Police reform: Home Secretary's speech to ACPO conference

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

This speech was given by Theresa May at the Association of Chief Police Officers' annual conference. The speech is checked against delivery.

Thank you for your introduction, Sir Hugh, and your remarks. And thank you to all the Chief Officers here for what you are doing to lead change in policing.

Last week I spoke at the police federation conference. I was determined to go and make my case for reform in policing. I talked about the unpopular things, like Winsor, cuts and pensions. And I also talked about what we are doing to help hard-working police officers - cutting bureaucracy, returning discretion, restoring trust.

Today, I want to talk more about the positive agenda the Government has for police reform.

Our programme is coherent and comprehensive - from reforming local accountability to strengthening national structures; from dealing with so-called low-level crime to tackling the most serious; from reducing bureaucracy to enhancing professionalism - and all with the clear aim of helping the police to fight crime.

Those who want to improve policing have nothing to fear from our changes - indeed, they should be entirely welcome. You are leading change in policing and in a way that builds on the best traditions of British policing.

Cutting Crime at the Same Time as Cutting Budgets

The context for our police reform programme is the most challenging financial environment for a generation.

As I said to the federation last week, the overwhelming need to deal with our deficit has led to some very difficult decisions about cuts and savings, not just for the government but also for you.

You have responded admirably to the need to reduce your budgets at the same time as maintaining the service to the public. Thank you for all the work you are doing.

The latest figures show that police recorded crime is down by three per cent, while officer numbers have fallen by four per cent.

That suggests that the best forces are protecting the frontline services that are most effective at fighting crime. We all knew there were savings to be made in the back office and support functions - you are proving it.

There’s no room for complacency of course - and there is still too much variation between the forces that are doing the most and those that are not doing enough - but I know you and your teams get the message - the core mission of the police is cutting crime. That is the priority; that is the focus; that is the aim.

There will, of course, be tough decisions ahead if we are to see through the savings that the country needs. Some of them might be controversial, like the Surrey and West Midlands Police business partnering scheme.

Some of you might be criticised for thinking about new ways to save money on back office spending so you can prioritise the frontline, but that criticism will never come from me. If you are trying to cut crime and protect the public, at the same time as you make savings, then I will always support you. Because in these tough times, the most forward thinking chiefs know that the only way to continue cutting crime is by real and serious reform, transformational change; not just blind cuts, but new ways of working.

I will support you in making the changes that are necessary, but if you continue to cut crime, then, more importantly, so too will the public.

Local Accountability

Securing public support has always been vital to the British model of policing by consent.

But for too long in policing, there has been no way for the public to actually say what they want from their police force.

We are putting that right.

On 15th November, the public will go to polling stations in every police force area in England and Wales, outside of London, and take part in the most significant democratic reform of policing in our lifetime.

So six months from today the first ever elected police and crime commissioners will take office, having been elected a week earlier.

They will have a mandate from the public to set the force’s policing priorities, to hold their force to account for delivery of those priorities, and to drive improvements in crime fighting.

They will be accountable directly to the communities they serve, rather than to the politicians or bureaucrats sitting in Whitehall.

But strong and effective policing leadership will continue to be your responsibility and operational decisions will continue to be taken by police officers and police officers alone.

And let’s remember that we have followed through on our deal to chief constables to free you from the old bureaucratic accountability to Whitehall, scrapping the targets, getting rid of the ring-fencing, freeing your hand.

I know that change of this magnitude can be challenging. It is essential that it is handled properly. That’s why we have been working closely with you to develop the policing protocol order that sets out how the new policing governance arrangements will work; the role and responsibilities of PCCs, chief constables, and police and crime panels; and how they are expected to work together to cut crime.

And I’m delighted that you have asked prospective PCC candidates to attend your conference this year so you can begin discussing how you will work together if they are selected and then elected in November. It is right that prospective candidates hear from you - the experts - about the priorities and challenges in modern policing, and that you understand from them the issues that they believe are important.

In the new policing landscape, the relationship between senior officers and PCCs will be key to the successful implementation of the reforms and to strengthening policing for local communities. And so it is vital that all candidates - and the public - have as much information as possible about local policing to help them make informed decisions.


Police and crime commissioners will be responsible for holding their force to account for the totality of policing in their area. That means from the force’s response to the threat of terrorism and organised crime, to the anti-social behaviour that still makes too many lives a misery.

Earlier today I launched our white paper on anti-social behaviour. The new approach empowers local communities, places victims’ needs at its heart and puts more trust in the professionals than ever before. And so it perfectly complements our approach to wider local policing.

A lot of what’s called anti-social behaviour, of course, is actually crime - it should be taken seriously and it should be dealt with. Yet more than three million incidents of anti-social behaviour are still being reported to the police each and every year, with many more doubtless going unreported.

It’s clear the old top-down approach to the problem hasn’t worked - it was too bureaucratic, too complex and too time consuming.

So we will make powers simpler, quicker, easier to enforce, more flexible and more effective. We are reducing the number of tools and powers by over two thirds - from 19 to 6.

Victims will see swift action taken as the new powers will make it easier and faster for the police and local agencies to stop anti-social behaviour. For example, the new injunction can be obtained in days or even hours and on a civil standard of proof.

The police and local agencies will also be freed to use informal measures to take immediate action to nip problems in the bud, rather than being bound by central-targets and control.

And crucially the new streamlined powers will allow the police and local agencies to stop ASB and seek to change behaviour, one of the key failings of the ASBO.

Victims who still feel they are being ignored or sidelined will have the right to force action through the community trigger. We will pilot the trigger in three local areas - Manchester, Brighton and Hove, and West Lindsey from 1st June.

The steps we’ve already taken with some of your forces can also help, like the improved call handling pilots we ran with eight forces to prioritise repeat and vulnerable victims and to focus on the harm caused to them, rather than just ticking a box on a form.

And HMIC are driving the message home, with inspections highlighting the need for your forces to focus on the impact on the victim and not on how the crime is categorized.

Now, let me be absolutely clear about this, our new approach will not dump all society’s problems on the police.

We are challenging local agencies to do more to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour in the first place, lowering the burden on the police. And our new powers are available to a range of agencies and explicitly include actions to change an offender’s behaviour and stop future incidents, again, reducing the amount of anti-social behaviour you have to deal with.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t still have an important and often central role. Police and crime commissioners can really help the police.

They will have a democratic mandate to drive local action, collaboration and partnership working.

So PCCs will work with local partners such as probation, social landlords, health, education and local voluntary organisations to fulfil their commitments to not only fight crime and antisocial behaviour, but to prevent it.

And to make this a reality, we have established reciprocal duties for PCCs and their community safety and criminal justice partners to work together to cut crime.

National Structures

As well as helping forces to tackle the most local of crimes; PCCs will also know they have to work with you in responding to national and international crime.

Last year we published a shadow strategic policing requirement, which sets out for the first time those national threats that cross force boundaries and which chief constables and police and crime commissioners will be required to tackle together.

The SPR is designed to help you. It makes clear to PCCs that they can’t only focus on local concerns. It sets out the need for you and your forces to be able to work together, as well as with other partners, to tackle threats from riots to floods; terrorism to organised crime.

And on serious and organised crime, border security, economic and cyber crime, and the protection of children and vulnerable people, your forces will soon benefit from the creation of the national crime agency, our major reform to national level law enforcement.

The vision for the NCA comes from policing. The driving force behind its creation is police officers. It will be designed and led by someone steeped in policing. And its role will be a police role - crime fighting.

Last year, I appointed chief constable Keith Bristow to be the agency’s first director general. Since then Keith has made tremendous progress in designing and beginning to build the NCA.

And earlier this month, we introduced into parliament the crime and courts bill, which will give the NCA a statutory basis, and which keeps us on track for the NCA to be fully operational by the end of 2013.

The crime and courts bill provides the three key components that will make the NCA effective.

First, the NCA must produce, own and coordinate the national intelligence picture for serious, organised and complex crime. So the bill includes provisions to allow the NCA to share information with police and law enforcement agencies and places a strengthened duty on the police to share information with the NCA.

In fact, part of the physical basis for the NCA’s new intelligence hub is already up and running in the shape of the organised crime coordination centre. I know this is something you have supported and I am grateful for the role played by chief constables Jon Murphy and Mick Creedon in particular.

Second, it is essential that the NCA has the ability to coordinate the whole law enforcement response to serious and organised crime. Normally, the NCA’s ownership of the intelligence picture and its relationships with the police and other agencies will be sufficient to get the job done. But the bill also includes a robust legal basis for the NCA to task and coordinate the collective law enforcement response.

These provisions will cut both ways. So the NCA and law enforcement agencies will have a clear duty to cooperate. NCA officers and assets will be able to operate under the direction and control of a police force. And importantly, there will also be a power - to be only used as a last resort - for the DG to direct police forces to undertake a specific activity, subject to strict safeguards and under the force’s own direction and control.

This tasking provision shows that we are serious that the NCA should provide national leadership in the fight against serious, organised and complex crime, even though we hope it need not be used.

It will be the NCA director general’s responsibility to ensure the national crime agency works in partnership with forces, and it will be your responsibility to ensure that your force plays its part. Police and crime commissioners will hold you to account for ensuring that the threats outlined in the strategic policing requirement are properly resourced and effectively tackled. The tasking power is the last resort if that cooperation fails.

Third, the NCA must be an operationally effective agency in its own right, with its own intelligence gathering and investigative skills; sophisticated technical capabilities; and a presence internationally, at the border and in cyber space.

So the NCA will inherit the operational staff and equipment of its predecessors such as SOCA and CEOP and, indeed, the bill will explicitly place child protection at the heart of the NCA’s work. I expect the NCA to have around 4,000 staff dedicated to fighting serious, organised and complex crime.

NCA officers will have the triple powers of the police, customs and immigration to ensure they have all the tools they need.

And, in a clear break from the past, the bill will give the NCA director general operational powers, signalling his role as an operational crime-fighter in his own right.

To ensure a constant robust response to serious crime, the bill will bring NCA officers into line with police officers by restricting the right to strike of NCA officers holding operational powers.

And the bill also provides for the NCA to build on the model that has worked effectively for the police special constabulary by harnessing the specialist skills found across our society. So the NCA will be able to recruit its own Specials - just as all of your police forces do - to bring in certain highly-specialised skills which are not widely available elsewhere such as forensic accountancy and cyber expertise.

I have been clear that the structures for counter-terrorism policing will not be reviewed until after the olympics and after the NCA has been established. But the Bill contains provisions to enable any future decision on counter-terrorism functions, subject to further parliamentary approval. I must stress that this does not in any way mean that decisions have already been taken. It is simply a prudent legal provision should we decide to review CT policing in future.

Professionalism - PPB

So we are reforming accountability structures locally and operational structures nationally.

But there is another major strand to our reforms programme. And that is to enhance the professionalism of individual police officers.

And that is why we are creating a new police professional body.

Now, I know there was some criticism about the idea of a police professional body at the fed conference.

But I am clear that these concerns are based on myth and misconception.

Let me take on some of those myths.

When established, the police professional body won’t charge officers a membership fee or make them pay a subscription.

It won’t make officers pay for their training.

It won’t charge officers fees to sit exams.

And it won’t issue any licence to practice policing.

What we will do is establish a police professional body provide that can provide genuine help and assistance to individual police officers and staff throughout their career.

The police professional body will set standards of entry to those who want to become an officer.

It will be a source of knowledge, standards and best practice to help officers be confident and capable of thinking for themselves, taking important decisions and using their discretion.

It will run or set standards for specialist skills training such as investigation, intelligence or firearms.

It will provide careers advice for those who want to move through the ranks and will set standards for promotion and progression.

It will help you make sure the training you buy from outside the service is up to scratch.

And it will put in place talent development programmes to help the best reach the top.

Importantly, the professional body will be tasked with promoting, not only professional skills, but also professional ethics. It will ensure that honesty and integrity are central to all of the training and learning that police officers and staff undertake.

So those are the benefits to individual officers and staff of the new police professional body. And chiefs will continue to have an important role in making sure guidance, policy and standards set by the professional body are feasible and affordable, through ACPO’s chiefs’ council, and through the PPB’s professional committee.

Those of you who are business area leads - and who do such important national work - will have the opportunity to sit as part of that professional committee, further reinforcing the place of chief constables at the heart of national policing practice and priorities.

But I am clear that the PPB will be a body for the whole service, and, to reflect that, the governance arrangements will include PCCs and independents, as well as police representatives.


I am a reforming home secretary with an ambitious programme of change. Change is often difficult and it’s often controversial. But our changes will significantly improve policing for the future.

More say for the public.

More effective powers to fight local crime.

Better structures for dealing with serious, organised and complex crime.

And with individual officers with greater professional skills, trust and the discretion to get the job done.

That is a future that should be exciting for the police and worrying for the criminals.

Together, we can secure policing’s future.