This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What is sauce for the Aylesbury duck....?

In recent weeks I have been in an email debate with a fellow councillor as to whether an article on 20mph zones should appear in the next edition of Buckingham Town Matters. (I chair the sub committee which has editorial control of our quarterly newsletter.) The other councillor considered that the issue was not Town Council policy and therefore should not appear in the magazine. My view was that this is subject of great importance (recently raised at the Aylesbury Vale Transport Users Group meeting in the town) and one about which we can and indeed should provoke a debate among the people of Buckingham. The sub committee met yesterday and resolved democratically to keep the article in... so watch this space for it.

Meanwhile, imagine my interest last night as I drove through Aylesbury, the county town of Buckinghamshire, to note that they have a 20mph zone in their town centre. Look, here is the map that was part of the County Council's own consultation a few years back:


I assume this is what became the official zone (although happy to be corrected).

So: should the sauce for the Aylesbury duck be also sauce for the Buckingham swan..?

Please let me know what you think. I am interested in your views... especially if you live in or visit Buckingham on a regular basis. Thanks.

The 'hidden' crime wave

At a meeting in Buckinghamshire County Council last night, I caught the tail end of a discussion on 'Doorstep Crime' and I noted one big fact: 90% of doorstep crime is not reported. I found this shocking and really rather worrying. And I got to thinking: why? And what can be done about increasing the reporting rate so that the criminals involved can be tracked down?

First: what is doorstep crime? Here is a leaflet prepared by Thames Valley Police. At the very least, doorstep crime includes distraction burglars and rogue traders. But what else? It seems to me that doorstep crime should also include:
  • Mis-selling of financial products 
  • Junk post that persuades you to part with cash using a combination of small print and extravagant claims
  • Scam emails & mendacious telephone marketing
  • All manner of home 'improvements' that actually are nothing of the sort!
  • Etc...
And let me make it clear: I have been victims of all of the above (except distraction burglary, fortunately) and I have not reported many of them. Moreover, I do not regard myself as a vulnerable or particularly gullible person (although others might disagree!)

So why do people like me (or not like me), not report such crimes? Here are a few reasons why I think this might be the case:
  • It was such a trivial amount of money, not something to bother the police / trading standards with
  • Even if I do, they will never catch the blighters...
  • And it was my own silly fault to have been conned
  • And I would rather not let the world know about my stupidity
  • And that duster salesman did look rather sad
  • Perhaps I could win the next prize draw: you just never know
  • But that financial adviser said he was independent, and he is such a nice man and has a lovely family...
  • Maybe that external wall covering will look better as it ages..
And so on.... and on.

At risk of being accused of making a daft and potentially inflammatory comparison: is this a bit like domestic violence or child abuse?

Stay with me: I am not saying the consequences in terms of harm bear any comparison in almost all cases (although an older person being conned out of a lifetime's savings is an appalling criminal act with devastating for the person concerned) but the psychology of not reporting the crime may have some correlations. And how we should, as a society react, could also be similar: in other words we need to talk about #everydaycrime more... and without shame. We need to get it out from behind closed doors (as it were). Do we not?

So what #everydaycrime have you been subject to, that you have never bothered to report before?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Victim Support: the volunteer question

I am beginning to see advertisements for "Support Services to Victims of Crime" in various places, inviting organisations to express an interest in tendering for these new contracts that will be let by the Police & Crime Commissioners. Of course, we have known this policy was coming for some while.

There is a handy guide available from the Ministry of Justice (download from here). And many other resources too:
But where do volunteers fit into all of this?

On the national Victim Support website, it says:
Our charity is built on our volunteers. Without them we couldn't continue to do all the positive work for victims and witnesses of crime in England and Wales.Volunteers do much of our direct support of victims and witnesses, as well as helping us in so many other ways such as raising money, and promoting our work. We always need new volunteers throughout England and Wales so please get in touch, we’d value your support. We have around 5,600 people volunteering for us. 
The word volunteer is mentioned once in MoJ guidance (referenced above). The Home Office document "have you got what it takes'... does not have one use of the word volunteer. In the "Evidence and Practice Review of support for victims and outcome measurement", volunteers get more of a mention in terms of the need to make sure that volunteers like staff are properly trained and supported. For example:
Table 4.1 Indicators of quality in victim support service provision Governance and management - Defined organisational aims and objectives
- Standardised processes and procedures across the organisation
- Service accountable to Board and/or managers, and individual staff/volunteers accountable to an assigned line manager
- Monitoring of financial performance, including cost effectiveness
Staff/volunteer recruitment, training and support - Staff/volunteers have the qualifications and/or have received the training necessary to fulfil their role
- Staff/volunteers exhibit the necessary personal qualities and attributes to support victims professionally and sensitively
- Clinical supervision for staff/volunteers providing therapy to victims
- Support mechanisms in place for staff/volunteers - Opportunities for learning and development 
So it would seem that volunteers both are and are not central to the provision of effective support for victims. From what little I know of victim support, it relies on its volunteers to provide empathy, capacity and capability to its role.

But for me the big question is this: will volunteers want to work for a profit making company? 

As regular readers know, I work as volunteer for ChildLine which is part of the NSPCC, a notable and large charity. If it was ChildLine Ltd where some of the fruits of my voluntary labour were ending up in the pockets of the hedgefunds (or whatever) who were shareholders... I think I might find another organisation to volunteer for.

Would you?

Will the tender documents from commercial organisations (or perhaps consortia involving such companies), soon to be landing with a thud on the desks of PCCs, include statements about how volunteers will be part of the team...? How can they be sure that volunteers will want to work for them?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Macavity ICT Inc.

Technology is often seen as a panacea solution to all our problems, especially ones relating to obtaining greater value for money provision of public services.

People reading this blog, probably know that ICT has something of a chequered history in the police services: there are stories of large investments leading to negligible improvements in outcomes or (of course) systems that fail to join up not only across from one police service to another but even within a single force. So what has happened to the police ICT company that was being established some months ago (the offspring of PETO/NPIA/HomeOffice etc) which was designed to tackle all these and other problems...?

I note that Damian Green did not mention the new Police ICT company in his speech to the Police Innovation Fund bidders' event earlier this month. The page dedicated to describing the policy to establish an ICT company was last updated in March last year. And if you search on > "Police ICT company" news < most of the results date back 2 or 3 years.

Hansard (via theyworkforyou) is not much more use. The most recent note (12/2/14) that I can find is in a contribution to a debate on "Housing Benefit and Universal Credit in the Social Housing Sector (Regular Payments): Police" where David Ruffley said:
In addition, Ministers have created something that was long overdue and which the Labour party had 13 years to create; a police ICT company that has offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy police technology in a joined-up way, so that we do not have 42 forces doing their own thing and wasting money, with interoperability being limited and the power of bulk purchasing completely ignored.
Which is fine as an assertion but where & when exactly is this "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy police technology in a joined-up way" happening?

And in June last year, Tom Watson asked "the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans she has to make the Police ICT company subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000". The Police Minister, Damian Green replied:
The Police ICT company as it is currently constructed is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Act applies to “public authorities”, which includes “publicly-owned companies” as defined in section 6. The Police ICT company does not fall within the relevant definition because it is not wholly owned either by the Crown, or any other body which is subject to the Act.
I am reminded of Macavity...
Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw—
For he's the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity's not there!
So what is happening to the Police ICT Company?

Does anyone know?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

37 women... and counting

37 women in the UK have been killed through suspected male violence from January to March 2014. 37 women in 90 days is one woman every 2.4 days.
Thus begins the list of women who have been killed so far in 2014. These details are being compiled by Karen Ingala Smith on her excellent blog which you can find here. Her blog has lists for last year, the year before and many other useful resources.

I am highlighting her work on this for two key reasons today:
  1. This is a national crime matter that cannot and must not be ignored. Whilst the HMIC made the headlines last week with its recent report of its inspections into the response of the police to domestic violence, I remain fearful that, still, not enough resources are being put into reducing this level of violent crime. (My blog on the HMIC report is below, here)
  2. I am wondering how many of these crimes could have been predicted and therefore (possibly) prevented. The HMIC report emphasised the importance of risk assessment. The question I have is whether risk assessment is working and reducing the incidence of harmful outcomes, including fatalities. 
The HMIC overall report says:
HMIC found that while forces are beginning to think about how to improve the management of the risk presented by perpetrators of domestic abuse, there is still significant work to be done to translate their plans into a reality. 
So in response, I ask the following questions:
  • How many of the murderers of the victims on Karen Ingala Smith's blog were known to the police before hand? 
  • How many were known to the probation service?
  • How many (known to either) might have hitherto been assessed to be low risk until they suddenly committed murder? 
  • How will the fragmentation of the probation service into commissioners, low risk (commercial) probation services and high risk National Probation Service (see my blog about this here) have an impact? (Let me take a guess...)
  • Where is all the information about the learning from Domestic Homicide Reviews been collated & applied? (Given that the HMIC report states "Forces and other local partners raised the concern of limited opportunities to share the learning from DHRs")?
Helpfully, the Home Office did publish Domestic Homicide Reviews: Common Themes Identifed as Lessons to be Learned last year. How is this being followed up? 

But... have the outcomes improved? (Are we seeing fewer domestic homicides?)

Friday, April 4, 2014

It's a form of addiction: do I need help?

I don't why I do it. It is probably a form of addiction. I feel less healthy as a result, certainly more tired. It can interfere with my work. If I am being honest, it is a compulsion I have suffered from for quite a long time, probably since my early teens. I suppose I could get treatment for it, but I have never even gone looking for such....

I really must stop getting involved in pointless debates with Tory tweeters (it used to be school chums when I was younger). Especially late at night. I genuinely don't know why I do it. I know deep down, they are not going to be persuaded. They probably know the same. Perhaps we are all trying to 'win on points' as there are rarely any knockout 'facts' that destroy the others' arguments (other than the ones we believe there are). And even a points win is pretty subjective. Actually no, it is totally subjective.

But why do I do this?

Perhaps I am kidding myself that this is giving me crucial insight into the Tory mind that will help me persuade others, whose political beliefs are less solid, of the worthiness of my left wing arguments for a fairer, better future (where everyone has ambitions and dreams, and the resources to achieve those ambitions and dreams).

Certainly last night's debate showed me very clearly (at least I think it did...) that the Tories will be fighting the next election on the basis of the economy. Their arguments will be that over the last five years that they have delivered more jobs, rising wages, better economic management (far better than Labour/Gordon Brown who sold off the gold and plunged the country in huge deficit yada yada) and so if you want to vote for a more prosperous future for all, vote Tory! (And also, you cannot trust Labour to run the NHS, look at the devastation in Wales where Labour runs the health service: people are suffering poor care. lots! And, look: even Labour MP, Ann Clwyd agrees!) The sources cited for all these 'facts' are numerous newspaper articles (by a wholly neutral, objective and independent press/media, of course) and references to dense ONS spreadsheets.

But I knew this anyway. I did not need last night's online debate to remind me that Tories will always argue on the basis of economics. And even now I am carrying on with the debate in my head, wishing, oh so wishing, I could locate some killer objective statistic that would decimate their arguments. Of course, I cannot. Not because they are right, but because it is all a darn sight more complicated than this. The tools of political warfare are headlines, sound bites and over simplifications. The actuality is always far more complicated than that. If I could locate a 'knockout stat' somewhere, no doubt my opponent would find another one to counter. And I would find another and so on. Then, suddenly, it's 3am in the morning.

So, I am making a resolution today. (And I can do this: my 5:2FO diet appears to be working - it is fruit only on 2 days a week and I am lighter than I was six weeks ago.) The next time I edge into such a online debate, I will challenge myself (and the others involved) to find out what we can agree on. And then leave it at that.

I will let you know how I get on.  


With thanks to @eredarP who gave me the link to this. I would acknowledge the author if I knew who it was... Brilliant! 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Secret PCC: A LibDem MP considers applying for Direct Entry

I chortled and guffawed this morning when the Chief Constable arrived at my door with news of some early applications for the Direct Entry Superintendent scheme. I thought he was playing a practical joke on me. But it appears he has had some inquiries from a couple of LibDem MPs on our patch. However the timing seems to be out for them as the application process is beginning now. (Unless they want to resign...)

It seems they have to go through a self assessment process first. I struggle to see how they managed to rate themselves so highly... But I guess we can all delude ourselves. Anyway, strictly between you and me, dear secret diary, here is one covering letter that we received...
Dear Chief Constable
I writing to you in the hope that I might submit myself for direct entry into your noble profession as I reckon I will probably be out of job come next May. I have looked through the job description for being a police superintendent, and I believe I have all the qualities, and more, required.
The website says that "policing can be physically, mentally and emotionally demanding". I am resilient sort of chap and trust me, spending hours in House of Commons' bars after listening to opposition spokespeople drone on and on about how poor some people are, and still being able to select and enter the correct lobby takes some doing. Especially when what you are voting for is something at odds with what you really believe in. But that's coalition politics for you. I imagine that sort of saying one thing but doing another is a skill required of top cops?
Of course I do not have any criminal convictions. Being an MP, the expenses oversights I have made around property matters and other sundry bits and pieces do not add up to any criminality at all. I have been required to pay back a few thousand here and there, but no criminal charges were ever considered. And absolutely no speeding tickets, for me or my wife. Ever!
As a proud European Brit, no problems with eligibility there. I have no facial piercings and the only tattoo I have: I agree with Nick in Elvish is inked in well below the bikini line, as it were. I assume that should present no problems to my public image?
My financial position is really rather good (see expenses above) and I really want the job as a police superintendent to carry on working hard for local communities. The pecuniary reward (it is £62,000 a year isn't it?) is not my main motivation. Naturally as an MP I have become adept at deflecting attempts to bribe me into voting this way or that. I imagine these skills will continue to be of use as a senior police officer. I should declare, I suppose, that I do plan on continuing as a modestly paid non executive member of a couple of think tanks and security services contractors. But I will resign these of course, if that is deemed to be a conflict of interest.
I have never been a member of any extreme right wing organisations such as the BNP or Combat 18. But of course I have taken an active part in politics over the last 25 years. But I would be prepared to give all that up, it's only been something of a hobby most of the time anyway. And we LibDemmers are nothing if not flexible, what!
My eyesight and general physical condition is still that of a young & lithe labrador, despite the many lunches that we MPs are forced to consume.
With regards to second half of the self selection questionnaire, I passed with flying colours! I am motivated and committed: you have to be as backbench LibDem MP in a Tory led coalition. My leadership skills are eminently transferable: I have been organising door to door inquiries for years!
I have been an active cog in the wheel of the machine of the complexity that is the coalition government in delivering all that we set out to deliver: a bolder, braver and more affluent country, ready for the second half of the 21st century! Our track record speaks for itself.
The questionnaire asked do I "have the skills, abilities and experience to autonomously lead large departments?" Absolutely! And I can do so without splitting infinitives as well. Being an MP is about working autonomously and as part of team simultaneously. In the LibDems, we are both a party and not a party, a well oiled electoral machine and a bunch of (quite odd in some cases, but not mine) individual spirits.
I live and breathe creativity, innovation and learning. Being a LibDem means being an independent thinker, not tied to corporate or union masters/mistresses. My middle name is ambiguity and so I can easily make high pressure decisions under such conditions. I have lots of commercial ideas to bring to the police table, as it were. If we can sell of Royal Mail for a song, I am pretty darn sure we can sell off a few police stations (and uniforms that no longer fit the less fit).
"Do [I] have the self confidence and personal resilience to overcome any cultural and personal resistance to change?" What do you think? Voting for the NHS reforms, spare room subsidy and reductions in police budgets required bottomless amounts of personal resilience. And if ambiguity was not already my middle name, change would be! And I am used to working shifts/weekends/all hours.
I act with integrity at all times. (Even when I don't have to.) And I am very "comfortable setting high standards of behaviour and challenging the practices of others when these are not met?" Although doing that with coalition partners is sometimes a bit of a stretch. But we LibDems forgive them, for they know not what they do. Well... perhaps one or two of them do.
When you have watched our poll ratings over the last few years as much as I have, I can tell you that I am very used to dealing with distressing situations. I have had my agent crying on my shoulder, long standing members tearing up their membership cards in front of me, students showing me their bank statements. It has been tough and I have learnt to develop a very thick skin. You just have to. So I am well prepared for the odd road traffic collision or the violent death of a colleague at the hands of an offender released into the care of G4SerCapito probaton services. These are all things that I know I will be able to take in my stride, compassionately, sensitively and robustly.
And as for impartiality, but of course. That is the name of the game as a LibDem coalition member. If Labour win only enough seats at the next general election and need us to form a coalition with them: my party will be able to glide with impartial elan into a new government. If ambiguity and change were not already my middle names, then impartiality would be too.
I hope I have made my case for becoming one of your new fast stream direct entry recruits to the police service. I can't wait!
Sincerely yours etc...
_________________________________________________


Legal disclaimer: just in case you thought this series of secret PCC blogs is based upon a real person or persons: it isn't. It really isn't. Any similarity to a living PCC is entirely coincidental.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Ethical practice: the results of my inquiries

39 police services have now responded to my inquiries about their ethical practice. A few more will roll in over the next few weeks (delays due to a mixture of reasons). However I think the trends are clear and I wanted to share these today ahead of the College of Policing’s announcements about the revised Code of Ethics (white smoke soon, I believe).

First some caveats:
  • I will not be naming any forces below. I do have all the information provided to me via my FoI inquiries and so there is nothing secret here. I just think it is more helpful to leave things anonymous at this stage and in this arena. 
  • This is a piece of personal research which I have done in between my many other activities. In other words no one has funded me to this. The information below is reliable and accurate but with more time I know I could have done a more detailed analysis. 
  • The information arrived in different forms so I have had to make some judgements about the answers given. There is some categorisation here which is mostly in my head rather than in some kind of social research template. (If you have some specific questions arising from this research, do contact me. I will do my very best to answer any questions that come my way.)
  • I have done all this to provoke debate around just how well the UK police services are tackling the issue of ethical practice and how things might improve. (Hardly a day or week goes by without some new and big story about past or present choices that individual officers or whole forces have made that can be described as ethical choices. I think the public starts from the position that individual police officers & staff, and collective police services, should be unimpeachable: ethical expectations are rightly high, in my view.)
And so what are the headlines?

Of the 39 forces, only two had even the beginnings of plans to establish a regular ethical practice developmental update/refresher/challenge for officers and staff. Almost all the other 37 (with only a couple of exceptions) claimed a ‘yes’ in answer to my question: Do officers and staff undergo any regular programmed briefing/training/development in ethical practice? But (and this is a big but) went on to describe a situation where new (or very occasionally newly promoted) officers and staff received an input at the start of their training. And only then. This is not regular so I counted them as a ‘no’.

In essence then, not a single police service in the country (which has replied so far) has any regular developmental activity for their officers and staff in the field of ethical practice. True, when the people are so ‘green’ as to have hardly applied leather to pavement, they get some briefing on ethics. But there is no follow up, other than some random smattering in other development activities that officers/staff may happen to attend. Doing it only at the beginning is important, except that by not doing it again (and again) when gritty and hard won experience has been gained probably neutralises much of the value of the initial input. Ethics are about practice not theory.

Contrast this with first aid where all, bar one, police forces provide this on a regular basis to front line officers and staff (and even, in many cases, regular input to those in the ‘back office’). The length varies, the duration varies but it is regular and key officers/staff are kept up to date with their first aid skills. Which is good and I rest easier in my bed as a result. But why first aid and not ethical practice?

To complete the feedback, the picture in respect of Health & Safety training/development is more mixed. 17 out of the 39 forces provide regular inputs on H&S. Which I find quite illuminating too.

In answer to my question: Are there any current plans to communicate the new code of practice to officers & staff once it is agreed? If so, please may I have a copy of the relevant document? half of respondents claimed this answer was exempt as plans would soon be published or indeed since the code was not yet published, there was nothing to report. The other half said that plans were underway but nothing to show yet. Fair enough.

Regarding Beyond taking into account any retrospective disciplinary action, is ethical practice integrated proactively into promotion boards and job interviews? If yes, please may I have a copy of the relevant policy or document relating to this?, the answers were mostly ‘yes’ and elements of the police competency model were cited as being integral. However 7 forces did give a ‘no’ in answer to this question. The impression I have been left with is that ethical practice is embedded but perhaps embedded too deeply as to miss an opportunity to promote ethical practice. It’s a cultural thing. All that I can say, as a result, is that this is an area requiring further research and investigation, I feel.

Question 7 proved most interesting: How many instances have there been in the last five years where officers or staff have (to quote the draft code) used their “professional position to establish or pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with a person with whom [they came] into contact in the course” of their work and who was “vulnerable to an abuse of trust or power”? The answers I got back were hugely variable. Six claimed FoI exempt status on the basis that information of this nature was not held and could not be determined without going beyond the resource limit. Those that did answer ranged from 0 instances to 950 (the latter being a large force). 21 forces reported numbers between 0 and 10. The remainder were in the range of 11 to 30.

I am not sure what conclusion to draw from these answers other than I think there needs to be more data gathered and a single definition used so that forces can compare with each other. On the whole, the numbers do appear to be small. This is good. But what is your experience?

My final question asked about whistle blowing, as mentioned in the code of practice: The draft code states that every person has a “positive obligation to report, challenge or take action against the conduct of colleagues” which is believed by the person to have “fallen below the Standards of Professional Behaviour set out in this Code”. How many instances have there been in the last five years of where someone has done this officially (and for which there is a record)? The answers were again very variable with most (23) claiming exempt status on the basis that this information is not collected. Of those forces which did reply, the answers ranged from 0 to 654 (not an especially large force). 7 Forces were under 100 and 6 were over.

My conclusion from these answers is much the same as for question 7: I think there is clearly a need for some standardisation here and indeed some far greater levels of monitoring / counting / measuring. I think understanding the levels of whistleblowing and the more general collegiate holding each other to account for ethical practice is something that senior managers should have. It is a key indicator of the ‘ethical health’ of an organisation, I believe.

I now have a medium sized email folder of correspondence about all these inquiries. And as I say, if you want to know something more precise or force based than what is shown above, do contact me. Within the limits of time available, I will do what I can to answer you.

Now we await the results of the College of Policing’s deliberations and thence plans to establish ethical practice even more explicitly and solidly in the working cultures of the police services in the UK.

What do you hope is now going to happen?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Everyone's business

There were so many nights when I, as a young boy, had to watch helplessly as my father verbally and physically abused my mother. I can still recall the smell of alcohol, see the fear in my mother's eyes and feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways. I would not wish that experience on anyone, especially not a child.
And so begins Bishop Desmond Tutu's article on forgiveness in last Saturday's Guardian. Anyone reading this will be reminded of just how many victims there are of domestic violence. A very good friend and skilled colleague of mine was murdered by her ex last year. I sat in Southwark Crown Court last week as her murderer was convicted and sentenced to (at least) 20 years imprisonment. The high incidence of domestic abuse is one of the reasons why I spend some of my time in schools helping 9/10/11 year olds understand more about abuse, including emotional & domestic abuse. (Citing the HMIC report: "In the UK, one in four of young people aged 10 to 24 reported that they experienced domestic violence and abuse during their childhood")

This matter is everyone's business.

And so I praise Theresa May for calling for the just published HMIC scrutiny "Everyone’s business: Improving the police response to domestic abuse". This is a worthy report that has already attracted much comment (such as here, here and here). I am sure that it is being read carefully in many places this morning, not least the police forces that have been highlighted as being particularly lacking in their response.

The report is long (157 pages) and contains some excellent and it would appear, developmental help to forces wishing to improve their response to domestic violence (which should include even the ones that are praised such as Thames Valley). I certainly have not read it all.

Some of the twitter comment about this report has been about how much the police cannot do this alone and how much other partners need to work in tandem to tackle this issue. This is a point not lost on the authors of the report who say in the second paragraph of the introduction
Other agencies and partners share the responsibility to tackle domestic abuse and keep victims safe; it does not rest solely with the police. However, the police have an essential role to play. 
So we know it is "complex" and it is about partnership working and it is not all the police's fault... the only question now is what next: just how should things improve in the police service and beyond? As the report states "Domestic abuse is a priority on paper but, in the majority of forces, not in practice" (my added emphasis)

This reminds me of my often used challenge: it is easy to write a 'strutegy' but a heck of lot more complicated to create a 'stractegy'. (The former exists only on the glossy page whereas the latter exists in action - see here for more about this analysis.) So I start with this concern: has the HMIC recommended actions that will result in strutegies or stractegies?

There is much to commend the conclusions and recommendations for action that the report advocates. But here are my concerns (from an organisational development perspective):

E-learning in this area is probably rightly criticised. However classroom learning in groups may be little better unless it is complimented by tackling organisational culture and leadership. The "Myth of the Hero Innovator" remains, in my opinion, one of the most important pieces about change ever written:


I recommend you to get hold of a copy ("The Myth of the Hero-Innovator and Alternative Strategies for Organisational Change" Georgiades & Phillimore. In "Behaviour Modification with the Severly Retarded" Edited by Kiernan & Woodford. 1975)

In essence what Georgiades & Phillimore advocate is a whole system approach to making change happen and not relying on a single measure (such as 'sheep dip' training that the police service embarked upon when tackling institutional racism) to effect sustainable development of practice.

But to turn specifically to the recommendations in the report:

R1: A national oversight and monitoring group should be established and convened immediately to monitor and report on the progress made in implementing these recommendations.

I think that is a good start. The key to its success will be whether membership of this group includes people prepared to stand up to some very powerful vested interests and say what needs to be said. It is unclear what authority this group will have other than hold up a mirror...

R2: By September 2014, every police force in England and Wales should establish and publish an action plan that specifies in detail what steps it will take to improve its approach to domestic abuse.

I could be churlish and say what happened to local accountability especially as "Police and crime commissioners should hold forces to account in this respect"..? (My added emphasis) But I really fear, as above, that these action plans could look good on paper, but will they be stractegies or strutegies? Consulting other organisations and victims, as the report recommends is no guarantee that these actions will be properly followed through, or even the right actions. (Email me if you want me to wax lyrical about why.)

R3: To inform the action plan specified in Recommendation 2, chief constables should review how they, and their senior officers, give full effect to their forces' stated priority on domestic abuse.

How they what? This sounds like political speak to me...

But it does go on to say that the action plan (and their leadership of it) should be based upon an assessment of culture, values, performance management, reward & recognition policies etc etc. In other words this is about Leadership and Organisation Development! Make no bones about it. Will we see this? I hope so!

R4: Data collected on domestic abuse needs to be consistent, comparable, accessible and accurate so that it can be used to monitor progress.

Cannot argue with that. But shouldn't all national data on all types of crime and police response be like this anyway? Has the Home Office been sleeping on the job too?

R5: The College of Policing is updating authorised professional practice for officers on domestic abuse alongside other areas such as investigation and public protection. This update should be informed by the conclusions of and recommendations in this report...

Again, makes sense to me. But I am sad that there is no explicit mention of evidence based practice in this recommendation: a golden opportunity missed in my opinion. There is some (though not much) good controlled research in this area. We need more. Perhaps the Home Office could have offered funding to support some more of such research that forces could have bid into?

R6: The College of Policing is reviewing the evidence base for risk assessment in cases of domestic abuse. The College should urgently consider the current approach to risk assessment with others..

This is vital and at least 'evidence base' is mentioned here. But a mention of resources here would not have gone amiss.

R7: The College of Policing should conduct a thorough and fundamental review of the sufficiency and effect of training and development on forces' response to domestic abuse... Police forces should ensure that their approach to domestic abuse training is evidence based

Good. And it says 'development' too, thereby extending this beyond the realm of just 'training'. And another hat tip to 'evidence based'. But how many forces (and PCCs especially) really understand what this means...?

R8: The College of Policing, through the national policing lead for domestic abuse, should disseminate to forces examples of how forces are targeting serial and repeat domestic abuse perpetrators in order to prevent future offending.

Always a good idea. More talking heads type conferences or maybe something more interactive... and developmental?

R9: The Home Office should reconsider its approach to domestic homicide reviews.... Police and crime commissioners should track how and when recommendations from domestic homicide reviews are implemented.

Again, good stuff. No quibbles. Although how close is this sailing PCCs into operational waters?

R10: Police and crime commissioners should consider the findings and recommendations of this report when commissioning services for victims of domestic abuse. 

Very good point and very timely given that we are now in the run up to this commissioning round. Here is a role for Police & Crime Panels to be monitoring...

R11: Tackling domestic abuse requires a number of organisations in both the statutory services including health, local authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service and probation) and voluntary and community services to work together. 

Has Ms May talked with Mr Grayling recently, I wonder, about his 'reforms' in the world of probation? Partnership is just about to get a whole lot more complicated! And I am curious that the 'National Offender Management Service' is not mentioned here: what about the prison service elements as well?

...
So in sum, these recommendations (and I have not read the full report) I think offer a route forward which has the potential to take a whole system approach. The proof will be in pudding.

Indeed the real proof will be in whether there are fewer victims of domestic violence in the years to come...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Going South (or is it North)

In my capacity as Buckingham Town Councillor, I attended the Local Area Forum last night. We spent (far too long, in my opinion) talking about potholes.

But we were also briefed by the local police on crime trends. Apart from robbery (which had gone down 100%), all the other measures were going South (or should that be North as they were going up... a lot?).

I don't have access to the minutes yet, naturally. So I do not have the precise figures but the increases were in the range of 20% to 40%. These are year to date measures.

The actual crime numbers are low of course (this is a low crime rural area where potholes figure large!) but the trends are notable.

Are we unique? Or are other areas noticing similar trends? Is bulk acquisitive crime on an upward trajectory?

Please let me know. Thanks.

Monday, March 24, 2014

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times...

Regular readers will know that I not exactly a fan of this government. And I despair at many of their policies for being heartless, bad for the economy and just plain daft. But I have just heard about one that really takes the biscuit.

It would seem from this article that Chris Grayling is about to stop prisoners from getting books sent to them from their families. There is a petition to sign and I urge you sign it and let it be known far and wide that others should do so too.

This has surely got to be one the most STUPID policies ever dreamed up by this government. I am aghast at the blistering ignorance that must underpin this move. Oh yes, I expect it comes to down to money and probably the cost of proper security measures etc etc etc...

But really?! REALLY???!!!

We all know just how low literacy is amongst the prison population. We all know that improved literacy is a stepping stone to a life without crime. And we all know that keeping in touch with families is also another highly significant factor in assisting an offender turn away from crime. And we all know just how enlightening, educational and just pleasurable books can be.

Seriously Mr Grayling: WHAT are you thinking?!?!?! 

I could go on, but my blood pressure probably would not take it.

Just please sign the petition... now! Thanks.

A must read: James Patrick's resignation statement

James Patrick has just published his resignation statement. If you have any interest in police integrity and ethical practice, his words must be read. You can read the whole statement here.

I will just cite one sentence:
It is impossible for me to see how I could ever trust the MPS again, that is something which is permanently destroyed.
Please read what he has written, and then reflect on your own organisation's whistle-blowing policy. Does it work? 

How do you know?

Bloody fraud

I gave blood last week, as I do two or three times a year. I do it for the crisps and squash mostly.

Now imagine my instant cold sweat, terror and rush of adrenaline as I received this email this morning:
Dear [email address removed]
We have been sent a sample of your blood analysis for further research.
During the complete blood count (CBC) we have revealed that white blood cells is very low, and unfortunately we have a suspicion of a cancer.
Wite Blood cells 1200 Low
Hemoglobin 12 Normal
Platelets 19000 Low
We suggest you to print out your CBC test results and interpretations in attachment below and visit your family doctor as soon as possible
Sincerely,
Dr. Avery Ernie
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
 
It took me a few seconds to cross check this email and discover it was a fraud. And then I noticed the terrible spelling. My heart rate began to drop. But I am left really angry...

There is of course a zip file attached to the email which I have not opened! And I have just destroyed the whole email. 

So watch out for this email and DO NOT open the attachment. As the Action Fraud website says: this is a malicious email. It is also nasty and cruel: I sincerely hope its perpetrators are brought to justice. For me, this only serves to reinforce the need to boost resources being put into tackling online crime, as I have highlighted before (here and here). 

Meanwhile despite my concerns about the commercial aspects of the National Blood Service, do give blood if you don't already do this! You know it makes sense!

Congratulations to Martyn Underhill

Over the weekend, Bernard Rix released his decision on which PCCs should be commended for the public engagement work and which one should receive the CoPaCC Gold Award. He chose the Dorset PCC, Martyn Underhill.

As people know, I assisted Bernard with this thematic and naturally we talked about who should be commended and who should get the Gold Award. This decisions were all Bernard's but his choice of Dorset is one that I wholeheartedly support.

Martyn, like most PCCs I would expect, has his critics, fierce and otherwise. Indeed, I would contend that if PCCs are not making waves, creating debate and stimulating people to challenge what they are doing, then they are not doing their job. There will have some people who at least raised an eyebrow at the selection of Martyn for the top spot.

It is also important to point out that all those commended were chosen on the basis of their own submissions (with some cross referencing from third party sources). There has been no systematic objective analysis of how well any PCC is doing with regard to public engagement. CoPaCC does not have the resources to do this (yet). But then no organisation with those resources has done one either. This thematic review is a good start and perhaps will stimulate a more detailed study to come.

Meanwhile, why give the gold award to Martyn? I read through all the submissions and in my view, he has achieved the most in terms of outcomes and real change. It would appear to me that he has really has taken on board the voice of the public idea – more than the other PCCs. I very much liked his comment about there being no such thing as hard to reach – just more expensive to reach etc. Significantly, Martyn also talks about empowerment which readers will know is a principle that is close to my heart.

I am sure that Martyn would be the first to say that there is much more to do, not least in providing more objective data to support his descriptions of what he is achieving. And if you believe in deep public engagement as I believe Martyn does, there is always more listening and acting upon that listening to be done.

But let's have more of the debate about how well PCCs are engaging with their publics: it is after all what they are there to do! 

And well done Martyn, again.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The challenge of collaborating on custody & control rooms

Sally Chidzoy has been investigating the proposed collaboration between Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire & Cambridgeshire. You can see her short piece on BBC iPlayer at the moment from last nights Look East slot. The piece begins at 3'54" in. I appear a little later - with about two sentences! (There is a lot more in the can as it were - but such is TV...)

The piece is here.


To expand on what I was saying: I think that when assessing the cost/benefits of cross county collaborations (of which I am generally in favour, of course) it is vital to look at the proposals from all angles, not just the police one. There are the people arrested of course, but also bodies such as Victim Support (remember people arrested are often victims too), the Crown Prosecution Service, the defending counsel and others who may well have to follow a person put into custody scores of miles away from where they live or where they were arrested.

In other words a whole systems approach needs to be taken.

I have no criticism of what any of the Chief Constables or PCCs in these three counties are doing, since I do not know what plans have been made and how they are approaching the matters. I hope that they will be consulting widely from all angles so that this results in new collaborative arrangements that not only are more efficient and effective for the police, but also for all the other parties involved.

Pension pottiness?

There’s an old joke: how do you tell if you are talking to an extravert actuary? He looks at your shoes rather than his own when he is talking with you.

Actuaries of course are the talent in insurance and financial institutions (not the sales people, or financial advisers as they prefer to be called, as they would have you believe). The actuaries are the ones who carefully, strategically, commercially and scientifically calculate the chances (and therefore the cost, budgets etc) surrounding the financial products sold and managed by their institutions. These products include, of course, pensions.

On Wednesday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a change in regulations surrounding pensions. No longer would people be compelled to put their pension ‘pot’ into an annuity scheme of some kind, they could instead (as the pensions minister has suggested) blow the lot on a Lamborghini. This budget announcement has been variously described as bold, reckless and huge. It is probably all three.

Now, I am no expert on pensions and I would draw your attention to this blog (Osborne’s pensions catastrophe) which has been referenced several times by politicians and commentators. You will note that the comments below the article are universally disparaging. Osborne’s pension change looks to be a very popular move, especially for people coming up to retirement. Pensions are a hugely emotive topic because a well-resourced one can make all the difference in older age, and a bad one...

There is no getting away from the fact that statements that talk about ‘giving power and choice to the people on how to spend their saved pension pot’ are enormously attractive. And suggestions that people should not have this choice are variously described as leftist / statist / condescending etc.

This is a story that will run and run, for sure, because it strikes at some very core principles that (appear to) divide the Left from the Right. I say ‘appear to’ because I am not sure the differences are so great.

For example, I think that we all agree that what marks out a society as being more civilised is the creation and sustaining of collective institutions that liberate people from having to provide their own (for example) policing, health care, roads, street lighting and so on… In other words civilisation is based upon sharing responsibility and risk. We give up some of our resources and indeed freedoms for the common good. (Yes there are a few libertarian fundamentalists who just want to live out their lives in ‘idyllic’ cabins with a supply of baked beans and bullets – but such people are in the very small minority.) And there are probably a few more people who believe, as one tweeter put it to me last night: @DVATW “Great, let's stop thieving from hard working people ..oh, hang on, that is the essence of leftism”.

But I assume that nobody wants to make taxes optional? Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civil society where collective resources help to sustain us all, allowing us to live out our lives in relative safety, health etc.

“But annuities are not taxes!”, I hear you say. True. But ask any actuary (yes we are back to them again) and she will tell you that in essence what they do is spread their bets. When person A comes to convert their pension pot into a pension using annuities, the actuaries calculate the life expectation of that person, the likely growth in the pension pot and with a bit of mathematical jiggery pokery they calculate the pension. If the person dies a day later, they are quids in. If that person lives to well beyond expected years, they lose money. It is a gamble (a bit like bingo, which the government seems awfully keen on too, or at least Grant Shapps is). If the company was only providing a pension to just one person, this would be a very risky business. However, as they provide pensions to many, many people they can spread the bet (in a way that is similar to the provision of the NHS or fire & rescue services etc)

(By the way, I am mostly writing this to get my head around the arguments involved, and if you have stayed with me up to here, thanks!)

So a pension company is a private, commercial but collective institution. We have them so that bets can be spread around and risks can be shared. Certainly they may well have been milking the system a little too much in recent years but the answer to that need not have been the change announced in the budget.

So let’s examine what could be the consequences of this liberation of pension pots:
  • Some pension companies will go bust due to reduced profits, loss of a whole dollop of equity and cash flow difficulties (etc.) Those receiving pensions from these companies may well be left floundering. (But I do not know what exactly would happen - do you?)
  • Due to large numbers of people cashing in their pensions pots on fast flashy cars, the cost of annuities rise and people’s pensions (who still want to have them) go down. This could have dramatic consequences for the state if we (because we are the state) have to pick up the tab for social care, rents etc.
  • A big proportion of pension-pot-liquidators go off to buy houses as investments which stokes up the housing market, prices rises and even fewer younger people are able to afford to buy.
  • Given that people coming up to retirement are intelligent people and will want to use their pension pot wisely, they will want to access a whole new legion of financial advisers. Are there enough of these people around? Will people end up being sold products that might seem like good investments into their old age but actually won’t be? (After all, there has never been any dodgy selling in the financial services market has there…?)
  • Given that not all of us are blessed with actuarial acuity and rationality about our forthcoming retirement, how likely is it that some people might make some very bad decisions? And that would be fine if only they suffered the consequences. But they probably won’t since their families, neighbours, and the wider state (not least all the lawyers who will be getting new business from people suing their legal advisers) may well get involved as well. Who pays for all this?
  • A decision made at 65 may look very different when that same person is 85. Do any of us know what we will need 20 years from now?
  • And who knows what this change will do for marriages, divorces, family arrangements etc? (“Dad, I know you are coming up to retirement, so will you invest in my business and I will pay you your pension out of the profits… and don't worry about my little brother, he is low achiever anyway...”)
I could go on. I hope I have persuaded you that this move brings in a massive dollop of uncertainty into individual and collective lives. Boiling this change down into whether you believe people should have power over their savings or not, is frankly crass! It is way more complicated than that.

Anyway, as I say, this is a subject that will be much talked about in coming days and weeks, I predict. Writing this has begun to help me get my head around the arguments. It may have helped you too – if only to know that you disagree with me. Feel free to add comments below (but posts with embedded adverts for financial advice, search engine optimisation or really, really good ways to make money by doing nothing – will not be published!)

What do you think?

UPDATE: Just spotted this excellent blog by Tom Watson (Under 45? You’re being screwed) who is saying very similar things to me and more. Read it! 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Engaging PCCs?

Just a quick post to link to Bernard Rix' most recent thematic on "PCCs & Public Engagement". As you will read, I assisted Bernard with this thematic. There is some very useful analysis there on how much (and how little) PCCs are doing to engage with their publics.

It is still, just, possible to say these are early days for PCCs. But only just. Given that while this governance structure is only a 16 months old but given that it was partly built on the limitations of Police Authorities engagement with their publics, I would have thought that PCCs overall would have made greater progress.

So CoPaCC's second thematic is really a call to arms: many (if not most) PCCs need to wind up several gears on their engagement strategies. Some are leading the way. It is time for them all to do so.

So please can we see an end (and startto:
  • Public consultations that start when all the strategic deliberations are more or less over (do it earlier!)
  • Surveys that only tap into people's opinions (rather than their judgments)
  • Focusing on processes & outputs (rather than seeking the public's views on desirable outcomes)
  • Singular methods of engagement (when multiple approaches would work far better)
  • Engagement than ends just with consultation (as opposed to joint action)
  • Too much focus on looking backwards (looking forwards leads to far richer conversations)
  • Fragmented consultation strategies (joining up with several agencies is cheaper and better reflects the experience of the public)
I live in hope...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ethical practice

I am in the middle of analysing my Freedom of Information based research into police & ethical practice that I initiated back before December (there was an update here). The deadline for responding was 8 January. I will be publishing the results soon, but in the meantime, here is a list of the forces that have NOT responded - even now, more than two months after the FoI deadline:
  • Cumbria* 
  • Dorset
  • Hampshire*****
  • Metropolitan****
  • North Yorkshire**
  • West Mercia***
  • West Midlands
  • City of London
So if you have any levers to pull - that would be peachy! Thanks.

UPDATE 170314|1659: To be fair to Cumbria, I used the standard email nomenclature (foi@etc) and waited for a bounce back if it was not correct. None came so I assumed the address was correct. However it now seems as if the correct email address is freedomofinformation@Cumbria...etc. (Thanks to the PCC who alerted me to the fact that no email had been received.) So my sincere apologies for unfairly besmirching their lack of response... although I would say they might need to look into their email systems! But maybe I missed the bounce back...

UPDATE 190314|1911: Just received this 'twitlonger' message from @CumbriaPolice "@CllrJonSHarvey Hello Jon, I have contacted our FOI department for you. Is the request you sent under your name? As they do not have any record of any FOI requests from you. FOIEmail@cumbria.police.uk is the correct e-mail address to send any requests through. If this was sent through under a different name please contact the department through this address." I have sent them another email to this new address as well.

** UPDATE 180314|0827: Just received information from North Yorkshire. Thanks.

*** UPDATE 180314|1209: Just received a tweet from @WMerciaPolice informing me that they had replied in December. Not sure what happened but I did not pick up this email in my usual inbox. (However now found in my gmail account - where all emails are bounced too as well). It seems that their response was that since they could answer Q8, they asked me if I would like to "refine and resubmit your request for reduced information". I have now done this via twitter (which is a legitimate FoI tool. My sincere apologies for overlooking their original response. However, I do think they are being a little picky: other forces have happily replied to my questions and where they could not, they have merely not answered that one, and go on to the next. Which is fine with me and saves a lot of 'toing and froing'. 

**** UPDATE 180314|1441Just received information from the Met. Thanks.

***** UPDATE 190314|1913: Received a message from @HantsPCC saying "I've looked into this and I'm advised that according to their records, the force FOI office responded to you on January 6". It would seem that this email went into my spam folder (for some reason) in not dissimilar circumstances to West Mercia's above. On searching my Gmail account, I have managed to find it. Curiously it is also similar to the West Mercia one which declined to answer on the basis that Q8 was beyond the financial limit. I will reply to them, asking them that Qs 1 - 7 would still be very useful... But, as above, my sincere apologies for overlooking their original response. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

PCCs: the good, the bad and the ugly

Prompted by this article in The Economist: Police oversight - Missing a beat, I added this comment which I republish here:

What is good about PCC based police governance:
  • Policing has always been political, and introducing PCCs has made that more explicit
  • Many of those elected are 'big beasts' or rapidly becoming so - able to challenge daft Whitehall policy
  • The range of indie PCCs has added plurality, spice & diversity to the tribal party political debate on policing policy
  • PCCs have had to grapple with real budgetary challenges & made precept decisions on that basis
  • Many PCCs have pursued innovative paths and highlighted issues that had hitherto been largely overlooked such as the interaction between policing and mental health service users
  • Many PCCs really understand ‘evidence based practice’
  • Some PCCs have made real efforts to reach out to their publics in systematic and indeed very ‘human’ ways (watch out for CoPaCC’s forthcoming thematic review on PCC engagement)
  • The majority of PCCs have conducted their office with due probity in recognition that they are spending the public’s money
  • Some Police & Crime Panels (PCPs) have grappled positively with their hard (limited) and soft (more extensive if act shrewdly) powers to hold PCCs to account
  • It has provoked a further debate about what should be good governance of the police & justice services (PCCs are not ‘it’, in my view)
What is bad about PCC based governance:
  • Introducing PCCs has introduced tribal party politics into policing which has turned off many citizens
  • Despite introducing these political specialists, the government has not listened to them enough
  • With some notable exceptions, PCCs are largely grey, male and white (in contrast to their more diverse predecessor police authorities)
  • Too many PCCs are defaulting to budget first and strategy second with little linkage between the two
  • Too many PCCs have not put their heads above the parapet and stayed largely invisible
  • Too many PCCs just have no clue about what evidence based practice really means and how it could challenge police culture
  • Too many PCCs still think that running a few public meetings in cold & dark town halls equates to real engagement
  • A politically significant number of PCCs have sailed very close to the wind (I will be generous) on personal expenses, appointing old chums and generally gilding their office 
  • Too many PCPs have either been bland fan clubs or sniping cabals, detracting from constructive scrutiny & debate
  • The founders, supporters & protagonists of this system of governance can only think of giving even more power to single individuals while limiting the checks and balances on this power
And I will add: what about the ugly?


Or to be fair, some of them are really quite handsome!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Inland lifeguards

Lifeguards are very cool. Let is be clear on that. 

Those of us who visit the beaches around the coast of the UK, can do so safe in the knowledge that there is RNLI Lifeguard on hand to rescue people in an emergency. On this RNLI information page, is a wonderful story about an heroic rescue off Trebarwith Strand (a beach I know very well, as it happens).

The RNLI is an amazing organisation which is supported by millions of people and they do an incredible job saving lives at sea with a mixture of paid and unpaid volunteers.

Buckingham (like many parts of the UK) is not by the sea...but...

But I have just had a very useful conversation with an emergency planner about flood prevention, community resilience and emergency planning. In it, wistfully, he made the suggestion that wouldn't it be wonderful if we could bottle some of that heroic coolness that RNLI Lifeguards have and spray it on volunteers working hard to keep people safe in towns subject to flooding (or other emergencies).

(That is my evocative language by the way: but the essential idea was his.)

All local councils (from first tier ones like mine, to district, unitary and county councils) need volunteers to work with us: we need their eyes, ears, hands, minds etc to work in partnership with us to co-create healthier, wealthier, happier and safer towns and villages.

So do we need Inland Lifeguards?