Leaders make choices Date published: 30th September 2015 12am

Simon Byrne | Chief Constable

I am the Chief Constable of Cheshire Constabulary. I want to use this blog to provide information on the latest goings-on and provide updates on the future direction of policing in the county

The challenges facing modern policing make front page news, and readers of this blog will likely know that the current national mood music is often dominated by a one-sided refrain: ‘cuts have consequences’.

Whilst I know each force has its unique challenges, I am keen that the debate is widened. I believe passionately that ‘leaders make choices’ – and this belief underpins all the reforms that I have led as the Chief Constable of Cheshire Constabulary.

And I believe that in the current financial environment we must also ask the question ‘is there an opportunity to focus more on our core purpose?’

Whilst this purpose has broadened significantly in the last twenty years, public expectations broadly haven’t, based around a recognition that we police by consent and that this is derived from public confidence that we deal with crime and anti-social behaviour effectively, treat people fairly, and engage meaningfully with our communities.

(I won’t rehearse the detail about the changing breadth of our work but I do issue an early plea that the language needs to change: who gets out of bed to manage demand? – in a nice way, are we the police service or an expression of consultancy speak?)

Of course, we don’t exist in isolation.  Often, we police in partnership to achieve these ends but are we playing to our strengths, or comprising too much? Put another way, how many burglars have been caught by a partnership vs. how many burglaries prevented by one.  Or see it like this: it’s a team effort to keep the patient alive but there comes a point when only one person is holding the knife.

If we stick to the notion of consent, maintaining visibility, not pulling away from patrol must be the first point of our contract with the public in the spirit of Peel for the 21st Century.

So, perhaps there is a chance now to develop the case for a simple Peelian world view. Whilst some commentators question its relevance, or even historical accuracy, it is perhaps opportune to remind ourselves we are still citizens in uniform, the police are the public, and we police with your consent, approval and co-operation.  And the test of our effectiveness is the absence of crime and disorder not the ‘management of demand’, where we risk seeing the community as a burden, not part of the solution through effective involvement and preventative work.

This is where leadership comes in. We can focus on the clarion call that cuts have consequences, creating anxiety for the public and low morale amongst our officers and staff. Or as leaders make choices, instilling hope and optimism. Put simply, is the message about cutting £3 billion, or how we spend £8 billion? It is all well and good acknowledging complexity, but a function of leadership must be to make sense of it as we set the tone and provide clarity.

Here’s the Cheshire offer – firstly, an acknowledgement about public support, approval and accountability – ‘We’re here’ is our first promise.  Cuts or not, we will not regress from our first contract with the public to protect you in an emergency.

Secondly, we hold neighbourhood policing up high, promising accessibility and different forms of contact, public involvement and participation, working with communities and other organisations to target local priorities, and being accountable for how we are doing. While this is nothing new under the sun, it is worth restating even as we invest too in public protection and crime fighting specialisms.

How does our language of ‘demand’ touch people who are anxious, vulnerable, confused, angry, and frustrated? So a focus on prevention, coupled with a personal wrap around when that effort fails, including a promise to visit every victim of crime that wants to see us.  We seek feedback and monitor contact to help shape future planning and investment and will launch a single wrap around service for victims from call to conviction from November.

And finally this. Our challenge must not be to focus on which crimes we stop investigating, but rather what work doesn’t properly sit with the police, such as the management of many calls about welfare?  Are we proud enough to stand behind the crime fighting badge and vocation, or hide behind a different mantra?  In Cheshire, our desire is to create an organisation based on justice that is lawfully audacious, where staff know and understand what to do and which tactics work, in an operating system based around need, tasking and follow-up, and where our communities are actually safer – not just causing less ‘demand’.  

I am neither smug nor complacent about the difficulty of delivering this given the challenges we face, nor is my view shared by everyone. But before we rush to new structural solutions like regionalisation or indeed a system solution such as collaboration, we need to be clear about purpose and keep the mission simple in a complex world.  Coincidence or sheer luck, but in Cheshire crime and ASB are falling and our trend remains good, our solved rates are rising, satisfaction is on the up, and we are top of our MSG for confidence. Maybe the cynic will say how long can this last, but I say, until we stop trying!!

[Taken from a speech to the Police Strategy Forum on 22 September 2015]