Policing Minister: Police Superintendents' Association conference

Policing Minister Chris Philp delivered a virtual address to the Police Superintendents' Association conference on Tuesday 12 September 2023

The Rt Hon Chris Philp MP

Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.

I am extremely sorry that I can’t be with you in person. I have just come back to the Home Office from a meeting at No.10 with the Prime Minister, and unfortunately when the Prime Minister asks for a meeting it’s not really optional, and so I was not able to get from No.10 to Stratford-upon-Avon in 20 minutes.

But I would love to be with you next year, and all else being equal I would especially like to come and speak in person, wherever it is held in 2024.

One of the most important aspects of the job that I do is to listen to policing at all ranks, at all levels and across the country to understand where there are barriers that are stopping you doing your job as well as you would like to, and to try and then address whatever problems and barriers may be. I see my role as, amongst other things, the voice of policing in government.

The Police Superintendents’ Association is a vital part of that. I am very grateful to Paul, Harvi and all of your members for the conversations and discussions we have. I meet with Paul and Dan on a regular basis and always listen to what they have to say and, I hope, often act on their lessons and prompting, and as Paul kindly mentioned in his speech.

Superintendents and Chief Superintendents play a vital role in front-line leadership. You are running the units, the BCUs and other units that are delivering front line policing, and so you are a critical part of policing, you are the glue that holds together the entire policing system.

I see this in my own neighbourhood in South Croydon, I’m a Member of Parliament in Croydon, and I work closely with our BCU Commander, Chief Superintendent Andy Brittain and with our new Borough Superintendent Mitch Carr, and I can see the difference that Andy and Mitch are making in Croydon to the way that policing is run.

So I completely see the way your leadership is critical to the way the public get kept safe. And of course we should keep in mind that there is no society, no civilisation without the role that policing perform. Because, without public safety, without law and order we cannot have a functioning society, so I think the work you and your colleagues do up and down the country every day is amongst the most important work any public servants undertake, and that is why public safety, people often say, is the first duty of the state.

I think British policing at its best is truly world class. We saw, for example, both at the funeral of Her Majesty the Late Queen about this time last year and in the coronation a few months ago.

We saw policing, I think, at its best, facilitating those events that passed off safely. The eyes of the world were upon us, and despite the fact there were very specific intelligence reports that we had in the 24-48 hours before the coronation in particular of plots to disrupt proceedings, police responded, I think, fantastically in making that event of huge national significant pass off without significant incident.

I think the Metropolitan Police who led the operation, Thames Valley in Windsor, NPOC, and all of those forces, probably every force in the country who provided mutual aid, did a fantastic job in making sure that event of national significance went so well.

Like Paul, and many people here probably, I was at the Police Bravery Awards a few weeks ago, in fact in July, hearing about not just the fantastic job that the police do in keeping the public safe but about the sacrifices that many individual officers make in the line of duty, and the stories of extraordinary courage were extremely moving.

I saw and met officers who had tackled criminals who were armed with knives or guns, in one case with explosives, and those officers put themselves in the line of danger to disarm those criminals at huge personal risk. There were officers from the West Midlands who had gone onto a frozen lake in an effort to rescue children who were drowning.

Extraordinary stories of bravery from around the country. And of course as Paul mentioned, I am sure on all of our minds today is the memory of Sergeant Graham Saville of the Nottinghamshire force who, just a week or two ago, made the ultimate sacrifice, gave his life in the line of duty, trying to save, in fact successfully saving the life of a member of the public on a railway track, and I know that our thoughts and prayers will be with Sargeant Saville’s family at what must be an awfully, awfully difficult time. I know he had two young children as you probably know.

I’m sure all of us have seen these kind of sacrifices. As a Croydon MP I think constantly about Sargeant Matt Ratana who was murdered in the custody suite in Croydon and of course, as a Member of Parliament, I remember PC Keith Palmer who lost his life protecting Parliament, and therefore protecting our democracy.

Those are some examples of the exceptional, the ultimate sacrifice made in the line of duty, but I know every day police officers put themselves in danger to protect the rest of us, to keep the public safe.

So I would like to start by saying that, on behalf of the government, the public and my constituency in Croydon, a huge thankyou for the work you do to keep us safe. The bravery, the dedication and the sacrifice that you make, so thank you.

So Paul talked a bit in his speech about resources and police officer numbers, and that is an important topic. And clearly you cannot do your job properly as leaders in the police force without the resources you need, and that of course starts with police officer numbers, and that has been debated a lot.

Speaking from where we are today, as of March 31 this year we had 149,566 officers across England and Wales, which has gone up by about 20,000. It has gone up by 20,591 in the last three years, which has more than made up for the challenges that existed in the years immediately after 2010.

So we now have three and a half thousand, 3,542 to be precise, 3,500 more officers than we had before, including in the Met which has about 35,000 officers, that’s about 2,000 more than it had before, which I think does help with that neighbourhood policing work that Paul spoke about and I completely support, and that is one of the places that we would like to see those extra officers getting deployed.

It’s also meant your ranks can be reinforced, so again in London every borough now has a dedicated Superintendent, its Mitch Carr in Croydon as well as the Chief Superintendent commanding the various BCUs, but I think adding Borough Superintendents for all of London’s 32 boroughs is important and I hope other boroughs around the country take a careful look at that as well.

So I would like to again say thank you to all the people here, the Superintendents, the Chief Superintendents who were involved in that recruitment campaign to hit those record numbers.

We are now very keen to maintain those record officer numbers going forward and we have designed the financial package that Police and Crime Commissioners receive to make sure the resources are there to maintain those officer numbers.

I’m very conscious that the recruitment programme means that a high proportion of officers are relatively new. So to get those 21,000 next extra offices in three years, we had to actually hire about 48,000 offices to obviously backfill the turnover in those three years.

So about a third of officers have less than about three and a half years experience. So that is obviously quite a large proportion, because I’m very conscious of the need to properly train them, mentor them, bring them on.

So anything we can do to encourage more experienced officers, particularly those at the 30 year service point, just to stay a little bit longer in the service, even a couple of years, two or three years, just to impart their experience to the next generation is useful and I know that chief officers, Chief Constables do have the ability to fund pension abatement issues in order to make sure that the financial incentive for more experienced officers can be put in place, if that would make a difference.

And I would also echo the points that Paul made about the importance of wellbeing. Obviously policing can be quite a stressful job, emotionally in terms of mental health as well as the physical danger involved and I touched upon earlier so the work of the Police Wellbeing Board is something I take extremely seriously, and Paul sits on that as well.

And there is a lot more I think we can do. We’ve got a chief medical officer for policing now. But there is a lot more we can do, I think to make sure we’re supporting officers on all ranks, in doing this very difficult and very challenging job.

So I think we’ve got some good news there on police numbers, but I’m also very keen to make sure that we are reducing and removing the burdens that can sometimes take time from frontline policing.

And when I was first appointed about a year ago, I spoke to a lot of officers, from front-line officers through to borough commanders to BCU commanders through to Chief Constables and the Met Commissioner, and I heard a few consistent messages, things they’ve been asking me to go and try and sort out and one of those was to do with the bureaucracy of the Home Office Counting Rules.

Now I’m very keen that we don’t spend excessive or unnecessary time , essentially, bureaucracy. Obviously, we need to count crime properly, but we need to make sure it’s done in a way that is proportionate and doesn’t take up too much time. So we made some changes just a few months ago in response to those requests.

For example, removing the need to double record or multiply recorded crimes around stalking, harassment, and controlling coercive behaviour. Obviously those crimes need recording, but we don’t need to multiply record what is essentially the same course of conduct, so that will save time.

We’ve also removed the need to record s5 public order crimes when the disorder is over and there is no further action necessary. And we are also making sure that malicious communication only needs to be recorded when the criminal threshold has clearly been met, and not when people simply feel offended but there’s no criminality.

So those changes and others to the Home Office Counting Rules, which I know are quite onerous, will according to the NPCC save nearly a half a million hours of police time each year. That is time that can obviously be better spent on the streets, visibly policing and also investigating crime, which I will come onto a little later.

The second that I heard, essentially everybody from Sir Mark Rowley to the frontline emergency teams in Croydon – sorry to mention Croydon so much but I spend a lot of crime there so it informs a lot of thinking.

Everyone, across the country, not just in London but across the country, police leaders, talk about the amount of time taken up by responding to mental health issues. That is in terms of emergency response teams, taking patients to a hospital where they require admission under the Mental Health Act but often wait long periods of time, 10 hours plus before the patient was admitted.

And I was struck by the Humberside model – not sure if there are any Supers from Humberside here. Humberside had a model called Right Care, Right Person, where essentially the ambulance service and the NHS looked after mental health patients where there was no crime and there was no threat to public safety or the patient’s own safety. So it’s essentially a medical situation.

And police only responded when there was a threat to public safety or the person’s safety or criminality. And that transition, that work in Humberside was effective. There was no diminution in the quality of care, but it freed up 17,000 hours a year of police time in Humberside alone.

And so, I was asked by many police leaders to try and replicate that nationally. So I went away and spoke to ministers in the Department for Health and Social Care to see if we could get an agreement to do that nationally – got that agreement, the National Partnership Agreement which was announced I think in July and now that Humberside approach should be and will be applied nationally, it will be rolled out in each individual area.

It will be phased depending on how quickly the health service can spin up its capacity, but that should happen quickly. And that should not be a long process and I would urge you to get behind that in each of your force areas because it’s in the interest of the patient because if they are suffering what is essentially a medical problem, then they are better treated by medical professionals not the police. And clearly, it will free up a huge amount of police time to focus on protecting the public.

And again working with the NPCC we estimate it will free up over a million hours a year of police time to concentrate on protecting the public and catching criminals, which I think is what we all want to do, so it is a win win I think for everybody so please get behind the rollout of that.

We’re going to be monitoring that from the Home Office, working with DHSC, but obviously we need your help to make it happen on the ground. But we’ve now got a national framework to make this happen in each of your areas.

The other point that has been raised with me repeatedly by the policing family is around the interaction with the CPS. We meet to discuss this regularly with my colleagues across government and the DPP.

I think it’s fair to say there is still work ongoing, discussing issues like the boundary between police and CPS charging decisions, issues to do with redaction, which I know takes up a lot of police time, particularly in relation to case files prior to the charging decision, and DG6. All of those things take up a lot of time.

So I can’t announce any news just today, but it is something which my colleagues are working on day and night, and I am doing everything I can to try and help in those areas as well.

In this area, I would also like to endorse the work of the Productivity Review, which former Kent Chief Constable Alan Pughsley is working on - they’re going to have some recommendations this autumn that should help efficiency and productivity, just removing those burdens which are taking officer time from frontline duties, very much welcome input from the Supers Association and from Paul into that.

One of the issues that they are going to be thinking about, and which you may want to think about as well is the number of officers on long-term sick and restricted duties.

It is quite a high proportion, and I think if we can manage that down it will free up a lot of officers to help protect the public. So please just give some thought to that as you look at your own workforce. I know Alan Pughsley will consider it but do consider it locally as well.

But essentially one of my duties is to make sure you have the resources you need, and I fight that battle on a daily basis in government.

It’s also to make sure your time is freed up or your officers time is freed up to do that frontline work. I’ve given a few examples just now. But I will continue doing that. Fighting for resources and removing bureaucratic burdens, and if there is anything more that we need to do beyond what we have already spoken about already, I’d love to hear about that either in the Q&A today or from Paul, Dan and Harvi subsequently because I’m always on the lookout for new ideas to try and make the system work better.

In terms of our objectives as a government I think they are the same objectives as yours which is to visibly police and to fight crime.

It’s worth mentioning that crime in England and Wales is actually coming down, and has being coming down since 2010. According to the crime survey of England and Wales. According to the ONS it’s the only statistically reliable way of measuring crime over the long term.

And since March 2010, neighbourhood crime as measured by the crime survey, which includes burglary, robbery, vehicle theft and so on. It’s down 51%. Violent crime down by 46%. And as Andy Cooke, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector said in his State of Policing report, arguably, the country has never been safer.

But public perception can often be different, particularly if there are crime hotspots or there are particular crime types like knife crime in urban centres, which do need more work doing on them.

Social media obviously amplifies the perception of crime in a way that didn’t happen 10 or 15 years ago, so although all major crime types are significantly down since 2010, public perception doesn’t always reflect that.

So I think we have still got a lot of work to do, and we certainly have no room to be complacent. And that’s why the Home Secretary and I last week or the week before last announced this initiative, by agreement with the National Police Chief’s Council, and with the College of Policing with Chief Constable Andy Marsh there, with Andy Cooke, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector to always follow all reasonable lines of inquiry where they exist and where they’re proportionate for all crimes, so not to screen out minor crime and just say we’re not going to investigate that it’s not important enough to always follow a reasonable line of inquiry.

And we think that zero tolerance approach is important. Because those crimes that are perceived as minor obviously do affect the victim, whether it’s shoplifting, phone theft, whatever it may be, they do affect the victim.

They do affect public confidence in policing. I’ll talk about the conduct issue in a minute but effectively investigating crime where there is a reasonable lead is important.

Stephen Watson, the Chief Constable in Greater Manchester introduced this about 18 months ago to great effect. They doubled their arrest rate in Greater Manchester and in fact, they’ve been so successful, they’ve had to open up two new magistrate’s courts in Greater Manchester and reopened some custody suites that have previously been closed down because they’ve arrested so many additional criminals.

And I asked Stephen Watson, tell me about the extra resources, they didn’t require extra resources and he said that actually what it did was it unlocked, and these are his words, latent capacity in investigation teams and in neighbourhood teams. Latent capacity.

It did require more custody suites eventually because more people were getting nicked, but he described latent capacity in investigation teams. So that was, I think, quite interesting.

And it goes back to that broken windows philosophy that New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton talked about in the 1990’s and that he repeated when he was LAPD Commissioner, I think from 2002 to 2009.

If you tackle the crimes like shoplifting, ASB, various forms of theft, it creates an atmosphere of public safety. It avoids an atmosphere of disorder or menace developing, it avoids an atmosphere being created in which more serious crimes can flourish, or in which particular offenders go through a scale of an escalating offending and it actually makes the public feel a lot safer. And it denies criminals the space in which they can operate.

So I think it is really important and I think technology can help us do this. So one thing I would particularly point to is the potential presented to deliver the all reasonable lines of inquiry commitment using facial recognition from video footage recovered from CCTV cameras, things like ring doorbells, mobile phones and so on.

And I’m sure many of you are doing this already, but the algorithms that we use to face match have become in the last six or 12 months extraordinarily sophisticated. And I’ve seen some images recovered from crime scene CCTV camera footage, principally, when looking at it as a layperson, you think there is no way you’re going to get a match on that picture against the PND database or the force’s own custody database, but the matching algorithm is now so good that they are getting matches on those images.

So I would strongly encourage anyone to try and recover every image running through the PND database, and it’s quite likely you’ll get a hit and some forces are doing this to a great extent already.

All forces are doing it to some extent, but not every force is doing it as much as they could do. And that technology is now so powerful, I think it is one of the most, and then CCTV footage is so ubiquitous, Ring doorbell footage, mobile phone footage, I think it will have over the next few years just an enormous impact on our ability to lock up criminals and it’s an efficient way of investigating crime because particularly if the victim or the shop or whatever it is, emails in the footage, that’s a very efficient way of getting evidence that can then be acted upon.

So I would just strongly endorse the zero tolerance approach that has been agreed following all reasonable lines of inquiry. The NPCC is behind it, the College is behind it. The Inspector will inspect against it as well. And I think it will really help us demonstrate to the public that we are taking every crime even what have historically been considered minor crimes very seriously.

Paul rightly touched in his remarks earlier on standards and conduct. We’ve obviously all probably read Baroness Casey’s rather hard-hitting report into the Met. And we’ve seen those terrible high-profile cases there.

But obviously there are issues in other forces as well. And I think making sure there is trust and confidence in policing, and is maintained, is critical. I think the work that the Commissioner is doing in the Met is something we support fully here and other senior officers asked us to look at the rules around dismissals for misconduct, and we’ve responded to their request. You’ll have seen the announcement a week or two ago.

And you know, the misconduct panel will still contain two lay people, a legally qualified member and a lay member, as well as a senior officer who will now chair the panel so there is still obviously a lay majority and non-police majority but we have strengthened rightly the power of senior officers, chief officers in particular, to take action where necessary, in order to make sure only those who deserve to wear the uniform character badge do so.

We do need to make sure trust and confidence is rebuilt. But in saying all of that and I always say this whenever I do any media around police conduct. The vast majority, vast majority of police officers are hardworking, decent and brave.

All you need to do is to address that small minority, very small minority who are letting us down. And that is what the recent reforms are designed to do. And I think all of us in our day-to-day interactions with officers in your leadership roles, just make sure there is no tolerance for the sort of behaviour which has, unfortunately, cast a shadow.

But I’m confident that working on those issues, as we are doing across the country, in government, police leadership, the whole policing family, I am confident that we can address this, indeed are addressing it already. And that we will make sure that the public have the trust and confidence in policing that we will want them to have and that is partly around delivering the visible police service on the ground.

It’s also around taking proactive action as the rest of other forces around the country are doing and whatever is needed to support that from government, I am here to provide so please just come and ask if you need anything further. I can promise you Paul is not shy in doing that.

I am conscious we will want to leave time for questions. So I will draw to conclusion but let me just repeat what I said at the beginning, to say a huge thank you for the work that you and the officers serving under your leadership are doing to protect the public.

I think the service ethos that I see daily up and down the country is something in the police service and police forces are something that we can all be very proud of. You’re protecting the public, you’re keeping us safe.

We’re very grateful for the work you’re doing. And if there is anything more you need from government, my job is to be here to listen to you to try and make sure you have everything you need to perform the leadership role that you were called upon to discharge. So you know whenever anything comes up, please ask and I’ll do my level best to get it sorted out.

And finally, thank you Paul, again for the work you do in your job with the Supers Association. I look forward to continuing to work with you in the weeks, months and hopefully years ahead. Thank you.

Home Office
The Rt Hon Chris Philp MP