitness in a report which runs to 630 pages with 150 pages of appendices, officers who do not read all of it can at least use the two weighty volumes (retailing at £91 and not to be sold separately) to help with their work-outs.


Police WILL be under democratic control

PoliceFor over forty years the police have too often evaded democratic oversight of their operations by pointing to a 1968 judgment by Lord Denning (R v Metropolitan Police Commissioner, ex parte Blackburn [1968] 1 All ER 763)

On Monday the policing minister, the excellent Nick Herbert, killed off the idea that Denning’s judgment exempts the police from democratic control – which must surely be the corollary of tax financing of public services. He stated clearly for the record that the ambit of operational independence, i.e. where the police answer only to the law (and hence judges) and not to political authority, was limited “to specific operational matters and the decisions the police have to make as constables in arresting somebody and in pursuing investigations”.

The common law will now develop in a new context. Judgments which followed Denning, e.g. stating a police authority “is subject to the overall direction of the Secretary of State” or that it is for Chief Constables “to decide how available resources should be deployed”, will have to be reconsidered.

This is because Parliament has spoken. Statutory Instruments in theory represent the will of Parliament. The reality is that they are written by civil servants, signed by a minister and, in the vast majority of cases, go through on the nod without being debated in Parliament.

I did not feel that this was an acceptable way to deal with the Policing Protocol Order, which sets out the division of powers between Chief Constables and the Police and Crime Commissioners who will be elected in November. Parliament should agree this and not just representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the current unelected police authorities.

That is why, with the support of the majority of the Home Affairs Committee and other MPs such as Douglas Carswell and David Hanson, I ‘prayed against’ the Order and obtained Monday’s debate. Judges will now be able to resolve disputes between elected Commissioners and Chief Constables, not on the basis of what Lord Denning thought in 1968, but according to the intentions of Parliament in 2011 as set out in the Policing Protocol Order 2011 and the Hansard record of Monday’s debate.

Extracts from debate

Keith Vaz: “I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood, who has taken a strong interest in the protocol and was extremely active on the Home Affairs Committee in ensuring that we put a recommendation on it into our report. As r h and hon. Members know, he is due to become a father for the first time in early March, but I would say that the protocol is probably his first child. He was determined that we not only put it in the memorandum, but had a debate, and Members on both sides of the Home Affairs Committee supported him wholeheartedly. He believed, as do we all, that proper parliamentary scrutiny of important proposal is important. …”

Mark Reckless: “It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. He has referred kindly to the protocol as my baby or my first child, but I should say, at the very least, that the Minister – I am not sure whether this is the right phrase – shares its parentage, as well as that of the overall policy …

… The protocol is a clear and significant document. I should like to put on record my appreciation of all sides of the tripartite, particularly the police. Adrian Lee, the chief constable of Northamptonshire, speaking for the Association of Chief Police Officers, has gone a long way and, in some areas, given significant ground; Tim Godwin and the Metropolitan Police Service have also moved a long way. Given the traditional position of the chief constable having direction and control, it is significant, as noted in paragraph 8.1 of the explanatory memorandum, that the MPS “Specifically welcomed the clear statement that the elected local policing body  would set the strategic direction and objectives of the force.””

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): “They [the police] answer to police authorities now, but they will answer to directly elected police and crime commissioners. It is not the intention in the legislation or the protocol to interfere with such operational independence, but we did not think that it would be wise to try and define it. We sought to give clarity in an accessible form to what the legislation says, and have set it out in the protocol.

Mark Reckless: It is welcome that the protocol develops that clarity. I think we all agree that it is not sensible to try to define operational independence in law and that chief constables should have the day-to-day control of their forces, but does the Minister accept that there has been some uncertainty about police authorities and the issues they deal with, and about the remarks made by judges in some cases? I gave an example in relation to oversight by central Government. The protocol and the will of Parliament as expressed in the agreement between the parties we have witnessed today set a new context in which the common law will evolve.

Nick Herbert: I agree, and I think that my hon. Friend will be reassured by my later comments about the judgment he mentioned … Where an accommodation has to be reached between the elected police and crime commissioner and the chief constable [e.g. over whether to use Tasers], the idea that the chief constable could make such decisions regardless of the views of the elected police and crime commissioner is, in my view, erroneous. I am happy to make that clear. I can see that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood is concerned so I will give way to him briefly.

Mark Reckless: Were the police and crime commissioner not to give a budget for Tasers, the question of the chief constable’s being able to deploy would not even arise, because the budget is a matter for the PCC.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend must be correct when it comes to the new deployment of such a weapon; the issue is whether chief constables could go on deploying existing Tasers. However, I have stated that the Government’s view, which is that while a strict interpretation may be that is an operational matter for the chief constable alone to determine – that would be for the courts to decide – realistically, a chief constable would not be able to pursue such an operational decision in the absence of support from an elected police and crime commissioner. I hope that that also helps to answer the points raised by the Chair of the Select Committee.

I hope those comments also address the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood, who described Lord Denning’s famous judgment in R. v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner, ex parte Blackburn, in 1968, as “exorbitant”. Lord Denning said that the police were accountable only to the law, but it is now widely agreed, I think, that that is a narrow and legalistic interpretation of police accountability. The police must now answer to someone for the kind of policing they practise; somebody must set the budget for them and set the plan, and the people must have a voice. The idea that the police answer only to the law in the exercise of their functions is surely relevant only in relation to specific operational matters and the decisions the police have to make as constables in arresting somebody and in pursuing investigations, where it is widely agreed and accepted by all sides that there should be no political interference.”

Restoring British Freedoms

PoliceThe police must be supported in their vital work upholding the rule of law. However this does not mean that we should compromise our freedoms which ultimately the rule of law is there to achieve.

After a mere eighteen months the coalition government has made substantial progress in rolling back the damage done to our civil liberties by the authoritarianism of the last government. Ordinary British people must have the right to go about their daily business without an overbearing nanny state watching, monitoring or demanding information from them. The scrapping of ID cards, deletion of innocent people’s data from the national DNA database and reforming the criminal record check system so it is fit for purpose were all unreasonable overreaches by the last government which we have rolled back. They not alone damaged the freedoms of each and every British citizen in the United Kingdom but also wasted our tax money on massive Whitehall bureaucracies.

But there is still much work to be done, the European Union is another source of intrusive regulations which goes against the traditions of British justice. The UK must extract itself from the European arrest warrant, a system which provides the vital function of tying up the UK police in nonsense cases like extraditing alleged Polish pig thieves. The UK is now infamous for the widespread use of CCTV cameras which blight the country. These can be useful in preventing crime but should only be used where they make sense and not blanketed across the country.

Terrorism is a serious danger to Britain, but the abuse of anti-terrorism laws undermines public support for legitimate public safety laws. The use of intrusive laws by local councils for matters ranging from school catchment enforcement and littering is surely not generally justified. Everyday across the UK absurd rules are regretfully enforced by the police. These range from an event in Chatham High Street in July 2009 where an amateur photographer was arrested, to a father being questioned by police for taking a picture of his daughter eating an ice-cream in a shopping centre in Scotland, allegedly for reasons to do with terrorism.

It is clear that the legacy of the last government in the area of civil liberties is of an overbearing, distrustful state which used laws to harass normal people. This government is moving away from this to a more sensible and common sense approach consistent with British traditions of liberty.

EU Referendum now ‘When, Not If’

We are told that the Foreign Office Sir Humphrey has asked each government department to report on opportunities (and inevitably for the FO ‘risks’) to repatriate powers from the EU. The fact that every department is involved shows how far the EU’s power intrudes and, of course, the principle of the acquis communitaire implies that once powers are taken by the EU they are not to be returned.

The only way we can even hope to get key powers back from the EU is to confirm that the result of any renegotiation will be put to the British people in a referendum, so that they can decide if they wish to stay in the EU on those terms. Only if there is the prospect of such a referendum will other EU countries or, equally importantly, the Whitehall mandarins, be incentivised to get power back.

Last Monday’s vote was on the principle of an EU Referendum and on this issue Conservative ministers cannot blame the LibDems for not doing what Conservative MPs and the electorate want, and holding a referendum on EU membership. That is because holding such a referendum was LibDem policy prior to the coalition. Indeed, until ten days ago, you could still sign up on the LibDem website to support their campaign for an In/Out referendum.

Some LibDems seemed to split hairs in last Monday’s debate, suggesting that their manifesto promise was for the next time there was a fundamental change in the EU, but Nick Clegg has now confirmed in the Observer that now is such a time, writing:

“the European landscape is about to change. European integration has always evolved in fits and starts, driven by crises and upheaval. Now it’s happening again and the question is: how do we in the UK respond?”

The LibDems answered their leader’s question in their manifesto. There should be a national referendum on EU membership. Last Monday’s debate and vote showed that this is also what Conservative MPs want.

We even now have the perfect opportunity for such a referendum – November 2012 – to coincide with the first elections for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC).

Sir Humphrey is fighting a rearguard action against democratisation of policing, agreeing a Protocol to curtail PCC powers with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) after the police bill was through the House of Commons, and now trying to insist on Whitehall oversight of police budgets. Only a decision to hold a referendum on EU membership, and why not with those PCC elections in November 2012, will get Sir Humphrey to do the people’s bidding.

Mark Reckless welcomes the introduction of directly-elected Commissioners to help fight crime in Rochester and Strood

Mark Reckless MP for Rochester and Strood welcomes the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act which received Royal Assent on 15 September 2011.

The Act will introduce directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioners which will make police forces truly accountable to their communities by:

  • representing all those who live and work in their area identifying their needs
  • setting priorities that meet those needs by agreeing a strategic plan for the force
  • holding the Chief Constable to account
  • agreeing the force budget; and
  • appointing – and, where necessary, removing – the Chief Constable.

The act also includes:

  • measures to give communities greater say over alcohol licensing to tackle problem premises;
  • stronger local influence on licensing allowing everyone to comment on decisions;
  • powers to allow councils to introduce a late-night levy to charge for licences to pay for extra policing; and
  • immediate powers to temporarily ban the latest so-called legal highs.

Commenting Mark Reckless said:

‘A Police and Crime Commissioner will give a major boost to Kent Police in their fight against crime and anti-social behaviour. The Commissioner will help restore the link between our force and the communities it serves, ensuring that local concerns are properly addressed.

‘I look forward to the election of our first Commissioner for Kent and Medway in November of next year. They will help drive up efficiency, cut waste and bureaucracy, and deliver better value for money for taxpayers in Rochester and Strood.

‘With changes to alcohol licensing it will be easier to clamp down on problem premises, making our high streets safer. And powers to ban new legal highs will protect young people.’

Conservatives and LibDems v Sir Humphrey

Last night I went on Newsnight to discuss tensions in the coalition.

I made the point that we will not allow the LibDems to block the historic opportunity which the Euro zone crisis gives us to take powers back from Europe. Beyond that though, I had a very friendly discussion with Norman Lamb, Nick Clegg’s chief of staff.

We agreed that the coalition needed to learn from the health bill, where the Department of Health just ploughed on, using backbenchers hand-picked by the whips, to push through Committee provisions about which many Conservatives as well as LibDems had serious concerns.

Very often ‘the LibDems won’t wear it’ is just Sir Humphrey’s latest excuse for inaction.

This has been most obvious to me on policing, where Whitehall is trying to retain central control of police budgets, despite our agreement with the LibDems that we would set up Police and Crime Panels specifically to oversee Police and Crime Commissioners and their budgets.

Civil servants claim in the legislation that the Panels will be able ‘to veto’ Commissioners’ precepts, but the reality is that Commissioners must only ‘have regard’ to what the Panels say. The substantive power in the event of a dispute, to hold a local referendum on the level of the police precept, is given to the Secretary of State.

The Conservatives and LibDems both want to make the police democratically accountable locally. We have two of our most impressive ministers involved in Nick Herbert and Greg Clark, with whom I co-authored a 2005 book ‘Direct Democracy’.

Yet, despite this, the current position in the legislation, although I hope that we may yet agree an amendment to the Localism Bill to correct this, is that Whitehall civil servants will still sit on top, hoarding power. Their judgment on whether a local police precept may be excessive would trump that of both the democratically elected Commissioners and the oversight Panels which are meant to be restoring local democracy to policing. Sir Humphrey would be proud.

Mark Reckless discusses PCSOs in Medway