Royal Commission and new officer recruitment the focus of policing conference

Nina Champion, CJA Director - 28 February 2020

‘There are no excuses for not cutting crime’ Priti Patel told Police and Crime Commissioners and police chiefs at a conference I attended this week. With around 10 weeks to go until the PCC elections and a governmental focus on policing, there were some significant strategic and operational issues to be discussed; in particular, the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers, the (re) introduction of targets and the importance of partnership working.  

Here’s a rundown of what happened at the APCC and NPCC Partnership Summit.  

Officer Recruitment 

Much of the discussion was about the opportunities 20,000 new officers would provide, and the ‘once in a generation’ chance to increase the race and gender diversity of the police force. The Home Secretary Priti Patel told the audience that we must harness this opportunity to ‘create a truly representative police force that reflects the society we serve’, adding that ‘when I look round this room in years to come – as the 20,000 rise up the ranks – we all want to see visible change’. The Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, argued ‘it is important to revive the idea of policing by consent. This would be helped by police looking like the communities they serve and support police / community co-operation.’ However, she also pointed out that the rise of non-targeted stop and search risks risked decreasing trust and confidence in the police among Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. 

The CJA held a roundtable event last year on how to increase racial diversity across the criminal justice system, so it was positive to see such a focus on this at the conference and a clear message that ‘our legitimacy and capability depends on it’, according to Martin Hewitt, chair of the NPCC. The conference showed that many forces are making efforts to change recruitment practices. There was an acknowledgement that to increase diversity, there will need to be a focus on outreach, local campaigns rather than national, apprenticeships, ensuring assessments reduce opportunities for bias and ensuring assessors are also diverse. There was a lack of appetite to consider positive discrimination or quotas, with a preference for positive action instead. 

As the CJA roundtable highlighted, there also needs to be a focus on inclusion and support to ensure retention and wellbeing of staff, and better opportunities for progression. The NPCC announced it has commissioned research to better understand how to increase representation at police chief level. There was also an ambition mentioned to become a top inclusive employer. It was good to hear that they are looking at the vetting process for people with minor prior convictions or who are associated with people who have convictions. 

There was not however as much discussion about the pressure 20,000 extra officers will cause on other parts of the criminal justice system, including CPS, Courts, Prisons and Probation, which should be of significant concern, especially given an article in The Times this week quoting a leaked internal document which predicts prison space could run out by the end of the year. 

Targets 

In her speech the Home Secretary hinted at a return to policing targets with a new Crime and Policing Performance Board which would set ‘outcomes’ on cutting serious crimes and other offences. In particular, she highlighted that car thefts, burglaries and lower level assaults are not being investigated and charging rates have halved. There were concerns raised by some conference attendees about a return to nationally set targets which can skew priorities and have unintended consequences. One person said that if the target was to cut crime, ‘we can’t use 20,000 extra officers to shovel more people into a broken criminal justice system.’ A Deputy Chief Constable raised the point that ‘the focus should be on reducing crime which is not all about enforcement and increasing arrests.’ Another attendee suggested instead ‘targets for out-of-court disposals or restorative justice which have better long-term outcomes’, and another proposed targets for prevention and partnership working. There was some discussion around the language ‘war on crime’ and why it is not helpful, and how rhetoric on ‘law and order’ might damage the opportunity for police to be more involved in other crime reducing measures such as diversion and restorative justice.  

Smarter working 

The Royal Commission came up several times over the two days, with many frustrated at the lack of information about what the terms of reference will be. The Home Secretary referenced to it in in her speech, saying: ‘That’s why we’re setting up a new Royal Commission to review the effectiveness of the criminal justice system – looking at ways to slash bureaucracy and boost public confidence.’ 

Many felt that it was an opportunity to look at the ‘whole-system’ and the effects of cost-shunting between one agency to another with criminal justice. As one person said: ’If we invested more in probation officers, maybe we would need less police officers.’ Others were keen for the Royal Commission to look at how public, private and voluntary organisations can work more effectively together. However, the worry was that the Commission would have a narrow terms of reference, kicking the wider issues ‘into the short grass’ and therefore be a ‘missed opportunity’. 

There was also a focus at the conference on cross-sector working. The Home Secretary referred to the changes announced in the re-shuffle, where two ministers now work across both the Ministry of Justice and Home Office. There were also calls from many attendees for better joined up working with the Department of Health on mental health services, which take up a lot of police time. 

There were ‘lightning talks’ giving examples of policing innovation, often led by Police and Crime Commissioners. As Katy Bourne, Chair of the PCCs, said: ‘Everywhere we look we can improve things.’ This is highlighted in a briefing that the CJA and CJI published last summer, Public Safety, Public Trust. It was said at the conference that the upcoming PCC elections will be a ‘test of profile and the perceived value’ of PCCs. As well as innovating, there was discussion around how PCCs can use their soft power to boost partnership working. In a session on probation reform, PCCs considered ways they can work with probation services to co-commission services that reduce reoffending; for example, working with organisations that have expertise with specialist cohorts such as women and BAME communities. 

Whose voices were missing? 

Over the two days, I heard one speaker with lived experience of the criminal justice system. He was an impressive young man called Kam Parmar who told the audience about his time in a young offender institution and how he went on to set up a social enterprise. Kam now works alongside Inspector Daryl Lyon from Northants Police on the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). It would have been great to hear from more people with lived experience who are now working in the criminal justice sector (see our report Change from Within) and also from victims. There was also a lack of voluntary sector voices and panels were predominantly white, which when discussing workforce diversity didn’t enable us to hear from, for example, BAME officers about their ideas and reflections. It would also have been useful to hear from members of the public; for example people involved in police scrutiny mechanisms such as stop and search monitoring groups, IAGs or custody visitors. Hopefully next year!