I have spent a great deal of time talking in the blog about change. I will again on the 28th but this is very much ordinary business.
In the last few weeks I have been thinking about the risks you face and balancing your needs with public expectations and the way we are regulated. A few local and national incidents have put this in focus.
A couple of weeks ago we saw two officers injured from an assault, they were hugely courageous and suffered nasty injuries. Other officers also showed incredible bravery dealing with an armed man at an incident in Walsall. Their lives were firmly on the line and they put themselves in harm’s way. I have watched the body cam footage of the second incident. It reinforced again that policing is messy, confusing, highly charged and dangerous. Both incidents showed exactly why Taser is used in policing. More on that later.
At Halloween the force dealt with a mass gang of bikers who came together to engage in criminality. This was lawless behaviour of the worst sort. I commend the work of all who had to deal with this on the night. I am also sorry that the public have had to suffer this. Action was taken on the night as it has been for a number of months. More will need to be done. It is however messy to deal with and we sometimes fail public expectations at the time for action. I know we have to improvise and make tough decision which we did to detain a number of individuals. You may have seen the case of PC James Ellerton in Merseyside who was acquitted after deliberately knocking an offender off a scrambler bike that was being driven dangerously. I do not profess to know the full details but I do not want any of you to be in this situation.
We are constantly balancing our legitimacy with the public, their expectations, the need to act within the law and use minimal force, the need to keep you safe and be effective and you have to do this in imprecise circumstances in seconds.
How are we striking this balance?
You know I love Peel’s 1829 Principles. He had some views on the use of force. Here is what he said:
“The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, to the necessity for the use of physical force and compulsion in achieving police objectives.
“The police should use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to achieve police objectives; and police should use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.”
In my service, policing is an activity that has changed from one where I began my career patrolling in tunics with shiny buttons, chain link handcuffs and a wooden truncheon, much like in Peel’s era, to one thankfully where officers are better trained and equipped.
This year, in support of the code of ethics, I have given you values to help you balance these decisions. We issued new PAVA, body cameras in Response (more units will see roll out in 2017), new batons, (I am aware of the restriction on body armour pouches and we are changing this!) as you need these to keep you safe and these match public expectations.
I am aware many of you would like to see an extension of Taser. This equipment is still far from routine in policing and we can only issue it under tight regulations issued by the Home Secretary. Currently we have a high issue of Tasers compared to most forces. We have extended deployment from double crewed Taser teams to allow mixed teams and single crewed staff. We are unable to obtain more of these items at present as the Home Office procurement is being updated. As that situation alters there will be a need for a fuller discussion on Taser with you and with the public. I believe the footage on the new body cams will help in this debate to show how it is used and how we monitor its use.
You will have seen coverage on spithoods and notice we, along with a number of other large forces, do not use these items. I am fully aware that being spat at is disgusting and potentially a health issue. I am however more cautious on these items on the basis I fear they have a potential to restrict the monitoring of prisoners under restraint and have the ability to put you in harm’s way. I do not believe the case has been well made for them to secure public consent.
We can and should create greater confidence when you need to act and use force reasonably you get our support. In part we do this through policy. ACC Murray is running a gold group to help shape the right response to the bikes issue so we have a policy framework to guide your actions. I am very keen we act proportionately in PSD and work with the IPCC to do this. PC Ellerton’s case perhaps suggests we may not nationally getting this balance right yet.
The careful balance between what we need and how we act and the legitimacy for this will continue next year as we look at how we deliver greater fairness in policing through how we all act.
Dealing well with people still remains our best defence. I also want to take the opportunity to review our uniform to ensure we are projecting a traditional, approachable and non-militaristic image with the right equipment. However, before that, and having listened to your feedback following Pelkin we are ensuring the longer length lined car coats are available for uniformed officers from stores as I am well aware the current ones are just not warm enough! A bulk supply has been ordered and will be available department by department shortly.
Finally, in line with our people deal we are ensuring we are making available better physical and mental support for those who face risk and trauma in policing. We can and need to do better; and we will.