Home Secretary College of Policing speech

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

Speech given by Home Secretary Theresa May at the College of Policing. This speech was delivered on 24 October 2013.

Thank you for inviting me to speak today. This event is important as it gives you a chance to get involved and shape the College. I would like to keep my remarks short so there is time for me to hear from you.

Everyone recognises the vitally important job that the police do. The police are there at the toughest moments of our lives. Their presence is critical to maintaining social order. And they catch criminals. That crime has fallen by more than 10 per cent since the last election is largely due to the hard work and dedication of police officers and staff.

What could be more vital than all of that?

But while everyone recognises that the police are essential, and that police officers are dedicated professionals of the highest order, there is one very striking fact about the practice of policing: it has not been recognised as a profession. It has had no professional body dedicated to setting out standards and seeing that they are upheld.

And that has had all sorts of effects on the policing in England and Wales. It influences how people view policing as a career choice; it affects the ethos of the police and the way officers approach their job; and it has consequences for the standards that they are expected to conform to – and that officers expect from themselves.

21st Century Policing

In the 21st century, we need a police force that it is technologically advanced, and that makes use of policing techniques and tactics supported by the best available evidence on what works to reduce crime effectively and efficiently.

We need a police force that has clear ethical standards, and aspires to, and achieves, the highest levels of integrity.

We need a police force, in short, that is fully professionalised - and is recognised as such by both officers and the public.

That is why I have founded the College of Policing.

Its role is very straightforward: it is to provide professional standards for policing and to help police officers and staff meet those standards throughout their careers. It is to seek out best practice, as supported by firmly-established evidence, and to encourage officers to adopt it. And it is to ensure that officers and staff understand and comply with the highest ethical standards.

A Better Police Force

The College will become the body responsible for developing a better police force – for identifying the challenges policing faces and for setting out how those challenges should be met. And it cannot be a passive participant in delivering that change; waiting to see what Government thinks and wants to do, or what Chief Constables and PCCs are keen to progress. That was the fault with the NPIA – a body that was at the beck and call of everyone, without the mandate to make change, without the room to set its own agenda.

In future I want to see the College itself making the case for change. I want to see its big ideas for reform, for improvements in the way that policing is delivered. I want to see it challenge me and future Governments. And I want to see the College Board taking the lead on behalf of policing and the public.

I expect to see the College providing dynamic leadership in the face of a wide range of challenges, including reducing bureaucracy, increasing officer discretion and driving the modernisation of the police.

And to achieve this the College will need to be visible, not just to the few at the top of the police, not even just for the thousands working in policing but most importantly of all, to the general public, without whom the police could not be effective.

Some of the College’s work used to fall to ACPO. But ACPO was neither accountable to the public nor able to speak authoritatively on behalf of the whole of policing. So it is right that the creation of the College ends ACPO’s monopoly on deciding the future of policing.


The College is accountable. It’s accountable through its Board, with a far greater range of people from right across policing responsible for taking decisions about the way the College works. And it will be accountable to Parliament for the standards it sets.

The College is inclusive. I have always been clear that the College is for the whole of policing: officers, staff, special constables and volunteers. That’s why some of you have seats on the Board – giving you a direct say in the way in which the College is run. I know that Alex and Shirley believe passionately about your role in helping the College deliver its ambitious agenda. That is why some of you sit on the College’s professional committee and more of you are involved in the work of the National Police Business Areas. The College’s offer is bold and generous: get involved, all of you.

Nowhere is the College’s capacity to lead more important than on matters of police integrity. And in fact addressing public concern on this issue will be a vital test of the leadership that the College will need to provide.

Policing in this country is by consent. That has been absolutely essential since Robert Peel set out the principle nearly two centuries ago. But the people consent to the intrusions of the police only if they trust them to use their power wisely and above all fairly. That is why police integrity is so critical. If the public starts to believe that police officers are dishonest, or fall below the highest ethical standards, trust will be fatally undermined, and with it the police’s capacity to operate with the consent and co-operation of the people.

It is astonishing that the police have not had an explicit code of ethics – an equivalent to the Hippocratic Oath for doctors – but, until now, there has not been any such code. The College is publishing the code of ethics for consultation today. I think it will prove vital for establishing and maintaining fundamental ethical standards for all police officers.


But the challenge for the College on integrity goes further than the code of ethics alone. And it goes further than the other elements of my integrity package that the College is charged with delivering, such the introduction for the first time of a national register of officers struck off from the police. The challenge is to provide the leadership that changes a culture.

Of course the College cannot address the issue of police integrity alone. In February I announced a comprehensive plan to address public concern about the integrity of the police. One of the measures I announced was the expansion of the Independent Police Complaints Commission so that it is equipped to handle all of the serious and sensitive cases which require independent investigation.

I know that some forces and PCCs are resisting the transfer of resources necessary for the IPCC to take on this bigger role. I want to say to them very clearly that the events of last year prove overwhelmingly the case for a beefed up IPCC and that is what I’m determined to deliver. The expansion of the IPCC is on track and the IPCC will begin to take on additional cases from next year.

Where the IPCC has needed new powers, for instance in its investigation of Hillsborough, we have legislated to provide them. And if the evidence of the past week shows that we need to go further, we will do so.

The College cannot develop better policing without your involvement. In policing, the greatest powers and the most difficult tasks often rest with the most junior officers and staff. At this level, the real challenges of fighting crime and delivering for the public are all too stark. The College needs to be able to harness the knowledge and skills individuals working right across policing can bring. It can only do this by being an inclusive body. It will only be able to develop and improve standards by involving everyone in policing in its work. Its work is too important for it to be confined to a small group of elite officers.

Your involvement is important for other reasons. In any hierarchy, there will always be a reluctance to challenge the views of those in charge. But the health and vitality of an organisation requires that culture and practice are challenged.

And that challenge will be supported by evidence. The College will work with universities to collect and review evidence on the effectiveness of different strategies and practices for reducing crime. The knowledge of what works – and what doesn’t – will be shared with PCCs and the police, and with the public as well. This will help the police become an organisation where practice is always based on evidence rather on habit. The answer to the question: “Why do we do this?” will never be – “Because we always have done it that way”. It will be “Because this is what the evidence tells us works best”.

That challenge will also come as a result of opening up the police to more people from a broader range of backgrounds.

New Ways To Join The Police

Last week, I announced my intention to introduce three new ways for individuals to join the police: through a fast track promotion scheme taking talented individuals from Constable to Inspector in three years; through a new scheme allowing individuals with proven track records outside policing to join at the rank of superintendent; and through a change in the law allowing those with policing experience overseas to become chief constables in England and Wales.

I know that these reforms are not popular in all parts of the police. But I believe that they are necessary to the longer term health of policing.

No organisation benefits from placing heavy restrictions on the way in which individuals join, or the speed with which they are promoted. Policing needs to be able to attract the brightest and best – regardless of their background. It should not place artificial barriers in their way, preventing them from gaining rapid promotion or skipping ranks.

I know that there are examples of people being promoted quickly within policing – but they are few and far between. I know too that opportunities for promotion have in recent years been limited.
But the police need to be better at recruiting talented people and, when they are recruited, allowing those with the talent to gain promotion to leadership roles.

This approach– more freedom to recruit into different parts of the workforce, more freedom to promote quickly the officers most suited to leadership roles – will create a culture in which challenge is accepted. It shows that people are able to advance their careers because they have new ideas, because they have new ways of doing things, because they have better ways of doing things – not because they do things the way the boss has always done them.

The College will have responsibility for overseeing the introduction of direct entry and deciding how best to make it work. It will define how applicants should be assessed, chosen and then trained. At one time, this task might have been retained by the Home Office, as it sought to run policing from the centre. Relinquishing that role has been fundamental to this Government’s reforms to the police. The Home Office’s role now is to identify those emerging trends and issues that require a central policy response and to provide that response, as I have with the introduction of the National Crime Agency to confront the threat of organised crime.

Under our reforms, Chief Constables have been given back the power to decide how best to tackle crime in their area. Elected Police and Crime Commissioners now provide local accountability for police forces. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has been made more independent and, as I have said, we are expanding the role of the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The Role Of The College

So how does the role of the College fit within these reforms? Let me give an example.

HMIC shines a light on police performance, both in individual forces and on the important thematic issues that cross force boundaries. It will now be able to monitor performance against standards set by the College of Policing.

Let’s take one police technique that has attracted a great deal of controversy: Stop and Search. HMIC recently conducted, at my request, a thematic inspection on Stop and Search, comparing the way forces implement it, and how often it leads to an arrest.

That inspection found that there were great disparities in arrest rates. It highlighted the significant disparities in the rates at which members of different groups were stopped and searched, with people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds being stopped many times more frequently than white people.

It also found that in more than a quarter of cases, stop and search records did not include sufficient grounds to justify the lawful use of the power. The report concluded that officers had an inadequate understanding about what constitutes the ‘reasonable grounds’ required to justify a search; they were often poorly supervised, and there was an absence of direction and oversight by senior officers.

As well as the HMIC inspection, I have recently also consulted publicly on stop and search. And I’m sure that many of you contributed to that consultation. I will respond formally to the consultation later this year, but what is already clear is that the College of Policing will have a key role in ensuring that the police in future get stop and search right.

The College will be able to gather and evaluate all of the evidence on stop and search and how to apply it fairly and effectively. It will be able to issue guidelines and recommendations about training which individual forces will then be able to apply. HMIC will monitor compliance with those guidelines. And so the feed-back process will continue, and continue to drive up standards.

That model can be applied to any area where there is room for improvement or the need to do more – such as the investigation of cases of domestic violence, or the training of frontline officers to spot potential victims of trafficking. Its result should be that the College will be the catalyst for fundamental improvements in police practice.


What I have set out here today is an ambitious challenge for the College to transform policing. To make the force even better than the one that has cut crime by more than 10 per cent. And I have every confidence that you will rise to the challenge – as you have done before.

The College of Policing is going to professionalise the police. It is going to lead the way and help the police become an organisation where practice is based on evidence, not habit. And above all, it is going to drive up standards in policing to ensure that crime keeps falling.

Thank you. Now I’d like to hear from you!