This is the speech I gave welcoming members of the Police Federation at their conference in Birmingham this week.
“Welcome to the West Midlands.
“It is an honour to welcome you to Birmingham and the West Midlands. Birmingham is known as the city of one thousand trades and it is great to welcome the practitioners of the craft of policing to the city.
“Birmingham is a fantastic city nothing like the concrete jumble of the past. 1.1 million People live in Birmingham and 2.8 million in the force area. 46% population of the population is under 30 making us Europe’s youngest city and 47% of the population is from Black or ethnic minority communities making us one of the most diverse cities and regions in the UK. It is a great place.
“Policing this region is challenging for West Midlands Officers. We face a full range of policing challenges ranging from one of the busiest road systems, highly diverse communities, organised crime, and international terrorism to everyday neighbourhood issues. We are also a force that, like your own, is much smaller than in the recent past and doing ever more. WMP2020, our change programme, has re-modelled our force, re-focussing and adapting to our budget challenge, but more importantly enabling us to face head on the envisaged changes in demand as we see a rise in crime against those who are the most vulnerable and world-wide phenomena such as terrorism and cyber-crime. This is tough work and our staff work harder than ever.
“Your conference this year is about Protecting the Protectors. Its timing is apt with a general election underway that will produce our next government. As the NPCC Finance Lead I feel it is important policing’s needs are not drowned out with our new government with the deafening sound of Brexit and the health and social care agenda. There are real questions about the future funding of the service we will need to discuss with a new government. Our staff are and their needs will be at the centre of this debate.
“How do we protect the protectors in a world with new threats and challenges?
“Today it has to start with emotional wellbeing. The mental challenges of policing has become a bigger issue for the service. Many in policing feel over criticised and undervalued. A 24/7 global and social media ensures your actions can create an almost instantaneous impact thousands of miles away. A growing trend to examine actions of staff in the past creates pressures on the service of today. Restricted pay growth at a time where family spending is coming under pressure could well test our ability to attract, retain and reward fairly. The emotional strain of the role is no longer the preserve of the street cop with a growing number of staff exposed to online imagery of sexual abuse and radicalisation. It is positive that these strains are no longer things solved in the pub but our staff are now far more open to seeking help or support.
“Here in the West Midlands when I became Chief I launched a People Deal for our staff to improve our care and support for officers and career long wellness support over the next few years. A new Employee Assistance Package launches in days. There is a significant investment in modern HR services and wellness underway. All forces are going to need to spend more to care, nurture and support staff in this vital area and we all need to realise these very real pressures being felt from top to bottom.
“Keeping officers safe with the right equipment is vital, particularly at a time so graphically bought home to us by Keith Palmer’s murder, of the raised threat from terrorism. In the West Midlands we have grown our firearms resources, issued new batons and PAVA spray and will bring in the new TASER. These are important protections. As one of the forces not yet issuing spit guards our local branch board has convinced me we need to take this step and we are about to start community consultation to begin the process of implementation. You are right to ensure we have a well-equipped service. However whilst we rightly want to equip staff well it is vital at a time of serious threat we move with care.
“Peel’s 1829 principles set out British Policing as one of minimal force and the police as an intrinsic civilian body part of the community. In my time in the police our appearance is much changed and I worry changes in appearance and equipment that may be popular with staff may in fact be changing how we seen by those we serve. It is important the debate on equipment is not an insular one and continues to secure public consent. This is something ever more important in cities like this one here with highly diverse communities. The greater our ability to project force to protect ourselves the more care we need to take on trust. It is a simple fact that, for a great many reasons, powers are used more frequently on some communities and groups than others.
“The last few years of policing in the US are perhaps the biggest signal to this. In a dangerous operating environment it is fair to say some US forces have surrendered public trust as they have continually expanded their capabilities to protect themselves. Which makes the most important point on protection.
“The simple issue is continuance of our legitimacy and our close relationship with the public is in fact the thing that keeps us most safe. Put simply the overwhelming majority of the public know we are on their side; however that relationship cannot be taken for granted.
“In a world of fake news. An instant world that seeks fast and simple answers for complex issues. A world where a smaller police service is drawn to less visible role. A more diverse Britain. A world where greater accessibility of information can drive selective perspectives. We will need to work ever harder to earn their trust.
“Central to West Midlands Police’s vision of “Preventing crime, protecting the public and helping those in need” is to secure our continuing legitimacy. This year we will begin a five year programme “Fairness in Policing” to ensure we are a force that lives by the principles of procedural justice in our dealing with our staff and public. An approach that starts off by being a fairer force inside to ensure we are better at being fair outside to the public we serve “regardless of race and social standing” as Peel would say. It also means being a force that attracts and retains a far more reflective community.
“In this search of continued legitimacy through fairer policing I hope we can work with government to look again at the misconduct and complaints arrangements which continue to reinforce a culture of blame and fear in our service and fails to satisfy anyone. Too often it acts as a sea anchor on real change. Most cops are simply good people trying to do their best in a very complex and imperfect world. We should not make this any harder.
“Ladies and gentlemen I sense challenging times lie ahead but exciting ones too. As I look at our new recruits who burst with pride to join our ranks we should never forget this is a huge honour and the best job in the world. Use your conference to look to the future and honour our proud heritage as you develop your own agenda for government.
“Can I end by thanking the West Midlands Federation Reps here for their tireless advocacy for their members and the support they provide people day in and day out. Times are challenging but the support you give and the views you offer matter and are listened to. I also extend this on behalf of my colleagues to all representatives. I thank the Federation for an ever more effective and professional voice for policing as we will see this week.
“Enjoy your conference, our city. Keep up the great work and come back soon.
“We are very proud to host you.”