In recent weeks there have been too many reminders of how fragile life is and the risks and challenges police officers and staff face every day. This motivated me to clear my diary and get out to speak to our people. I have thoroughly enjoyed escaping the office and catching up with Response officers at Wolverhampton, our Forensic Coordinators, Firearms Teams and Homicide Team. I am humbled by their courage, professionalism and commitment. I know they are not unique. In my 14 months in WMP I have been repeatedly impressed by the professionalism yet humility of our people. We have much to be proud of, yet you take everything in your stride, and rarely seek recognition.
Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe
I’ve not been the only Exec out and about. The chief has spent time with Force Contact staff at West Bromwich, listening in to calls and we’ve even allowed him out on a Response shift. He has, as usual, come away with many challenges for me and the other Execs, wanting to quickly resolve issues and respond swiftly.
I am also struck by the intensive exposure of our people to the aftermath of extreme violence. This has reinforced the importance of our investment in staff wellbeing. Our new People and Organisation Development team is forming and we are about to launch an employee assistance programme which will offer 24/7 access to counselling and support.
While dealing with death and tragedy is thankfully rare, there is no shortage of other stresses and challenges. Our people are grappling with more calls, incidents, crimes and caseloads. This is at a time when, despite our substantial step-up in recruiting, we are yet to close the gap created by the steady stream of retirements since we last recruited some years ago. At the moment it feels tough in our Contact, Response and Force Support teams. Investigation Teams and Public Protection are also facing growing caseloads of increasing complexity.
When we delivered the big WMP2020 changes in November, we worked hard to ensure gaps and vacancies were evenly spread. We made conscious choices to move more staff in to Response and to carry gaps in Force Support. We have also made decisions to post all new officers to Response. We are now reviewing the posting of restricted staff to ensure they can optimise their skills and contribution. Taking in to account anticipated leavers, our influx of new recruits and our posting decisions, our new joiners will dramatically reduce vacancies in our Response teams over the next seven months.
Since October our staff recruitment priority has been Force Contact. Many Contact staff are successful in moving to officer roles leaving a gap that has affected our ability to handle current call volumes. Disappointingly, we’ve not attracted as many new staff as we’d hoped, although there has been a steady stream of new joiners. We are having a fresh look at our approach to make sure we attract more people for some of our most challenging, yet rewarding, staff roles. In recent weeks many new staff have joined, some are local university students who offer great flexibility and a fresh perspective. We will continue to run courses through spring and summer to ensure we have the capacity for our highest summer demand. At the last strategic tasking meeting, having considered all our force vacancies, we made a conscious decision to move some of our officers to fill a critical gap in our Dispatch team. While this has consequences, we must respond when the public call us, to secure their trust and bring offenders to justice. We need to fix our ‘front door’ as it affects everything else we do.
This year we have recruited 50 new officers; we already have 100 student officers in training and nearly 300 more going through recruitment. In addition we are recruiting 150 new PCSOs. We have also increased the pace of staff recruitment to support Contact, Investigations and Force Support. As an Executive Team we are tracking progress of this as we know the gaps in our teams are affecting you all.
We have also been taking a close look at what else is affecting your ability to do your job as we’d intended at TS1. We’ve worked with leaders in Contact, Response, Mission Support and Investigations to remove bureaucracy. We’ve re-vamped Threat-To-Life & Missing-from-Home policies to reduce the burden on local supervisors; we’ve given dispatchers confidence to just task immediately and not keep re-reviewing prioritisation decisions. We’ve also approved much greater use of initial investigations enabling more than 300 calls per day to be dealt with over the phone and reducing the number of diary appointments.
While we are still working towards our WMP2020 objectives, with more than 30 ongoing projects and a refresh of our work plan for the next two years, right now our focus is firmly upon everyday policing, performance and priorities. After 10 successive years of crime reduction, we are experiencing an increase in traditional crime like burglaries, robberies and vehicle crime. At the same time our complex, and often less visible, caseload for domestic abuse, child abuse, modern day slavery and child sexual exploitation continues to grow.
Our WMP2020 model has better organised our resources for the future but, in the short term, this has exposed some challenges. It is tough right now but all of this affects our ability to get ahead of challenges like burglary and vehicle crime. Our clearer remits for Neighbourhood Policing, Response and Force Support do not mean that we no longer do anything else, especially the stuff that we know works well; like focusing on managing our most challenging offenders and tackling crime series. As WMP2020 beds in we’ll be better placed to do this really well. New ways of working like Initial Investigations will enable us to focus on crime and harm that is affecting communities and the fantastic take up of WMNow demonstrates a greater connection with our communities than ever before.
I recently heard someone say “but we don’t prioritise volume crime anymore, we focus on threat, risk and harm”. I disagree, this isn’t an either/or choice. Tackling crime is our job. We can prioritise according to threat, risk and harm but we have to understand the consequences. There is no simple solution. It is tough for our people right now and I don’t think we’ve spread the load equitably yet. We will be looking at all our resourcing decisions as we approach the summer to get us in the best position possible.
While we are shaping the next phase of WMP 2020, right now we are focusing on performance and getting the basics right: responding when the public need us, investigating crime, bringing offenders to justice and managing our most challenging offenders really well. This is not exclusively the job of Contact, Response and Offender Management. We all have a role. I will be challenging our senior leaders and Executive Team colleagues at our monthly Tactical Delivery Board to ensure we make best use of the resources we have to prevent crime, protect the public and help those in need. I appreciate that it may take more than a monthly tasking meeting to achieve the impetus required so I’ll continue to meet weekly with senior leaders from Contact, Force Support & Response, ensuring they have the support they need from the wider organisation.
Watch DCC Rolfe’s latest vlog here. Available to internal audience only.