Written evidence submitted by the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex (POP0009)

Select Committee Inquiry

1. Policing in England and Wales is under more scrutiny than ever, following high-profile criminal and disciplinary cases involving police officers, low charging and detection rates (not least for rape and sexual offences cases), and lingering concerns about how forces deal with women and people from minority communities.

2. While the Met is only one of 43 forces, its problems as outlined to the House of Commons by then Policing Minister Kit Malthouse MP exemplify the reasons for loss of public trust:

“falling short of national standards for the handling of emergency and non-emergency calls, there are too many instances of failure to assess vulnerability and repeated victimisation, and victims are not getting enough information or support. Other concerns were thought to include disjointed public protection governance arrangements, insufficient capacity to meet demand in several functions, persistently large backlog of online child abuse referrals and insufficient understanding of the force’s training requirements.”

3. The Home Affairs Committee inquiry launched on 21st July 2022 seeks public views on these topics:

Organisation details

4. The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, Roger Hirst, is democratically elected to oversee Essex Police and Essex County Fire and Rescue Service and to ensure that both organisations provide an efficient and effective service to the public and have due regard to the Police and Crime Plan and Fire and Rescue Plan. Essex is a neighbouring county to the Met and as such has significant operational and strategic involvement as well as our communities being closely intertwined.    

What a modern police service, fit for the 2020s and beyond, looks like;

Community confidence and connection

5. The need to prevent crime is at the heart of modern policing and for policing to succeed in the 2020s we need to ensure that the police build and retain the confidence of the public.

6. We are extremely fortunate in this county to benefit from a system of policing which operates with the consent of the public. By policing with the public’s consent, we are able to benefit from personal freedoms that are not available in other jurisdictions while also being able to go about our lives in a low crime environment. While Americans enjoy many of the same freedoms the crime level is much higher and while Germans enjoy a similar low crime rate their many more legal restrictions on their behaviour.

7. The Metropolitan Police’s fundamental problem is that they have lost the confidence of the public. This is not something that has happened to all forces across the country who have worked hard with their communities to listen, respond and engage but only in certain forces and, most noticeably, the Met. In Essex we have been able to maintain a near record high public confidence rating.

8. This failure by the Met to maintain public confidence presents a significant problem for policing nationally as the Met by its size, national roles, and geographic focus in London where our democratic and media institutions are largely based, has an influence on public perceptions of policing that go far beyond their actual policing role.

9. A modern police service that is fit for the 2020s needs to be one that is connected to its communities. To achieve this, it needs to have neighbourhood policing teams that are visible and connected to those communities, represent the people they serve and can proactively work with local residents to prevent crime. We need forces that are focused on the community they serve and where the communities feel a sense of connection with the force. In the case of the Met this connect seems to have been lost among other city wide and national priorities.

10. What is the right size for a police service? Two of our largest Police forces are currently in special measures while many smaller focuses are maintaining public confidence and performing well.

11. We would argue that it is one where that service is still able to connect to the communities it serves, where its culture, shape, structure and mission supports those relationships. The Met is too large, too complex and unable to focus on the communities it serves. Neighbourhood policing should be at the core of policing and if it gets relegated in favour of national priorities because decisions are being taken by a leadership too far removed from the frontline then it is inevitable that public trust will be eroded.    

Data, insight and intelligence

12. In Essex we pioneered short sharp, high visibility patrols that have subsequently been picked up and supported for national roll out by the Home Office Grip funding. We have been one of the forces that have championed Violence Reduction Units, taking the learning from Glasgow and Cardiff to develop locally relevant public health-based programmes of work. Along with other areas, we have piloted and developed data driven effective perpetrator intervention programmes. 

13.Across the country other forces are making similar progress in a wide range of different fields. Forces are developing new, innovative, and effective interventions that work for their communities. In this way, policing is a great example of a sector where its officers and staff continually innovates. Our officers are, by nature and by training, problem solvers and do this naturally every day in the communities they serve. This natural innovation is organic and as a result at a wider system level we often miss the opportunity to scale these successes up, to research and evaluate impact.

14.The College of Policing has an important role in identifying, supporting and sharing best practice but all police forces must evolve to use data, insight and intelligence in a more structured and shareable way. Only by a more rigorous approach to the identification and deployment of effective tactical interventions can we grab the successes, scale them up and become a sector that innovates, rather than just having officers within the sector that innovate.

Using technology

15.Technology enabled crime has grown exponentially in recent years as the internet has transformed access to previous private domains. We can do more online than ever before and expect these areas to be as safe as our physical environment. More concerning, we also don’t always spot the dangers lurking in this arena, making ourselves vulnerable to being exploited by criminals.

16. Policing has not kept up with this advance in technology and must get to grips with policing the public online spaces properly. In other more dynamic industries efficiency has been driven by technological change but so have performance improvement. Technology has been embraced not just as a way of saving time but as creating new more effective ways of doing business. Investment banking, retail, logistics, manufacturing and warehousing have all developed, identified and driven value out of technological advances.

17.Policing needs to transform its ability in these areas, invest in data analytical tools and processes that enable and support better criminal investigations not just enabling criminals. Technology can, and should, enable policing to deal with offenders, places and victims rather than crimes. It should enable officers to focus on the issues causing crime not simply to respond to the crimes once they have happened. Using data better will allows us to identify and understand crime hotspots and repeat perpetrators so we can target resources to prevent crime.    

18.If we do not embrace this change we will get out manoeuvred by criminals. We need to provide officers with the technology they need to prevent and investigate crime and build effective prosecutions. We also need to be brave enough to consider building totally new capabilities where technology is providing new opportunities. Share dealing is now largely automated with human interaction only required where activity becomes unpredicted. Imagine the potential for criminal investigations if technology was used to its full potential.

Prevention not just response

19. Finally, the biggest challenge facing policing and one that would be supported by all of the areas mentioned above, is making a strategic shift from response to prevention. Policing has in certain ways forgotten how to prevent crime, as officers have tried to respond to increases in crime volume by responding. If we invest all of our resources into response, we are using our resources to chase crime rather than prevent. This will simply lead to ever more crime, ever more work and the requirement to continuously invest more in policing.

20. Policing in the 2020s needs to remember that the first of Robert Peel’s Policing Principles was to prevent crime and disorder.

What balance police forces in England and Wales should strike between a focus on preventing and solving crime and carrying out their other functions;

21. As set out above, preventing crime must be the first priority of all police forces. Forces across the county should be required to demonstrate how they are reducing crime and disorder. While there will always need to be some balance the measure of it being correctly achieved should be taken from whether crime is falling. Is the force getting on top of local crime? Is it reducing year on year? Do they have a plan? Is it working?

22. Only by reducing crime can we get the head space to invest more resources in the high intensity investigations and prosecutions needed to bring offenders to justice. We need to invest enough resources in prevention to show that we are moving in the right direction and slowly freeing up sufficient resources to expand the focus on other functions. If this balance isn’t achieved, then we move into a declining pattern.

What roles police forces should prioritise;

23. As set out above.

What can be done to improve community policing and increase trust in police officers and forces, including on funding and on disciplinary powers when police officer behaviour falls below required standards;

24. Communities must have confidence in their local police. They must know and recognise them as part of their community and feel that they understand and care about their issues. Trust is vital and once that is broken it will take a significant amount of time to rebuild.

25. Individual offences committed by officers, damage the reputation of the force they serve, but the defence of those officers actions is even more damaging. If communities feel that police leaders do not support them but back their officers when something goes wrong, it builds an adversarial culture that risks destroying trust for a generation.

26. When this happens, as appears to be in the Met, the question must be asked whether the force is able to solve its own problems. More importantly do the communities it serves believe it can sort out its own problems or will external involvement be required to resolve the break down in community confidence.

27. The Met needs to change, and it needs to be seen to change. Too many incidents have pointed to a culture where misogyny, racism and sexism are tolerated. It needs help to make the change necessary. 

Specifically, what the Metropolitan Police must do to increase trust under its new Commissioner;

28. The Met should request external support to review and fix its cultural problems. It should be divided up into areas where connections with local communities can be rebuilt and it should step aside from its predominate position in British policing and focus instead on supporting its communities, reducing crime and protecting the vulnerable.

29. The Met is a massive force that has done a huge amount of positive work developing and contributing to policing, however, it must be questioned whether its size, performance and culture mean that is now having a negative rather than a positive impact. If that is the case, and for many people, we believe it is, then we need to look to a future where we build a policing system in London that is capable of delivering for its communities without undermining policing nationally.

30. This should start by considering what is the right culture, shape, structure and mission for policing in London. It is no coincidence that two of our largest forces the Met and Greater Manchester Police have both received highly critical HMICFRS Inspection Reports and are now in special measures.

What steps can be taken to improve national conviction rates, including via relationships with other bodies such as the Crown Prosecution Service.

31. The Police need to be focused on prevention and problem solving. They need to work together with partners in local councils and within communities to prevent crime wherever possible. Greater clarity should be provided in existing crime trends and importantly the proportion of these that have arisen from new legislation. This would provide a much more realistic assessment of what is happening to crime nationally and what changes have driven this.

32. There has already been significant work undertaken to understand the drivers for lower conviction rates in rape and sexual assault cases. The trends identified through this work of closer collaboration between prosecutors and investigators, stronger evidence-based investigations and better support for victims are all areas that would help all cases not just rape and sexual assault.

33.The current court backlog also needs to be tackled as victims and witnesses want to move on with their lives, and the longer it takes cases to come to court the harder they will be to prosecute. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing us in the long term is how we use the changes in technology to help rather than hinder prosecutions. With exponential increases in the quantity of data being produced cases can easily be swamped with information. Our current disclosure system and ways of processing evidence simply do not work.  We need to use technology to enable better investigations in the same way as we need to use technology to enable better policing. If we continue to use people to do jobs that can be done by machines, we will always struggle to meet capacity.

34. Finally, the court system is struggling. More needs to be done to free the court process from unnecessary inefficient processes. Streamed evidence, virtual courts, judge only rape trials and modern technology enable disclosure processes all need to be considered to free up and focus resources on those cases that definitely require them and stop defendants bleeding the system dry with unfair and unnecessary demands such as irrelevant disclosure and that all witnesses attend court. How much police time is wasted waiting in courts room simply for the defendant to plead guilty when they know the witnesses have turned up. Games like these cost money. 

October 2022