Damian Green Speech on Police Reform

Speech given by Home Office Minister Damian Green on the need for police reform - 8 July 2013

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

The Rt Hon Damian Green MP

This has been a terrible few days of headlines for the police. They are largely historic, but still hugely damaging.

The job of cleaning out the stables is key – but even that is not enough.

We need to re-build confidence in the police by carrying on the reform programme. We need to get into a new phase of that reform programme, and this is one of the matters I will be dealing with today.

The challenge to police to rebuild public confidence comes not from me, but from the public themselves. Police leaders are used to operating in a command and control structure where hierarchies are respected. Law enforcement needs that structure. But these days they also operate in a transparent, open society. Reconciling these pressures is not easy. How can it be done? By remembering how they started:

Police officers must always remember the oath they swear when they take up the Office of Constable – to discharge their duties faithfully according to the law. Put in more modern terms, police officers are required to do the right thing, not the easy thing.

The onus on police leaders is clear: the powers they wield are tremendously important and they must always exercise clear and effective judgement on how and when they are deployed. In the vast majority of cases, that is already happening. But recent examples have shown us it has not always happened.

And that is why I can announce today that the Home Secretary has commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to carry out a thorough review into the operation of undercover policing across ALL forces.

The allegations surrounding the Lawrence Inquiry have been particularly shocking. They are the subject of independent investigation already and the Home Secretary has asked all forces to examine their archives to ensure nothing is hidden there.

The allegations also serve as a timely reminder of the importance of winning the trust and respect of ALL the diverse communities of this country. Much has been done since the brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence. But much remains still to do.

The Code of Ethics being produced by the College of Policing will be another big change underpinning all this work. When it is published in the autumn it will have statutory force and will not simply be something to be printed on cut-out-and-keep cards and then forgotten.

This is all difficult stuff for the government and the police. Fortunately, as policing minister, what I see day-in, day-out is officers rolling up their sleeves and getting on with the job, no matter the criticism they receive.

The full picture is a lot rosier than the headlines. Today I want to strike an optimistic note as we look to the future of policing, as opposed to its problematic past. One where police officers are further freed from Whitehall constraints and empowered to do their job by a renewed sense of confidence in their skills and professionalism.

And in that spirit of optimism, I am going to share a few statistics which are worthy of note. Under this government:

Recorded crime down more than 10%. Violence against the person down 16%. Total robbery down 10%. Burglary down 11%. Offences against vehicles down 18%.

This is a significant achievement at any time, but even more impressive when delivered against the backdrop of the difficult economic situation and the necessary decision to cut police funding.

The government’s police reforms are clearly working, helping officers do more for less; helping them speed up justice by trusting their professional discretion; helping them focus on their real purpose of crime-fighting.

The skills, dedication and hard work of police officers are there for all to see. And yet we are here to discuss police reform. No doubt there will be those who question the need for further reform with such an impressive record on show.

But if we stand still, the criminals will move ahead of us. We always need to get better. This government’s radical reform plan will continue. And continue apace.


The public sector ethos of the police is unfailingly impressive, but there is much to learn from the private sector with its endless ingenuity and relentless search for ways to improve and innovate.

There are examples in many areas of the modern world.

While we might have cause to criticise the ingenuity of Apple’s accountants, the creative genius of its developers and the late Steve Jobs stand as a testament to a constant drive to succeed.

In 2001, Apple launched the iPod and changed forever the way people listen to music. In 2007, Apple launched the iPhone and changed forever the way people communicate. In 2010, Apple launched the iPad and changed forever the way people entertain and inform themselves.

The fortunes of the once dominant companies Apple took on have fared less well since. I do not know whether Sony rested on its laurels with the Walkman, or Nokia with its models of mobile phones, but I can say for certain I don’t know anyone who owns either of them now.

We can also find inspiration closer to home. In the Beijing Olympics Sir Dave Brailsford’s Team GB cyclists won so many gold medals – eight from an available total of 18 – the sport was changed to stop such dominance ever being repeated. Four years later in London they did it again.

Sir Dave’s genius has also helped deliver the first ever British winner of the Tour de France and his theory of marginal gains is often cited as the reason behind his stellar success. He believes – and it would be a foolish man who tried to disagree – that to improve performance by, say, 10% it is much easier to improve 10 things by 1% each than to seek a huge leap forward in one.

Apple and Team GB are hugely impressive examples, but why are they relevant? They share one characteristic trait that it will be vital for the police to emulate in the future – their harness and mastery of technology.

Team GB and Sir Dave Brailsford’s obsession with technological details was such that rivals at London 2012 claimed their wheels were ‘too round’ – well the French did.

Police reform

The lessons from the private sector – and the world of sport for that matter – are clear: it does not matter how good you are, you can always get better.

This government sees things a little differently from our predecessors. Where they issued edicts and set targets, we encourage the police to use their expertise to solve the problems they face on a daily basis.

Our role is to set the strategic agenda, and to ensure we support the police in cutting crime. Ultimately, it is for chief constables and police and crime commissioners to determine how best to achieve this goal – not ministers or civil servants.

But I will continue to challenge the police to seek ways to improve and insist they continually challenge themselves.

And in setting those challenges, I intend to continue this government’s pace of reform. To embed a culture of excellence which will allow all officers to thrive in their profession and to drive relentlessly the pursuit of efficiency across the board.

So the pace of reform will not slacken, but the focus will shift.

Today I want to talk about the next stage of this government’s radical police reform programme.

Stage one – structural change

Our first stage was getting the structures right.

So we ended the culture of Whitehall interference and target-setting to put the experts back in charge of policing.

And we introduced democracy into the system for the first time, to give people a direct say in how their communities are policed. Yes, of course we would have liked more people to exercise their democratic rights in the first elections. But Police and Crime Commissioners are here to stay and they will become stronger as people become more used to their existence and see the impact they have on their local areas.

PCCs will also serve to strengthen the vital link between the police and the people they serve. And the accountability they bring will also generate a driving force for the increased efficiency we need in policing. For if the people are not satisfied with what they see they can make their voices heard at the ballot box.

When I hear people criticise the introduction of PCCs I invite them to support democracy. We sound off about democracy in other parts of the world, so it always seems strange to hear others in our country apparently arguing that their countrymen need less democracy.

I am personally in favour of democracy. I depend on it for my job. And I like to think most other people in this country are in favour of democracy too. That is why PCCs will eventually be seen as a trailblazer for the democratic provision of local services – something I will return to later in my speech.

PCCs were certainly a radical challenge to the status quo of policing. They shook up the idea of how policing should be delivered in this country. But we always need to challenge conventional assumptions. Too many times structural change is discussed solely within the prism of force mergers. I have nothing against them in principle – where they are supported by PCCs and the local community – but the challenges we face may require more creative thinking.

Thankfully, forward-thinking members of the police are rising to this challenge already. The National Police Air Service is a police-led and police-managed collaboration to provide improved air support across the country, but at reduced cost to the taxpayer.

Private sector skills are also being sought out. Avon and Somerset Police has joined forces with local authorities and computer giant IBM to provide support services across the region, while Lincolnshire Police has saved money while still cutting crime through its partnership with G4S.

There are ideologies on both side of the debate, saying either that the public sector cannot be sensitive to the needs of its customers, or that the private sector cannot care about long-term excellence. They are both wrong. The best of the public sector and private sector ethos is needed for effective policing.

Collaboration is the future of policing.

PCCs will be at the forefront of leading this transformation and, to support this drive, the Police Innovation Fund will make up to £50m available every year to support proposals that drive efficiency, innovation and better working.

The foundations of policing have been immeasurably strengthened by the introduction of commissioners, but in building the structures needed for the future it is vital to connect the very lowest levels of criminality with the very highest.

As we all know, the small-scale street-level drug dealer ultimately gets his supplies from the Mr Big at the top of the chain. And when the crime boss wants to launder his profits, he uses fraudulent operations at local tanning salons and cab firms.

The National Crime Agency will be able to make sense of these linkages better than ever before – connecting the local to global operations of criminals in this country and providing a clear links at every level from police officers on their local beat to complex international criminal networks.

Our second stage of reform was about cultural change. Of course, structures are only as solid as the bricks that make them up. Police officers in England and Wales are rightly proud of their international reputation and of the British model of policing by consent which is its bedrock.

But we can never be comfortable about public trust in policing and the last 12 months have seen a number of scandals with the potential to shake that faith.

The culture of policing should be regarded in the same way as performance – no matter its high standing, it can always be improved. One of the great strengths of the police has always been togetherness. We must keep that at the core of forces, while ensuring the canteen culture is banished forever. It is not suited to the modern age and has the very real potential to restrict the development of professional skills vital to the enrichment and development of policing as a profession.

The Winsor recommendations were not just about cost saving. Yes, there was an economic imperative, but the critics have always underestimated their real importance. By changing the way police officers are rewarded we introduce new incentives for them to further their skills and the flexibility for managers to deploy resources where they are required.

The Winsor changes were mostly about a fundamental cultural reform of policing, a way of ensuring the brightest and best in the force are given the opportunity to rise to the top more quickly, more fairly and in a more competitive environment which will sharpen skills across the board. They will also see fresh thinking and fresh blood brought in from outside the profession and an end to the myth that to manage the complex world of modern policing you must have spent years ‘doing your time’ on the streets. This is a myth long since dispensed with in other industries – Mark Zuckerberg became a billionaire at the age of 23. Lucky for him he didn’t have to spend years working his way up the corporate ladder.

Of course the importance of police culture extends far beyond HR departments and office canteens. When police officers get something wrong it can have a huge impact. It is an onerous responsibility and therefore we have to ensure we get right. Our reform package is opening up police integrity to the glare of public transparency and ensuring a new independence in the investigation of all serious or sensitive complaints made against the police.

College of Policing

The College of Policing has attracted fewer headlines than PCCs, but its potential to transform the profession is arguably even greater. It will bring new skills and leadership into policing and ensure that when one force is doing something well the other 42 follow suit.

It will issue new guidance on integrity and will set training and testing programmes throughout officers’ careers to ensure they are up to the exacting demands placed upon them by the nature of the important office they hold.

The College’s remit will also see it source the very best training programmes and bring a new era of professionalism into policing, allowing it to take its place alongside our other great professions such as law and medicine.

That professionalism will be even more important as the police face up to the increasingly challenging world of modern-day policing, where a computer crime is more likely to describe an investigation into a highly complex internet fraud then the arrest of a shoplifter at Dixons.

The next stage of reform – Getting the police to do their job The changes made by this government have already been the biggest in policing since the great modernising Home Secretary Robert Peel established the police force.

But we haven’t finished yet. And the third stage of our reform programme will be even more radical and more important in shaping policing for the future. It is about changing the way policing is done on a daily basis, to make each officer, PCSO and member of police staff much more effective.

Put simply, the police will be given the tools they need to transform what they do on the frontline every day. Not just physical tools – although they will play a significant part – but also support from new partnership working, more freedom from counter-productive target-setting and, crucially, a change in cultures and attitudes to embrace the modern age.

I want to cut the government’s apron strings with policing, to bring about an attitude change that will see the next generation of police leaders truly take control of their profession with increasingly less dependence on Whitehall.

I want to see a police force mature enough to take up its rightful role as the central part of the criminal justice system and where all officers realise their job is not concluded once a suspect’s rights have been read.

I want to see a police force self-aware enough to recognise the lessons that can be learned from the private sector and comfortable in accepting the benefits that will accrue.

I want to see a police force forward-thinking enough to ditch the inward-looking attitudes of the past and embracing the technological advancements that will be so crucial to policing in the future.

I want to see a police force adaptable enough to solve its own problems rather than clearly identifying what is wrong then expecting someone else to come along and fix it.

A police force self-confident enough to be transparent about its mistakes, and honest about its failures.

Of course, government will always be there to play its role too – to cajole and encourage when necessary and to play the part of a candid friend which I think is the real role of a policing minister. It will also be for the government to set the strategic direction and to use its central position to ensure the 43 forces use their collective will to deliver results on behalf of the public and to make the most of the economies of scale that collective yields.

Too many times I hear the voices of police leaders identifying problems and then asking for changes in the law – or in the work of the Home Office - to get them fixed. But my message to them is ‘you already have the power to change policing – and if something needs doing, go ahead and do it’. I will be looking to police leaders to drive this transformation in policing.

And of course this can-do attitude – which police officers already show on a daily basis while catching criminals – is even more important given the very significant economic challenges the country faces still.

Partnership working

Police officers are crime-fighters. That much is simple. Yet too often they are relied upon as social workers or ambulance drivers, fixing society’s ills as well as dealing with its criminals. That must stop, which is why the Home Secretary recently made a number of announcements about mental health with the aim of freeing-up police time and ensuring those who require treatment are seen by medical professionals, not put in police cells. But why stop there? The blue light services have more that connects than divides what they do. Is an arson attack more of a fire emergency or a crime? Do injuries resulting from a street brawl require medical attention or police action first?

Sir Ken Knight’s review of the country’s fire services found significant scope for reform, driving both efficiency and performance in the way we are already doing with policing. He raised the prospect of PCCs taking on responsibility for the fire and rescue service, which we are considering. Sir Ken’s thoughtful and well-judged work gave much food for thought on blue light collaboration and I am working with DCLG and Health colleagues on how it might be carried forward.

But, again, I ask: why stop there? There is clearly huge scope for collaboration between all three blue light services across the country and we have established a democratic model which could, in theory, oversee elements of all of them. Could PCCs end up overseeing both fire and ambulance services? That might be a long way down the road, but let us start thinking about it.

Ask yourself the same question, why do we send three separate vehicles to a road traffic accident? If we were starting from scratch, would we organise ourselves in this way? I very much doubt it.

Partnership with the justice system

As a minister in both the Home Office and the Justice department it is my job to improve partnership working, to make the criminal justice system run more efficiently and to ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service, courts, and the police work seamlessly together as the partners they are and not the combatants they sometimes seem to be.

I am transforming criminal justice from a fragmented, paper-based system to an efficient digital service that treats victims and witnesses with care and consideration.

Police officers often, rightly, express frustration at time wasted in court. I want to make sure more trials go ahead on the day they are meant to and when they can’t proceed, police and other witnesses should have access to video evidence technology to ensure they aren’t left waiting around unnecessarily.

The digitisation of courts will be twinned with an increased access to portable technology for police officers so the process of building a case file begins on the street and not in the station. But as I ease the Criminal Justice process for the police, so they must work to make it easier for themselves – and for victims. HMIC has revealed a worrying inconsistency in the quality of case file preparation and only a patchy rate of improvement.

Government has set the path for the police to follow, but it will be for them to tread it. The College will lead this process and I will expect chief constables to give it greater priority.

The new digital file will be used by all parts of the Criminal Justice System as the case progresses, dramatically reducing the millions of pieces of paper floating around the system and saving everyone needless time and effort.

Digital tools

Improving digital systems in the case file process is of course just the tip of the iceberg. We are increasingly seeing the police embrace new technological advances and twenty two forces are interested in becoming digital pathfinders for the rest. But we must see more and we must up the pace.

Technology has transformed the way we live our lives, but it has not yet transformed the way the police do their jobs. Why is it that an officer at a social event can take a photo and upload it to the internet immediately, but when he is at work he has wait for a special camera to arrive to take the photo, travel back to the office, download it and copy it so that it is stored in three different files? It’s a nonsense.

In five years’ time we need to look back and see this was the beginning of a technological revolution in policing. We could see pen and notebook replaced with voice recognition technology or manually sorting paper files replaced by automatic uploading to cloud storage.

Again, we are setting the strategic framework. We have established the Police ICT Company to transform how the police buy and use technology. It is already directing work with Gloucestershire, Staffordshire, Thames Valley and Hampshire and supporting the Met. Its influence will soon extend well beyond those first five forces.

Working with PCCs and forces, the company will act as the gateway to private sector expertise. It will help drive innovation and will bring forces together in making decisions on the best technology available to carry on driving down crime and boosting efficiency. It will also secure better deals for its customers - helping them to secure the right deal before they embark on major procurement.

But the company will not be overseeing the creation of a new central IT system that does everything – we all know from the previous experience how well state-constructed IT systems work. The centralised, ‘one size fits all’ approach is, except for the most critical national infrastructure, a thing of the past – because we all know that reaping the benefits from new technology requires as much change in officers and staff behaviour as it does new kit. New technology needs to be tailored to local circumstances. But underpinning that localised approach should be clear ‘rules of the game’. We will do the boring bit by setting the technical standards and ensuring data is collected in compatible formats, and available to those who need it. And we’ll make sure people know how to secure a larger range of devices for officers.

But then the innovators – from both forces and the private sector – can go out and provide apps and software that give value to the taxpayer, stop police officers wasting their time and ensure the public is protected and crime is tackled.

Exciting work is already underway – apps are being developed to allow forms to be filled in automatically on the street, rather than in time-honoured (and time-consuming) pen and paper fashion at the station. Officers should be able to collect video and picture evidence on the street and download it straight into a digital file. The Met’s recent Hack the Police day saw officers engaging directly with the skills of the private sector and saw the development of 12 apps in 36 hours – including problem-solving tools for domestic violence crimes and locating the nearest vacant police cell or CCTV camera. We need to see more work like this.

We need to see more examples like the South Wales Police system which allows officers on the move to access real-time information about suspects or GPS-based details about the area they are working in. We need to see more forces operating body-worn cameras, like Hampshire and Sussex who have up to 300 devices per force. Evidence shows up to 90% of suspects plead guilty when they see the recorded evidence. And we need to see more use of mobile fingerprint scanning devices like the ones West Midlands Police have used to identify more than 2,500 people without returning to the station.

Some of the these changes we need to see may well constitute big leaps forward, but others will fall very much into Sir Dave Brailsford’s maxim that 10 minutes saved on one process becomes many hours when multiplied by the amount of times it is carried out. And every minute saved in needless bureaucracy is another minute spent fighting crime.

This IT transformation is about far more than saving a few pennies by ‘getting a bit better on the computer’. It is about instituting a change in mindset, about persuading every police officer, no matter how experienced they are, of the transformational power of technology.

Changing attitudes

The importance of changing mindsets cannot be underestimated – and it goes well beyond the IT sphere. We are freeing the police from centralised targets, but that work will be wasted if they are replaced with local ones. I know ticking boxes and covering backs can be a comfortable sphere for public servants to inhabit, but we need police leaders to have the courage to throw off that comfort blanket. Most importantly of all, to return to my first point, in the sphere of integrity.

In Kent, my home force, HMIC exposed an institutional bias of chasing numerical targets. Officers should not be treated like cogs in a machine to crank out detections. In recent months we have seen the horrible example of individuals within institutions trying to look good rather than doing the right thing, from the Care Quality Commission to the horrendous cover-up exposed by the Hillsborough Panel. This government has spoken openly about the trust it places in the individual discretion and skill of officers, now it is time for police leaders to follow suit.

Police leaders must also set an example when it comes to the exercise of power and the daily interaction with the public of their officers. The recent disclosures about undercover policing, the monitoring of the Lawrence family and the use of dead babies’ identities have undermined public faith in policing. Where there is need for government action, we have taken it – by strengthening safeguards and in our commitment to examine afresh the use of stop and search. But police leaders must always ensure they use the very great powers given to them with responsibility and judgement.

The public reaction to the friendliness and openness of police at the Olympic Games shows how important relationship-building can be. A more open, polite, thoughtful, modern and representative police force can renew its relationship with the British public for the benefit of us all.


We all know from our own lives that change can be difficult. But, once embraced, change can also be enriching and invigorating. And once the change has been made it is often difficult to imagine that it was any other way in the first place.

I urge officers not to get left behind, for the more they are willing to accept the modernisation we are offering, the more they will be able to shape and influence policing from within.

Austerity forces us to reform, but reform was urgently necessary anyway. This is not really about the money, this is about strengthening something that is already very strong.

The Team GB example shows very clearly that it does not matter how good you are – you can always get better. And when you think about the excellence our police display in so much of what they do, the prospect of them improving everything by just 1% is an exciting one.

So I want and expect to see a technologically savvy, well-managed, self-confident, open, transparent and scrupulously honest police force. The police have always made us proud. I want them to do so again.

Published 8 July 2013