Thank you for inviting me today. It is a huge pleasure to be speaking at The College of Policing’s annual conference for the first time as Home Secretary here. I hope to be at many more.
In December 2011, my predecessor Theresa May announced the creation of the College of Policing.
She made clear that the police service needed to be radically reformed and that at the core of reform would be the college.
As the national body for policing, the college has a mission to safeguard the public and support the fight against crime by promoting professionalism in policing. It can set and improve standards for excellence in policing, including recruitment, promotion, training and assessment.
And I am very pleased to see that this year the subject of the conference is vulnerability – one of the most pressing issues facing policing today, and as Alex [Marshall] has said, one of my priorities as Home Secretary.
Because, while forces have been very effective at decreasing the rates of so-called traditional volume crime, which is now at an all-time low, more needs to be done to protect the vulnerable – victims of sexual abuse, modern slavery and domestic violence.
For too long crimes against vulnerable people have simply not been taken seriously enough and their voices have not necessarily been heard. They’ve been treated as second class crimes and not always been given the attention that they deserve.
And as I made clear in my first major speech on policing to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the National Police Chiefs Council, protecting the vulnerable is a priority concern of mine as Home Secretary and as I’m sure you’ll agree, it must be the key focus for all police officers and staff too.
The role of the college in the fight to protect the vulnerable is key and the government is here to help the college to reach those goals.
Like many of you, I can clearly remember Professor Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. It made my blood run cold. The inquiry team found examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and told that they would be next if they confided in anyone. The report highlighted systemic failings by both the police and children’s services. The report shocked us all. And we took action.
In March 2015 we published our national response to chronic failures seen in Rotherham and elsewhere, including making child sexual exploitation a national threat in the strategic policing requirement – ensuring its priority status across all forces.
Since then we’ve extended a child abuse image database across forces to help investigate online child sexual exploitation offenders, and identify and protect the victims. We’ve introduced joint inspections to local areas to understand how local services are working together to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation. And we’ve made £14 million available for the direct support of victims.
Cultural attitudes are shifting. We are closer to our goal of ensuring that no victim is ever blamed for their own abuse. As a result, more survivors of abuse are coming forward to the police than ever before, and this is to be welcomed. In other areas too, we’ve seen progress.
Since 2012 we’ve introduced new offences for stalking, forced marriage and we’ve made coercive control an offence, recognising that patterns of sustained emotional abuse can be just as harmful as physical violence. We’ve also published our Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, pledging increased funding of £80 million to 2020.
And the College of Policing has been central to recognising the need to do more to help victims of domestic abuse too. New college guidance on domestic abuse - advising officers for example on how to prosecute without relying on victims and how to spot patterns of abuse, is also to be welcomed. We’ve also enacted the groundbreaking Modern Slavery Act to deal with criminals who trade in human lives. And on FGM we’ve made progress too. We’ve strengthened laws which defend children who are at risk of female genital mutilation and under my watch, I am determined to see the first prosecution for FGM.
The Met example
And yet, despite progress in many areas, there is still a long way to go.
Last week I was extremely concerned to learn that children in London are being put at risk because of serious failings in the way the Met Police deals with child sexual abuse. It is not acceptable that almost three quarters of child protection cases reviewed either needed improvement or were inadequate. Nor is it acceptable that there were officers placed in roles focused on tackling child sexual exploitation with no training on how to deal with that crime, meaning that signs of abuse were not identified and opportunities to protect children and target suspects were missed.
I was shocked to learn that the Metropolitan Police had to be prompted to take action on cases even after serious issues had been identified which meant that a child could be at risk.
As Policing Minister Brandon Lewis said in Parliament last Friday, this is the most damning report the HMIC has ever written about any inspection it has done on any police force in the country. I spoke to the Mayor of London about this report and I was reassured that MOPAC intends to take swift action to address these appalling findings.
And in light of the severity of HMIC’s findings I have commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to provide a quarterly update on action by the Met to address the issues and recommendations in the report to help the mayor ensure that immediate progress is made.
But the Metropolitan Police is not the only force with much more to do. When it comes to protecting the vulnerable, a lack of visible leadership and officers lacking the skills and knowledge necessary to engage with victims of abuse are problems which beset many different forces. As HMIC found last year, not a single police force in England and Wales is outstanding at protecting vulnerable people from harm, and 31 forces are judged to be either inadequate or requiring improvement.
And the fact that the Football Association recently confirmed that it is investigating allegations of sexual abuse in football shows that the problem of child sexual abuse is not going away.
My message is clear: every police force can and should be doing more to protect children and vulnerable people.
Whether an abuser is a parent, a stranger or even another officer, you must act.
So what can the college do?
So what can you as police professionals do to protect the vulnerable? And what more can the College of Policing – your professional body – do to support change and reform?
As the leading body for policing in England and Wales with a clear mandate to set high professional standards for policing and to ensure police training and ethics are the highest possible quality, the college must be at the very heart of improving the police’s response to the vulnerable.
You can help to ensure that protecting the vulnerable is always seen as core police business.
The college, working with chief officers and police and crime commissioners, has the potential to develop the right leaders who will enable a culture of challenge and the power to ensure that those dealing with the vulnerable are of the highest calibre and professionalism; and have the right standards and support to deliver the very best for the public.
And today I can announce that we are providing £1.9 million over 2 years for the College of Policing to transform policing’s approach to vulnerability. This will allow the college to develop a comprehensive package of training for new leaders in vulnerability who will coach, brief and debrief front line officers so they are better able to identify signs of vulnerability and provide the much-needed support to victims.
And Alex will be able to tell you more about how this money will be used when he speaks to you later.
Licence to practise
But training alone isn’t enough.
It is important that only those who are absolutely qualified to perform critical roles dealing with the vulnerable are deployed to those situations. And that is why the Home Office and the College of Policing have been working closely together to develop a licence to practise.
At the Police Federation Conference in May earlier this year, Theresa May announced that she would bring forward proposals with the college to develop minimum training and standards for certain specialist roles and to give the college responsibility to enforce those standards through a system of national accreditation. Theresa May’s belief was that this would deliver higher standards for specialist investigators, including for child sexual abuse and for domestic violence.
And I agree with her. This will put beyond doubt that the skills required to protect the vulnerable are every bit as valued and critical as those required of an authorised firearms officer or any other specially trained officer. Police professionals leading investigations into complex crimes against the vulnerable should hold a licence to practise.
This will ensure that only those individuals who can continuously demonstrate competency in a specialist area, and are on a register of professionals, are deployed to the most complex crimes. It will ensure that the public receive an assurance of competence and a delivery of consistent standards. It will also mean that police officers are not forced to take on roles that they are not prepared for or professionally trained to do so.
If your child was sick you wouldn’t expect them to see a doctor with no experience in children’s medicine and it’s right we apply the same logic here.
Alex Marshall will shortly outline his plans to consult on a licence to practise, starting with an event next week, and I urge everyone in policing to engage in this consultation. I will be looking to Alex to spell out what more must be done to fully enforce the licence as a matter of urgency. And I stand ready to work with the college to do so.
I know that I am preaching to the converted today. By attending this conference, by investing in your continued professional development, you are showing your commitment to developing the police profession. And as professionals, I would urge you to engage with the college consultation to help shape the future of your profession.
But we need to go beyond just accrediting people already working within our forces to work with the vulnerable.
If we lack the suitable people to fill certain roles, then we need to bring in leaders from outside who have the relevant vulnerability experience. And that is why the work the college does running the Direct Entry scheme is so important.
So far there have been 3 cohorts of Direct Entry and this year, the scheme has been widened to include the rank of Inspector, meaning there has been 25 direct entrants starting this month. As I mentioned in my speech to the APCC, one of the new superintendents is Maggie Blyth. Prior to joining the Police, Maggie had a phenomenal career working with vulnerable people. She started out in probation and then moved onto the Youth Justice Board. She’s been an independent chair of safeguarding children’s boards and has published 5 volumes relating to child protection and youth justice.
Bringing in people like Maggie means we benefit from her skills and expertise working with vulnerable people. It benefits our forces to have people in them who have experience of child safeguarding or relevant professions like teaching or social work.
As I’ve made clear before, Direct Entry is not about taking away opportunities for promotion for men and women who already work for the police. It’s about bringing in talented leaders from different sectors to areas within policing where expertise is lacking.
I understand that the college will be in contact with forces about next year’s intake of Direct Entry and I hope that still more forces will get involved.
Now if you’ve been listening to me today and thinking – projects to improve policing’s response to the vulnerable sound great but where’s the money going to come from? Then I have an answer for you.
A key source is the police transformation fund.
Following recommendations from the Police Reform and Transformation Board for the second round of the fund, I am delighted to announce today that there will be an extra £26 million allocated over the next 3 years to support 28 projects.
One of these projects I have already mentioned – the £1.9 million for the College of Policing so it can develop training for all frontline officers to identify signs of vulnerability and provide better victim support.
Another is £8.5 million for a national bid led by Devon and Cornwall to help the police stamp out modern slavery by radically improving the current operational response.
But this is just the beginning for the transformation fund and I want to see further compelling proposals next year for transformative change across the whole of policing, including this core priority of protecting the vulnerable.
The money is available and I want you to come forward for it.
And I want to conclude by saying that the recent review of the Metropolitan Police has shown that the job of police reform is not yet complete and that more must be done to protect the vulnerable.
But it is not for me, the Home Office, to run policing. It is for the police, working together with partners to take reform forward.
This is your profession and I want to hear your ideas about how to make it better. You have the power to make a real difference to the experience vulnerable people have of our policing system, with the college at the centre, supporting police professionalism and driving reform.
And central to this reform agenda, as I’ve announced today will be the establishment of a licence to practise which will ensure that only those officers who are qualified to work in high risk areas like child protection are able to do so.
I hope that you and the college will seize this opportunity to be a key part of ensuring our police are suitably equipped to deal with modern crime and protect those who need you the most.