It is now a year since the elections for the country’s first Police and Crime Commissioners and what a year that has been! I can’t believe how fast it has flown by. I look back at my election campaign and it seems a world away now.
To win that election, as a political novice, and with no party machinery behind me, would not have been possible without the help and support of so many people in Kent, not least yourself. I am deeply grateful for all that you did to help me and I can never repay your faith in me, save to always work hard for the people of Kent and keep my promises to you all.
The election set the stage for the people of Kent to have one person who is the link between all people and all communities in Kent and Kent police, Yet with no ‘job description’ I’ve have had to develop the role in the light of what local people expect of their Commissioner and local factors. On the one hand, I am the voice of local people, holding firm on keeping visible community policing and other matters close to the heart of the public. On the other hand my ‘holding to account function’, means that I have to insist that the Force face up to difficult news on how they are performing.
So I have one position, but with many roles. At various times I am a public advocate, communicator, bridge builder, Force champion. As an Independent charged with the governance of a major public service in times of unprecedented financial challenges, it is sometimes intensely challenging but always rewarding. I wouldn’t swap the experience for the world.
It would take forever here to list all the things that I have initiated and delivered, and my plans for the future, so I am attaching a link to my official website for you to cast your eyes over, have you not already done so. Also, below this email is an essay I wrote for Police Exchange about my first year as Commissioner for Kent which you might find interesting. Please sit down with a cup of tea and have a read. I hope you will agree that I am keeping my promises to you.
Meanwhile, again, thank you so very much for
your help and support – we did it!
My Policy Exchange” essay for your information...
It seems like a whirl wind. The campaign, the election and the early days of holding Office have flashed by like a fast moving train. The first anniversary is indeed a moment to reflect. The fact that I had 6 years as Chair of the outgoing Kent Police Authority and that I stood for what is a high profile public Office as an Independent, unprotected by any party political machine, are factors that have shaped my experience.
The nature of the post as Commissioner is profoundly different than that of Chair of the Authority. Whilst serving as Chair of the Authority gave me experience of policing and police governance, it also landed me with an unexpected difficulty. As Chair, I was like ‘Chair of the Board’, primarily tasked with developing a consensus from Authority members each of whom would have their own opinions and, often, their Political Party perspective. The role of Commissioner is very different. It is a very ‘singular’ post. The need for ‘consensus’ has therefore been much reduced. However, engagement with, and reflection of, public opinion is an exceptionally important part of the role of Commissioner. It is an elected public role. The relationship with the ‘public’ is of paramount importance. So much so, that to some extent it defines the role. This has given an unexpected dimension to my own experience. I still looked like the previous incarnation of Ann Barnes the ‘Chairperson’, but in reality my whole approach and perspective is radically different. I feel this has led to those involved in both the Force and the Criminal Justice System struggling to adapt to my new priorities and my new perspective as a publically elected figure rather than ‘corporate’ overseer. They see what looks familiar, but my wishes and priorities are different.
The immersion in what was a hard fought election was a searing experience. The face to face, eyeball to eyeball, encounters that are the very essence of campaigning and canvassing do have the effect of bolting one’s feet firmly on the ground. It is often light on sophisticated argument. But what you do get is the ‘no holds barred’ brutal hard hitting truth of public opinion. The police world quite rightly applies logic and business thinking extensively in its culture. But it needs to remember that it is most definitely not a business and that public opinion is not always logical. But here’s the really challenging point for those accustomed to the rigid disciplines of business cases and logic- by not being logical, public opinion is no less valid. This is where one of the greatest differences of the old regime of Police Authorities and ‘Commissionerland’ can be seen. As Commissioner, my hinterland, the people to whom my first loyalty lies is the ‘public’. It’s my duty to reflect their sometimes ‘illogical’ sometimes conflicting wishes and priorities to deliver the service they want. It’s not my role to explain to them that they shouldn’t want what they want.
The conflicting views about ‘visibility’ and ‘intelligence led’ are perhaps the best illustration of my point. It’s widely accepted by policing professionals that patrolling Officers solve few crimes compared to officers who are targeted and who are tasked under more scientific processes. That said, any survey of public opinion will clearly show that visible community policing is not just a high priority for the public, but the highest. As Commissioner, being the conduit of this public view into the corridors of the Policing world is one of my most challenging but rewarding roles.
The police in general have taken a battering in recent months with a succession of scandals and controversies reaching from ‘Plebgate’, through ‘hacking’ right back to Hillsborough. There’s never been a more vital time for trust to be reaffirmed. In a world of inquisitive 24/7 media, in an era in which citizens are ever more empowered to seek justice for perceived wrongs, there is only one direction of travel that can offer success for our Police forces. It’s simply this, an ever greater acceptance of openness and transparency. I liken my role to prising the lid off a tin of paint. You have to keep rotating the tin and apply gentle persuasive pressure around the rim.
Delivering for the Public
I was elected on a platform of being open, transparent and accessible. Right from the start, I told the people of Kent that I would not be desk bound. To make good on these pledges I’ve set in place an ambitious and demanding programme of public engagement.
All this interaction and engagement has to have an outcome. Listening to concerns and problems is vital, but it’s only part of the mission. Having engaged, having listened and having interacted, I have to act. I learn so much from my engagement. It informs a multitude of my decisions. But the one thing that it constantly reaffirms is that whatever the difficulties, whatever the cuts, whatever the conflicting demands on scarce resources, the priority for the people of Kent is visible community policing – and I will deliver that!
I’ve been a victim of crime myself. It is a draining and emotional experience. If the Police and criminal justice system don’t handle it well, you end up being a victim twice. Once at the time of the crime, then later as the whole process unwinds. You can be left with the feeling of being a silent member of the audience watching a play – when you are in the play!
I am committed to using my commissioning powers to re-shape victim services. One of the most sobering experiences was my attendance at a ‘Lean’ event covering Victim’s services. At this event, practitioners from all across the criminal justice landscape set out the full range of services. The professionalism and dedication of all involved shone through. But the ‘map’ of services that they laid out on a giant chart was breath taking in its complexity. It looked like some great organic molecule full of crossing paths and convoluted curves. In stark contrast, the same professionals set out their vision for how it should be. This new way forward was ambitious in the scale of change required to deliver it. However, it was much simpler, more straightforward, and crucially with the needs of the victims embedded at its heart.
My mind is set on a Victim’s Centre to forge this new vision into reality.
There’s one particular victim related issue that I have addressed separately and in advance of these more strategic reforms. This relates to the fact that until my intervention Kent has not had a fully comprehensive 24/7 Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC). This meant that victims of serious sexual assault would either be taken to the poor existing facility such as it was, or, even worse, be taken ‘out of County’. This was a totally unacceptable and shameful situation.
As Commissioner, I used some of my own commissioning budget but just as importantly I was able to ‘lever in’ significant funding from other agencies such as the NHS.
No account of my first year in Office could be considered complete without some reference to my Youth Commissioner initiative. I remain committed to this initiative despite the widely reported difficulties experienced by the first candidate. Such was the furore surrounding this position, that I commissioned an independent report into the recruitment process which is now freely available on my website. In summary it concluded that my Office didn’t ask for Social Networking vetting, and the Force, who provided HR support, didn’t advise it. On reflection, the post attracted a lot more media interest than I had anticipated and the outcome obviously suggests that Social Networking I refuse to let the initiative fade because of these issues with the first recruitment. A good idea should not fall because of difficulties with implementation. With a national headline recently revealing that over 1 Million young people in Britain are at risk of ‘cyber crime’, the need for my Youth Commissioner is increasing, not diminishing. As just one example of an initiative that I will look to the Youth Commissioner to take a prominent role, I have announced a major new primary schools initiative. I will be funding 3 full time PCSOs to deliver an existing Force package into later years primary schools. If the Youth Commissioner saves just one young person from becoming either a victim or a perpetrator of crime, it will be money wisely invested.
With no ‘job description’ we ‘first time’ Commissioners have had to develop the role in the light of what local people expect and local factors.On the one hand, I am the voice of local people, holding firm on keeping visible community policing and other matters close to the heart of the public. My ‘holding to account function’, means that I have to insist that the Force face up to difficult news.
I was the first Commissioner to use new powers relating to Police Governance when I called in HMIC to investigate crime recording practices in Kent. Concerns had been raised during the election campaign. The review found that there were serious issues that needed to be addressed on crime recording, ‘no crime-ing’ and on Force performance culture. The investigation revealed serious issues. Some victims had been let down and the activity of some Officers had been distorted to meet numeric targets. The findings vindicated my decision to act. To the credit of the Force they have reacted positively and a rigorous improvement process is now in place. Bringing in HMIC was a tough decision, but the right decision. I firmly expect two significant outcomes. The first will be that the issues surrounding crime recording and culture will be addressed and the people of the County will be able to have confidence in the crime numbers and in the culture of the Force. However, this work has opened the door to a further very significant development. I am now minded to make a very significant move in relation to targets. The investigation and its outcomes have made me re-think my role in the ‘target’ culture. If I can be assured that a robust culture of continuous improvement is embedded in the Force I am minded to remove all numeric targets from my Police and Crime Plan when it is next reviewed in February 2014.
On the other hand, I need to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Force when they need a champion for new and more resources. I am the one to who will have to articulate to local people that in the face of Government cuts and a rising workload local people may have to face a higher Police precept.
So one position, but with many roles. At various times a public advocate, communicator, bridge builder, Force champion. As an Independent charged with the governance of a major public service in times of unprecedented financial challenges, it is sometimes intensely challenging but always rewarding. I wouldn’t swap the experience for the world.
It may be early days in the evolving role of Police and Crime Commissioners but certain trends are already emerging. As Commissioner, I have considerable powers in Police strategy and Police Governance. However, so much that involves victims falls under the Criminal Justice System. My ability to comprehensively re-shape victims’ services is hampered by my lack of direct control over these areas. I certainly would support moves to widen the scope of elected Commissioners in the Criminal Justice System.