Damian Green speech on excellence in policing

Speech given by Damian Green at the ACPO Excellence in Policing in Ryton on Tuesday (23 September 2013).

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Damian Green MP

I am glad you invited me here to discuss target-setting – it is a subject close to the heart of this government.

Not because we want to do it – precisely the opposite. I want you and your forces to cut crime, and I want you to take the operational decisions that make it happen.

The old ways of ticking the boxes for the targets are gone. I want the police to be responsive to the needs and desires of the people you serve, not Whitehall whims. That, surely, is the point of policing. To make the nation safer, to leave people feeling safer in their beds or on the streets, to catch criminals who break the law. It’s tough to do, but the aims are simple.   That is why we did away with the myriad of meaningless and counter-productive box-ticking the police were once subjected to. It was counter-productive for two reasons. Firstly, because it trapped officers behind their desks and wrapped them up in red tape. And secondly because it skewed the focus of the police. It made them too inward-looking to the government for their direction and less outward-looking to their real paymasters – the public.

The Home Secretary was very clear on taking office that from now on the police would have only one target – to cut crime. And I would like to congratulate you and your officers on delivering on that target over the first three years of this government. Crime is down more than 10 per cent in that time – an impressive achievement at any time, but even more striking when you consider the difficult decisions that had to be taken on funding.

Scrapping targets

Cutting costs is good, it is other people’s money you, and I, spend. But that is not the ‘point’ of our policing reforms. They have been put in place to help cut crime, pure and simple. I make that point whenever I speak, and will clearly have to keep doing so.

I would urge everyone to take heed of the Home Secretary’s words at the recent Superintendents’ Conference not to start introducing targets by the back door. Performance management and promoting excellence involves much more than setting a list of abstract figures officers can measure themselves against. It involves police leaders trusting their officers to use their professional judgement and encouraging them to trust themselves in turn. I trust them; the Home Secretary trusts them; polls show the public overwhelmingly trusts them.

Police have to use their judgment, good judgement, all the time. That judgment – whether to arrest or caution for a low-level vehicle crime, or whether someone caught cycling on a pavement needs a telling-off or a fixed penalty notice – is always crucial and always builds towards the one overriding aim of cutting crime. Officers must judge what the right thing to do is, but of course always within the confines of the law. That police discretion also extends to deployment – sergeants and inspectors making sure officers are deployed in the most effective way to cut crime. But once they get to the job, they have to show professional discretion. Is it a one-off fall out between a teenager and his mum? Or is it evidence of systematic abuse? You got called out to a burglary? But did you get a sniff of a pattern of domestic violence between the couple at the house when you arrived? You don’t just fill out the form for burglary, you might need to ask some other questions as well.

I know it is tough to throw off the security blanket of targets set elsewhere, but the benefits of taking that brave step are obvious. It will produce a new generation of skilled crime fighters better able to deliver on behalf of the public. It will also result in officers focusing less on targets (whether implicit or explicit) and more on the public. For if officers are told to target a specific type of crime it will not only serve to skew priorities, it could also lead to arguments among the officers themselves about how different crimes are classified. And that surely cannot be in the interests of the public.


Underpinning of this work, is the issue that is now central to all of us in public life and we seek to win the trust of the people we serve – transparency. Our reforms are making the police more responsive to the public, not to government. In order to ensure that works in the best way possible we also need to give the public the tools and levers to hold the police properly to account. The most spectacular example of this has, of course, been crime maps. Many scoffed, especially estate agents, but they have actually demonstrated the huge public appetite for information about policing and crime in their area.

And I can put some new figures on that appetite today by revealing that Police.uk has now broken through the 600m hits landmark in less than three years since it was set up. That is a spectacular success by any measure and merely serves to strengthen my resolve to provide yet more transparency to the public. And we will be adding more functionality to the website as it grows – more ways for the public to see what sort of service they are getting; more ways for them to compare it to the service being provided in other forces; more ways for the public to make their voices heard; more ways for them to drive the improvements in policing they want to see.

Crime maps

Of course, in giving the public the information to make judgements about their policing, we also had to give them the means to do something meaningful about it. Now, for the first time ever, they can do that in the most meaningful way there is – expressing themselves at the ballot box. The election of Police and Crime Commissioners was a landmark day not just in policing, but in the way all public services are delivered. Other services – particularly in the blue light sector – are already looking at the democratic accountability conferred by PCCs and seeing it as the way forward. PCCs have their critics, but just as in the case of those who leapt on the early teething problems of crime maps, they will eventually have to eat their words. PCCs are here to stay and they will become stronger as people realise the very real impact they can have on local policing.

All this transparency means police are under greater scrutiny than ever. But that is as it should be. The vast majority of the police in this country do an excellent job and they have nothing to fear. In any walk of life we will see people letting themselves and their colleagues down. We must ensure that the number of police officers that applies to is as low as possible. And that means educating officers at all levels about the demands of their role and making it a continuous learning process throughout their career so that the Chief Constable of 30 years’ experience is reminded as often as the rookie PC on the beat.

College of Policing

That brings me to the College of Policing – a reform that has received fewer headlines than PCCs, but a body that arguably has even more potential to transform the profession. It will devise a code of ethics to be issued to every officer. Crucially, it will also equip policing with the leadership skills at every level to ensure it is followed. Its role will be to extend professionalism across officers at all ranks. And the training programmes it introduces will ensure we build an ever more effective body of crime fighters. Central to that mission will be a new focus on evidence-based policing, distilling and identifying what works in crime-fighting and spreading it across all 43 forces.

Leadership is a vital commodity in any industry. General Montgomery is a man who knew something of what it took to be a great leader and he described it as:

“The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.”

Now there is a myth in some circles that leaders are born to the task ahead of them, but this is nonsense. Good leadership skills, like anything else, are born of hard work, professionalism and skill. Leadership can, and must, be taught. Particularly when the ramifications of leadership and decision making can be the difference between life and death. And therein lies the true potential of the College of Policing. It will generate the leaders of the future. Just as importantly, it will give the leaders of today the opportunity to pass on the benefits of their experience and ability in a more tangible and wide-ranging way than ever before.


High quality leadership is always of utmost importance, but its need is particularly pressing at the moment. You know as well as I do I that it has been a difficult 12 months for the profession. Revelations from the Hillsborough Independent Panel and the Leveson Report and in topics such as undercover policing have damaged public confidence in policing, there is no escaping that. When we operate under the British model of policing by consent public confidence is vital. Winning back confidence once lost can be a difficult task, but our reforms of increasing transparency, promoting accountability and extending professionalism will make it a smoother path to tread.

For all the stresses and difficulties and arguments I remain optimistic about policing in this country. Policing in this country has nearly always made us proud and it will make us proud again in the future. But if we all want to ‘achieve the excellence’ that the billing of this conference suggests then I would urge you to embrace our reforms, look to the future and flourish within them.

Above all, today, the bigger the job you have, the more open and transparent you have to be. And because police leaders can be confident in the job they are doing, they above all, can make transparency their ally.

Published 23 September 2013