Home Secretary speech to the annual Superintendents' Association

Home Secretary speech to the annual Superintendents' Association on Tuesday (10 September)

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

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

I am always pleased to have the opportunity to address police officers, but I am particularly glad to be talking to you today.

The main reason for that is that you are tomorrow’s chief constables: you are the future leaders of the police in England and Wales. That is why today, I want to talk to you about police leadership and police culture.

Let me start by reiterating one critically important fact: on the best measures we have, crime is down to its lowest level since we started keeping detailed official records. More effective policing is not the only explanation for why crime is falling, but it is a fundamental part of the process. You are doing a very impressive job in extremely exacting circumstances.

Crime is down

In that context, I would just like to address Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis’ remarks on frontline policing directly. She is concerned that frontline policing is being cut to dangerously low levels.

I don’t think the facts support her view. The proportion of officers on the frontline has increased from 89 per cent in March 2010 to 91 per cent in March 2013. Forces are focusing reductions on those areas where the workforce consists of people who are not on the frontline. Warranted officers have been freed up to be where the public expects to see them: fighting crime on the streets. And, as I have said, crime continues to fall.

We have reformed the police radically over the past three years. You have been central to those reforms.

The first thing we did was to scrap targets. No more action plans, no more attempts by me to second guess your operational decisions. I have given up the old Home Office practice of issuing centralised, top-down diktats. I am not going to try to micro-manage what you do. You now have only one target: to reduce crime.

Scrap targets

The second thing we did was to replace local government Police Authorities with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners. The public, in combination with PCCs and you, now set local police priorities, monitor police performance, and hold officers to account for what they do.

Crime maps, updated regularly and available for the public to consult on the internet whenever they choose, identify not only what crimes have happened in each area, but what the police have done about them. Every ward now has to hold regular beat meetings where members of the public can quiz officers on what they have done about the crimes in their neighbourhood. To an unprecedented extent, ordinary people are now in charge. You need to respond to them and their concerns.

Crime maps

The public demands more of police officers than ever before. Our reforms reflect that reality. It is why I have reformed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to make it more independent. People will no longer accept police officers investigating themselves and apparently routinely endorsing their colleagues in the old way. Tom Winsor was appointed to head HMIC for precisely that reason.

That is also why I have reformed the Independent Police Complaints Commission, so that it lives up to its name in a way the public can understand, and cannot be perceived as just another way that the police are able to investigate themselves.

As leaders, you are expected to have extremely high standards of integrity. Your responsibility to be truthful, ethical and effective – as leaders, police officers, and as human beings – underlies all of what you do. You cannot hope to retain the confidence of the public unless you are, and are recognised as being, honest and effective crime-fighters. Increasing transparency and accountability are critical to my reforms.


I do not have to tell you how important it is that public confidence in the police is maintained. And it simply cannot be maintained if people think that senior police officers are lacking in integrity or behaving in a self-serving way – or if, on the street, your constables are being rude or disrespectful to the public.

For instance, Stop and Search is an invaluable tool for reducing street crime, particularly knife crime. I want you to use it, because if it is used properly and fairly, it works very effectively. But the caveat is vital: it works if it is used properly and fairly. Stop and Search has the potential to cause immense resentment and hostility to the police, with all the implications that has for generating distrust and ending co-operation from the public, if it is not used properly and fairly.

As Superintendents, you have responsibility for making sure that Stop and Search is implemented fairly by the officers under your command. That is why your leadership role is so important. Stop and Search can either be an effective policy for stopping street crime – or it can be a means of generating distrust of the police. You can determine which it is.

Our reforms are also about making sure that crimes that have been neglected are effectively tackled. Organised crime is an increasing menace. Its violence threatens our communities, and it corrupts everything it touches, including local government and professions such as accounting and the law. The more we discover about it, the more evidence we get that suggests its scale is larger than we thought – and that it is not being tackled effectively.

The new National Crime Agency, which launches next month, will lead the UK’s fight to cut serious and organised crime. It can only do that, however, in close partnership with you and many others. The NCA will have the single national intelligence picture for serious and organised crime. It will have cutting edge operational capabilities and the mandate to coordinate the work of other agencies.

National Crime Agency

But the success of the NCA will depend on its relationship with police forces. Your knowledge of the communities in which you work is unparalleled, and your operational expertise is a critical part of the response to organised crime. That is why I have provided an extra £10m of funding to support your Regional Organised Crime Units this year, making sure that the connection between national, regional, and local organisations is as strong as possible. And the new Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, which I will publish next month, will support you in your efforts to cut crime in a way that works for the communities you protect.

Our reforms mean that more is demanded of you. But those reforms also help you to discharge the wider leadership role I want you to take up.

College of Policing

The College of Policing is going to help establish professional standards. The College’s “What Works” Centre for Crime Reduction is going to evaluate exactly which, of all the policies that have been tried, are the ones that work most effectively to reduce which crimes. The evidence that comes out of that evaluation will help you determine your priorities.

We are reforming the pay system so that you can reward officers who acquire extra skills. Increases in pay will no longer automatically follow the length of time an officer has spent working for the police. You are going to have fitter, more motivated officers serving under you.

We have cut the useless bureaucracy that turned police officers into form-fillers rather than crime fighters. We have given you the freedom to make your own decisions and to follow your own crime-fighting policies.

Cut bureaucracy

It is essential that you pass this down the chain of command. You need to trust your junior officers to use their own judgement, just as I trust you. Having freedom means taking responsibility. It’s down to you to decide what crime-fighting policies you’re going to follow.

And yet I have noticed that targets have been making a come-back in many forces. Those targets certainly aren’t coming from me, and they aren’t being used to increase the effectiveness of policing. Their main function seems to be to act as a security blanket for senior officers – a way to avoid taking responsibility for the decisions they have to make.

I am not saying that most or even many of you have responded in that way. But some of you have. And none of you should. It is essential that you have the confidence in yourselves that I have in you: the confidence to take responsibility for your own decisions, and not to try to hide behind an old process or procedure which enables you to evade responsibility.

Leadership and supervision

Your leadership and supervision is critical if our reforms are to work – especially now we have got rid of mechanical processes for assessing performance and you can no longer simply tick boxes in order to prove that you are doing the right thing.

We are entering a third stage of police reform, where the main driver of change won’t be me. It will be you. My role is to remove the obstacles that are blocking the creation of a more effective police force on a national scale. There is at least one particular matter that I know you all want to see fixed: the extent to which police officers have to spend time dealing with people who have not committed a crime, but have mental health problems.

Irene Curtis outlined the problem very clearly in her speech just now.

In around one third of all the cases where a mentally ill individual has been detained for their own safety, the place of safety was not a hospital but a police cell; and police officers spend up to one fifth of their hours on duty dealing with people who are mentally ill. Across the nation, that represents a huge slice of police time – time that is taken away from catching criminals and fighting crime, and instead spent doing something that police officers are neither properly equipped nor qualified to do.

I am as concerned as you are about this. I know the police will still respond in an emergency where there is a real concern for the safety of an individual or the public. But mentally ill people should obviously be cared for by the Health Service, not by police officers.

Mentally ill

But this is not something that I can sort out on my own. It needs a policy solution involving the Department of Health and the NHS.

I have actively engaged the Secretary of State for Health on this issue, and I can tell you that steps are being taken to ensure that the need for mental health services is met by health authorities, rather than the police.

Jeremy Hunt has agreed to test the policy of having mental health professionals out on the beat with police officers, so that they are in a position to take the decisions currently being made by officers, and they can take control of the matter. I know there are already some good triage schemes in place. The additional trials that the Health Secretary is funding are going to start in nine police forces shortly.

The work being done at a national level by the Home Office and the NHS needs you to translate it to a local level. The challenge for you is to provide the evidence for better local mental health provision in your area, and to work with Health and Well Being Boards and NHS commissioners to help you to get it.

There is also progress being made on what I know can be the bane of every officer’s life: IT.

Efficient policing

IT is central to efficient policing, and we are going to end the situation where a police officer either carries an out-of-date device that cannot link him to essential databases, or none at all. It is soon going to be possible to connect a range of the most popular mobile devices to national policing systems – and without compromising security.

This will mean that officers will be able to use an i-phone (for instance) to get on to the PNC to check criminal and other records – which will increase their efficiency very considerably. We are setting up the Police ICT Company, which will be owned and led by PCCs. It will allow police forces to have easy and quick access to IT support, so as to provide innovative solutions to IT problems and better quality contract management. It will be able to consolidate existing contracts and services. And it will also act as a collective purchaser– so individual forces can take advantage of economies of scale. And we will further support forces by ensuring national systems link up and talk to each other.

But I also expect you to increase efficiency yourselves – by collaborating with the private sector, and by constantly searching out new and innovative ways to get better value for money.

Police Innovation Fund

I will be establishing a new a Police Innovation Fund worth £50 million a year from 2014. That should help you with the costs of implementing the new and innovative methods of policing that I know all of you are itching to try out. Although saving money and driving forward efficiency is centrally important to our reforms, at their heart lies a single principle: that you should be able to be the independent crime fighters that you want to be, leading your officers from the front in the war on crime.

We are going through a period of change with police leadership. PCCs have overseen the arrival of some Chief Constables and the departure of others. What I want – and what the police needs – is a future generation of police chiefs who are innovators and above all no-nonsense crime fighters: crime fighters who listen to the public, but who also lead the way in implementing effective ways of cutting crime.

I know I am asking a great deal of you. But you have demonstrated your capacity to deliver. You have cut crime with fewer officers and lower budgets. You are doing more with less. That makes you the model public service in the era of budget cuts.

Innovators and crime fighters

Your goals are now to cut crime further, and to increase the public’s satisfaction with the police. As long as it’s legal and ethical, how you achieve those goals is up to you. So if you ask me: what is the most significant thing that this government has done for you? I would answer: We have given you back the power to use your own judgement.

That is the key to successful policing. It is the key to all of our reforms. It is you who will make those reforms produce the result they are intended to: fewer crimes, and more criminals punished. I have placed my trust in you. I have no doubt that you will repay it.

Thank you.

Published 11 September 2013