Thursday 25 November 2021
On November 18 and 19, about 400 chief constables, senior police officers, police and crime commissioners (PCCs), criminal justice experts and home affairs journalists attended the most high-profile policing conference in the calendar - the joint annual Summit of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC). It was the first NPCC-APCC conference since February 2020; most delegates at the event at the QE II Centre in Westminster were there in person, while the remainder followed it online. The Summit included discussion on the major issues affecting law enforcement and justice, including violence against women and girls, police performance indicators, court backlogs and trust and confidence in the police service among Black people. Our Head of Strategy and Insight, Danny Shaw, who led a team from Crest Advisory that helped plan the event, picks out the main themes:
1. Changing the police approach to violence against women and girls will take time
The Summit arrived at a pivotal moment in policing. Faith in the service has been shaken by a series of incidents, in particular, the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan police officer. In his opening speech, NPCC Chair Martin Hewitt addressed the issue of trust head on:
“The legitimacy and effectiveness of UK policing is built on our relationship with the public. It is the most important relationship we have, and it is under strain – and it’s most acutely under strain in our relationship with Black people and with women,” he said.
Concern about the safety of women and girls was at the heart of the first Summit panel discussion. Andrea Simon, Director of ‘End Violence Against Women’ (EVAW), said there was strong support among the public for a change in the culture of policing, with 71% in favour. The figure came from a YouGov/EVAW survey of almost 1,700 adults in England, Scotland and Wales, 43% of whom said their trust in the police had decreased since they heard details about Sarah Everard’s murder. A further 14% said they didn’t trust the police before the case and still don’t; 31% said they maintained trust in the police or their trust had increased.
Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, reflected the anger felt by many women and girls about safety on the streets as she directly addressed officers in the conference hall. “Are we living in a civilised and well policed country? Why are you still not policing violence against women and girls properly?”
It is clear, however, that in spite of the passionate pleas for cultural change in policing, it will not come overnight. The Summit heard that although at least eleven forces currently record misogyny as a hate crime, there is still no national framework or consensus. The NPCC has appointed Hampshire Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth as the lead on violence against women and girls, but work on a two-year plan - to transform the police approach and ensure there’s a new investigative focus on perpetrators rather than victims - is in its very early stages. Patience, it seems, is the watch-word.
2. Hurdles to overcome on the race and inclusion plan
The NPCC and the College of Policing (CoP) are developing a plan of action to bring about a more inclusive police service and tackle negative disparities for Black people interacting with, or working in, the service in England and Wales. As Martin Hewitt put it, there are racial disparities that “we still cannot fully explain” and “long-standing and well documented challenges in our relationship with Black communities”, evidenced by a “deeply concerning” confidence gap of 10 to 20 per cent compared with the national average.
The issues were explored during a session in which community pastor Lorraine Jones spoke powerfully about her family’s experiences in south London. Her 20-year-old son, Dwayne Simpson, was fatally stabbed in 2014. Since then Ms Jones has worked tirelessly to steer young people away from violence and build bridges between communities and the police.
The NPCC and CoP have appointed a Black barrister, Abimbola Johnson, to oversee the development of the race and inclusion plan. She will lead a board that will scrutinise, check and challenge the measures - but a stumbling block has already emerged. During an ‘in conversation’ session with the Summit moderator, BBC presenter and journalist Clive Myrie, and Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Amanda Pearson, Ms Johnson warned chief constables that the plan would not work unless the police service accepted that it was “institutionally racist”. For her, it is a red line - but at present it is hard to see every force acknowledging it, which presents an immediate challenge that will need to be reconciled.
3. The Crime and Policing Minister wants results
It’s a tradition of NPCC-APCC conferences that a senior government minister delivers a keynote speech; this year it was Kit Malthouse, the minister for policing and crime who serves in both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice and attends Cabinet.
In a wide-ranging address, Mr Malthouse set out his six priority areas for the police: integrity and trust; violence against women and girls; offender management; intelligence gathering; long-term solutions to tackling crime; and reducing the number of murders. On that last priority area, he said Britain was a “relatively low murder country overall” but it was “important psychologically” to get back to a situation where “we can boast of being one of the lowest murder countries in the world”, adding that it would be a “shallow boast because every murder is a tragedy”.
The implicit message was that the Home Office expects to see an improvement in outcomes in return for the additional investment that has been announced as part of the Spending Review.
But apart from the aim of reducing the number of murders and killings the other objectives referred to by the Policing Minister are not specifically mentioned in the Home Office ‘National Crime and Policing Measures’. It raises the question as to whether his priorities are aligned to the department’s - and how they will be assessed.
The pros and cons of police performance indicators were debated in a session titled ‘Measuring Up’ which included Crest chief executive Harvey Redgrave, who’s written extensively about the subject.
4. Fighting cross-border crime after Brexit is less bumpy than feared - but tests lie ahead
When the post-Brexit transition period expired at the end of 2020, the government agreed new security and policing arrangements with the EU. Under the deal, UK law enforcement agencies are allowed to continue exchanging data and intelligence with EU states on passengers, criminal records, DNA and fingerprints, but, critically, Britain no longer has access to SIS II, a huge information-sharing system containing alerts on suspects, vehicles and missing people. Shortly before the agreement was reached, NPCC Chair Martin Hewitt had warned that the loss of SIS II would have a “major operational impact”.
At the Summit, the NPCC lead on Brexit and International Criminality, Peter Ayling, acknowledged that losing access to the automated and comprehensive SIS II database represented a “challenge” for policing. The replacement system - alerts sent via Interpol - was “more clunky” and there was a risk that individuals would slip through the net, the Kent Police Assistant Chief Constable said.
Overall, the sense is that the police service has adapted well to the changes and relations with international law enforcement officials are stronger than before. Chris Jones, Director for the International Criminality Directorate at the Home Office, said although the UK was not a formal member of the EU crime-fighting agency, Europol, as it was previously, “we are still a big player” with a significant presence at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague.
Nevertheless, Covid restrictions on travel may well have limited the movement of criminals across borders, potentially masking weaknesses of the new post-Brexit approach. The UK has left the European Arrest Warrant system, which facilitated speedy extradition between EU states, but the extradition provisions in place since then have not yet been fully tested. Watch this space.
5. No shortage of ideas for tackling crime
One of the features of this year’s Summit was interactivity, with people attending the event in person and online able to submit comments and questions, contributing to and shaping debates. On the final day of the event, in ‘Five from the Floor’, five PCCs and senior officers each delivered a five-minute pitch on practical ways to improve community safety, with delegates voting for their favourite idea. Humberside PCC Jonathan Evison topped the poll with a youth diversion project, but Surrey Police’s Operation Blink also caught the eye: it’s a proactive campaign to combat catalytic converter theft.
In fact, a variety of innovative approaches to crime prevention and detection were on display at the Summit. A breakout session on domestic abuse considered the effectiveness of perpetrator programmes, with a focus on Hampshire Police’s pioneering Operation Cara, while, separately, ‘bystander intervention’ was explored as a way of calling out sexual harassment, abuse and violence.
Dr Arabella Kyprianides, Research Fellow at the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science, based at University College, London, highlighted how confidence in policing could be strengthened; Dr Sara Correia, from the School of Law at the University of Swansea, presented proposals for dealing with a relatively new phenomenon, ‘hybrid’ crime, where online threats spill over into offline abuse and violence; and Kirsty Brimelow QC, vice-chair of the Criminal Bar Association, suggested drawing up a new Coronavirus Act because of confusion and unlawful prosecutions arising from the current legislation and regulations.
These are troubling times for the police service - but the Summit demonstrated there is no shortage of ideas about how to increase confidence in policing and drive up the performance of forces across England and Wales.
Crest Advisory were proud to have played a role in helping the NPCC and APCC to plan the programme for the Summit. Our involvement in the event was the fitting culmination of a decade of work we have done helping PCCs and police forces understand and deal with the challenges of policing. Yes - Crest is celebrating its ten-year anniversary this month, ten years in which we have grown from a one-man band to a 30-strong organisation with a group of talented and committed staff, a diverse range of clients and a reputation for unparalleled analysis and insight in the fields of policing and criminal justice. Here’s to the next ten years!