This week West Midlands Police has been consistently in the news. We have been criticised for our actions and decisions in two high profile stories. I am always conscious that adverse headlines create difficulties for you. Friends, family and members of the public will have a strong view on what we have done and you are often left trying to explain actions you may not understand so I want to offer you my explanation.
It is important we recognise this is happening in a context where Police Chiefs and Staff Associations are trying to highlight how cuts of between 25-40% will serious alter how we carry out policing. It is inevitable there will be parts of the media who use this debate to question how we work.
Officers in Spain.
We were asked by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) to provide two officers to support a Spanish initiative by the Guardia Civil to keep British nationals safe when abroad. This is funded by and planned in conjunction with the NPCC and Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The two-week-long initiative mirrors the deployment of officers from France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Morocco in tourist hotspots. If you recall we recently had Romanian and Lithuanian officers here as part of Operation Trivium to help us deal with Eastern European communities and the purpose of our secondment is very similar.
I am aware some people feel we are busy in Force and cannot afford to spare staff to do this. I understand this, however if you are in partnership with European policing you have to give as well as take. We are the second largest Force in the country and we play our part nationally. The contribution is two officers for two weeks with around 3 million visitors each year to Spain. Sergeant Williams and PC Anderson have been performing a variety of supportive roles, including assisting Spanish officers with investigations with UK nationals involved as well as taking part in patrols – all of which has been a policing success. Both have extensive knowledge of the island and excellent Spanish language skills. Whilst deployed they are working long rostered hours and of course, a limited amount of off-duty time, with any activity they choose to undertake funded entirely by themselves. They have been received with gratitude by Spanish Officers and civic leaders.
I am totally happy the decision to send them was the right thing to do and I stand by this decision. I also hope they enjoy this unique opportunity and am proud to see them representing our Force on behalf of British Policing.
Whilst members of the media may want to criticise UK policing and West Midlands Police for deploying staff, I am genuinely disappointed at the level of scrutiny and personal attention paid to these officers whilst carrying out their duties and during their very limited off duty time. I hope the media chose to leave them alone to get on with their work. I am happy for our decision to be criticised. I think they should be allowed to get on with their work.
Tuesday’s Birmingham Mail carried an article that was picked up by the national media. We responded to a freedom of information request asking for details of people who had a wanted marker on PNC for the longest period of times. We gave these details but in responding to the request we declined to name these people on the basis of the release of personal data. Under the specific legislation which covers FOI, sensitive personal data relating to individuals may not be released if there is a superior alternative ie in this instance via the WMP Press Office who release details of wanted people as a matter of course.
I absolutely understand that we have a duty to manage personal information properly. People who have not been charged or convicted are entitled to privacy unless we have good grounds for naming them. There are also very good operational reasons why we may not wish to alert some people than we are seeking them.
However the people on this list were wanted for serious offences for some time. We got this decision wrong. We appeared like we were protecting people wanted for serious crimes. The public interest in most of these cases outweighed any privacy duty.
We have reviewed each case and will publish the details where the public can help us and there are no operational reasons we do not wish to alert them. Some people will not be named as they are believed, but not confirmed, as dead.
As always the media will challenge us on our decisions and actions. I am keen we are courageous as a Force in how we go about policing. That does mean standing by controversial things when you believe you are right and admitting when you have got things wrong. I hope you can see where I am on these matters.
I am sorry if the stories have created any challenges for you this week.