Police Superintendents' Association conference: Home Secretary's speech

Home Secretary Theresa May gave this speech to the Police Superintendents' Association Conference on 11 September.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

Thank you Derek.

It is a great pleasure to speak at my third consecutive Police Superintendents Conference. Much has happened since I last spoke to you.

But I would like to begin by mentioning one sad event in particular: the death of PC Ian Dibell. As you mentioned, Derek, I attended Constable Dibell’s memorial service and paid my respects. This was a terrible loss. He gave his life to protect others with no thought to his own safety. His memory, and that of others who have lost their lives in the line of duty, reminds us of what Police officers can sacrifice.

Coming before you all once again, however, is also a chance to take stock of what has happened since I last addressed you, a year ago. When I was last at your conference, I was talking about the riots that rocked our cities. This year we’ve seen the Olympics and Paralympics, a vision of people coming together peacefully across our nation. Two summers that could not be more different.

But some things have remained the same. The professionalism and dedication of the police. The leadership and self sacrifice shown by you and your officers. And my continuing admiration for the work that you do.

I know that the Olympic and Paralympic period put an immense strain on you and your officers - not just at sporting venues, or the torch relay, but across the country, as forces continued to police communities day in, day out, despite having given resources for Olympic and Paralympic security.

I know that as a result many officers have not enjoyed a summer holiday this year. Others have had leave cancelled, worked double shifts or had to stay away from family and home. And I know that it was the people in this room who pulled teams together, who made the perhaps unpopular decisions - leading to those cancelled leave days, those double shifts. It was your role to keep your officers going through one of the largest policing operations that this country has seen since the Second World War.

In a policing operation of this size, it is the decisions about how and where to deploy resources that make all the difference. It takes real nerve and leadership to get it right - and you did.

Of course, it wasn’t just the weeks when the Olympics and Paralympics were on that required hard work and dedication from you and your officers. This success story has been seven years in the making. That’s seven years of planning, seven years of making professional judgements about how the Olympics and Paralympics should be policed, seven years of hard work to ensure that they were safe and secure for everyone.

For those seven years and for your remarkable professionalism, dedication and leadership during the Olympic and Paralympic period, we all owe you a debt of gratitude.

Thank you for everything that you and your officers did in support of the Olympics and Paralympics.

Today I want to talk to you about the things which have changed in the past year that will help you to keep on performing this difficult job; the things that will change, bringing new opportunities; and the things that I am clear must remain the same.

The Policing Landscape

2012 is the year when our reforms of the policing landscape have started to come together, when we have started to realise the vision of twenty-first century policing.


Through the Crime and Courts Bill, we are legislating to create the National Crime Agency, an organisation of powerful operational crime fighters that will lead the UK’s fight against serious, organised and complex crime. I know you have had a very good session with Keith Bristow about the NCA.

The NCA will connect the local, to the national, to the global. Neighbourhood policing will be connected to national agencies, and these in turn will feed into action overseas to fight serious and organised crime.

And we have already published the Strategic Policing Requirement, which sets out the most important national threats to which PCCs and chief constables must have regard, helping them to work effectively with the NCA. The threats which the SPR covers require a response that is rooted in local policing, with local forces playing their part in the regional and the national.

This is about setting out a clear framework for policing; it is not about the Home Office interfering with the way the police tackle threats. It’s not for me to say how operations are run, how neighbourhoods are policed or how crime is cut. That’s your job, as the operational leaders of the police. My role is to make sure that you have the skills, tools and opportunities to do the job that you know best how to do - not some politician in Westminster.


And that’s why we’ve also reformed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, so that it is now more accountable to the public and less answerable to Whitehall.

The Inspectorate will continue to inspect in the public interest, but will now operate on a risk-based approach. It has been given new powers of scrutiny and it is now directly accountable to Parliament, rather than to the Home Office.

And this year also saw the appointment of a new Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Tom Winsor, who has promised to be fiercely independent - and has a track record of being just that.

All of these changes add up to an Inspectorate which is more robustly independent both of central government and the police. An Inspectorate that will help to ensure that you and your officers are answerable to the communities that you serve, and not to Whitehall.


But the biggest single change to policing structures comes in a little over two months, on 15 November, when the public outside of London will elect their first Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales.

This will be the change which puts the local back into local policing. PCCs will set the policing plan and strategic priorities for policing in their force area, guided by the views of voters. They will hold chief constables to account for cutting crime and delivering the policing plan. They will have the power to appoint the chief constable and, if necessary, to dismiss them. And they will be responsible for setting the police budget, so they will want to set clear priorities for police spending.

Let me be clear: the operations of the police will not be politicised; who is arrested and how investigations work will not become political decisions. PCCs will not manage the forces that they govern and they will recognise that the only way of making a police force effective is by letting the professionals do their job. Letting you do your job.

While this change is going on, some things will remain the same, of course. We will still rely on the dedication, professionalism and bravery of officers to keep the peace. They will still be independent, impartial and accountable to the law for their actions; and the office of constable will remain the bedrock of British policing.

In your speech, Derek, you made a clear distinction between the roles which an officer must perform, and the role which the private sector can perform. I agree with you, and I welcome your comments around the important part that the private sector can play in pursuing value for money through freeing warranted officers for frontline roles.

Let me be clear, though: the crime fighters will remain police officers, the public will always see police officers and Police Community Support Officers patrolling their neighbourhoods and policing will remain a public service, accountable to the people and carried out by consent. Strengthening the professionalism of forces.


Throughout our programme of reform, we have had one clear aim: to help police officers cut crime. Without you and your colleagues, there is no police reform strategy. But this isn’t about making you do something. This is about empowering you and your officers to do the job that you signed up to do. It’s about allowing you the time to chase criminals, rather than chase targets. It’s about ensuring that you and your officers have and can build upon the professional skills you need to police demonstrations, neighbourhoods, firearms incidents or whatever else might come your way. And it is about ensuring that the right systems are in place to fairly reward the skills and hard work that I know you and your officers put in.
That’s why the changes to the landscape are being accompanied by changes to pay and conditions.

If Tom Winsor’s proposals are taken forward, then Police Forces of the future will be more welcoming of outside experience, more flexible in their efforts to cut crime, more proactive in their pursuit of a fit workforce, and more focused on recognising professional skills. Constables would progress more quickly to the top of the pay scale, Sergeants would see greater reward for the step up from Constable, and, if they showed outstanding leadership and ability, Inspectors could reach their rank more quickly. And there are clear benefits for you, in your role as operational leaders. A more robust performance and award system would allow you to send strong messages about the standards and behaviour that you expect under your command.

A fitter workforce, with clear incentives and support for those on restricted duties to return to full duties, would mean a more flexible and deployable force, giving you greater say in how you use your officers. I believe these sorts of reforms are in the long term interests of policing and would change it for the better.

All of these changes are, of course, currently being considered through the Police Negotiating Machinery and I will consider the recommendations that come out of that machinery carefully.

Last week you will have seen that, following discussion in the Police Negotiating Machinery, I also announced a core design for a new police pension scheme. This is a good deal that delivers a fair outcome on police pensions reform.

Police officers will be able to retire at 60, which is considerably earlier than most others in the public services, reflecting the unique characteristics of police work. The new scheme will also include flexibility so that officers can choose to retire as young as 55 without affecting the overall value of the pension that they have built up in the scheme.

The pension you have already built up in the existing schemes will be protected; and there will be valuable arrangements in place to recognise the fact that members of the older police pension scheme would have built up their pension more quickly towards the end of their career.
Officers aged 45 or over will see no change at all to their pension. Neither will officers aged 38 or over who are fewer than ten years from full pension in the old scheme. Arrangements are in place so that those who fall within four years of these boundaries see some benefit, with the benefit increasing for those closer to the boundaries.

The bottom line is that this deal ensures that police officers have access to affordable and sustainable pensions in the future, which are amongst the best available.

You will also see that in the autumn we will be launching a consultation on direct entry at Superintendent level. I know that this is something which we disagree on, but my position has not changed. I believe that it will bring a greater diversity of backgrounds and experience to forces. And that’s not just about increasing diversity, it’s also those who have gained broader experience and new perspectives in fields like the wider public sector and business. We have discussed this in the past, and I know that we will continue to talk about it in the future. I will listen to the views that you express - and that’s why I would encourage you to respond to the consultation.

In your speech, Derek, you said that many police officers do not feel that they are being listened to enough. You called for a renewed relationship between Government and the police. This call for greater engagement, for greater collaboration is one that I welcome. We may not always agree, but I want to listen to what you and your officers have to say, and I want you to feel that you have a stake in the future. Because you have. We are looking at ways in which we can ensure input from officers of all ranks on a whole range of issues. I too am happy to congratulate the new Chair Elect of the Police Federation, Steve Williams, and I look forward to working with him in the future.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you, Derek, for your support and challenge over the past three years in your role as President, and I look forward to working with your President Elect, Irene Curtis, in the future.

As you’ll know, my Ministerial team has also seen some changes. I would like to pay tribute to the drive, hard work and intellectual rigour that Nick Herbert has offered up in support of Policing over the past two years. He has been a leading figure in the move towards Police and Crime Commissioners and the College of Policing.

Similarly, I’d like to welcome Damian Green as the new Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice. He brings a wealth of experience from his former position as immigration Minister and has already hit the ground running. He is addressing you tomorrow and I know that you’ll be interested in what he has to say.

A crime fighting culture

I was interested to hear your thoughts, Derek, on building on - and properly recognising - the professionalism of the police, and I hope that this can form part of our dialogue in the future. Of course, strengthening professionalism is not all about terms and conditions or what experience your career brings. It is about the culture of an organisation. The Home Office of the past had knee-jerk reactions to police conduct and culture. The Home Office of the future will know that police conduct and culture is not a matter for politicians or Whitehall mandarins, but for the operational leaders of Forces.

With a modern workforce system for your officers, with clear lines of accountability in the policing landscape you will be free to cut crime based on your professional judgement of what works best.

The superintending ranks perform a truly strategic role for policing. Your work, whether in command of a locality or a policing specialism, impacts on crime across whole towns and neighbourhoods over months and years.

The temptation in the past has been to turn this daunting task into a series of performance measures, as if any two of your jobs were the same. But real leadership, and being trusted as a leader, means finding a strategy to cut crime that fits your local area.

Because that really is the only measure: cutting crime.

Cutting crime isn’t just about the number of arrests which are made, the number of incidents responded to or the number of successful prosecutions.  In fact, I am quite clear that it does mean a range of activity. In a recent conversation with Sir Denis O’Connor, I was struck by his account of a conversation with some officers in which they said that they did not consider intervening in domestic disputes to stop them escalating part of cutting crime.

Let me be clear. Some domestic disputes are crime and all incidents of domestic violence are crime. Early intervention is crime fighting. Preventing crime is part of cutting crime.

I think for too long, too many people have seen crime as a strict Home Office definition of recorded crime. When I talk about fighting crime, I do not mean a narrow category of activity. Cutting crime means catching criminals but it also means preventing crime. And preventing crime means intervening early in domestic disputes to prevent escalation, it means supporting the vulnerable person who could become a victim of crime, it means tackling anti-social behaviour, it means providing effective public order policing.

As the Commissioner of the Met said - as long as it’s legal, it’s ethical and it works to cut crime, then you should consider doing it. But the point is, how you realise the aim of cutting crime is up to you.

In this new world, free from central government targets, your voice counts for more. Because it’s you who set the priorities. It’s you who set the values and the standards. And it’s you who make sure that your officers adhere to them.

You can’t be expected to do this on your own, of course. You can’t be with every officer in every situation where they should be challenged or praised. But you can be responsible for making sure that the inspectors and the sergeants beneath you know what your priorities are and how you expect them to be achieved.

What, and who, you choose to reward - or hold to account - will send a strong message to your officers, to your superiors, and to the communities which you police.

My challenge to you is: what needs to change under your command, what needs to stay the same?
I trust you to set the standards that matter.

Reducing bureaucracy

To help with this, I have said in the past that we will be relentless and unyielding in our fight against police bureaucracy, that we will push to free officer time to fight crime. And that commitment remains.

We’ve made changes that, if fully implemented by every force in England and Wales, could save up to 4.5 million police hours every year. That’s the equivalent of getting over 2,100 police officers away from paperwork and back on the street.

Earlier this year I also made a commitment to sort out the enormous amount of police time spent on dealing with mental health patients. I know many of you will be aware of the current liaison and diversion pilots which are running this year - testing different ways to ensure mentally ill offenders held in police custody get referred into appropriate treatment and care. 

But this is not just about police custody. The police are all too often having to respond to incidents or cries for help related to people with mental health issues. To change this I am working with the Health Secretary, on the basis of my conversations with your Chiefs, to establish what needs to be done to stop the police being the first port of call simply because you offer a reliable “out of hours” service other providers may not.

When I spoke in May at the Police Federation conference I also announced plans to simplify and extend the processes for police led prosecutions, in order to reduce bureaucracy and ensure swifter justice. Since that announcement, we have passed secondary legislation to enable the police to prosecute an extra 150,000 cases through to completion by giving them the power to continue to prosecute where a defendant does not turn up in court or pleads exceptional hardship. And we have also worked closely with forces and their partners to develop a best practice model for police-led prosecutions, and begun pathfinders in eight areas in August of this year.

We will go even further with the use of police led prosecutions, and I hope to be able to make a further announcement on this later in the month.
All of these changes mean that there will be more time for you and your officers to fulfil your priorities in the pursuit of cutting crime. It doesn’t mean that you should be idle in your own attempts to reduce bureaucracy of course: the challenge that I set you last year to cut your officers’ bureaucracy remains.

I know that the step up to superintendent is a big one, that with greater freedom comes greater responsibility and that setting a strategy for cutting crime - while at the same time also cutting bureaucracy and promoting standards - can seem daunting.

Not only are you asked to be a leader but you’re responsible for setting the strategy; not only are you asked to deal with a whole new set of partners, but you’re responsible for controlling the finances.

That’s a lot to take on board. And amongst all this you mustn’t lose touch with the nuts and bolts of policing, with how things are managed in your division.

College of Policing

And that’s one of the reasons why I was so pleased to be able to announce the new College of Policing earlier this year, which will eventually be established in statute. The College will have a powerful mandate to enable forces to implement the first class national standards it sets for training, development, skills and qualifications. It will give you the tools that you need to do your job, and to continue to develop as a professional.

It will be a professional body for all Police. It will not be an ivory tower. It will be led by the needs and aspirations of officers and staff, not academics and bureaucrats. Of course, it will still forge links with universities, but its focus will be on identifying and implementing the best research on what actually works in policing. This will be about practice, not theory. And the College will also recognise the talent and experience of those already within police forces and provide opportunities for them to contribute to the development of policy or practice in their areas of specialism.

The Chief Executive of the College will be an experienced senior police officer, and all parts of police forces will be represented on the governing board, including Superintendents. Of course, they will be joined by those independent of police forces, including police and crime commissioners. But this is something which can only work with the buy in of all officers and staff. It is not something which can, or should, be imposed.

So I am grateful for the input, advice, support and challenge that the Superintendents’ Association have offered, and continue to offer, as we set up the College of Policing. Operational policing will be absolutely fundamental to the work of the College, so your views and involvement are vital.

The College will provide greater transparency to the public about what they can expect from their force and the standards they should meet. So, yes, that means the public will be better informed, and they will hold you to account for decisions through the police and crime commissioner.

And the College will also provide greater transparency to the public about what they can expect from their force and the standards that it should meet. So, yes, that means the public will be better informed, and they will hold you to account for your decisions through the police and crime commissioner.

Police and crime commissioners will want to know that the approaches they are funding will be effective. It is in the public interest to show that what the police are doing is working. Of course, if the public are assessing your successes partly through standards that the College sets, there must be a rigorous assessment of what those standards should be, and the evidence base to support them.

We are not surprised when doctors publish papers in journals about the most effective way for dealing with an illness, or when a lawyer produces a paper setting out the ramifications of a particular piece of case law.

If we are serious about developing professionalism in policing, I want to see police officers and staff doing the same. I want to see them publishing their own research that is peer reviewed, that helps others learn, that changes the way other communities are policed.

There are already examples of forces working closely with academics to achieve this.  In South Wales through their relationship with Cardiff University looking at the application of community intelligence, in North Wales through their relationship with Bangor University looking at creating police scholarships, GMP through their relationship with Cambridge University looking at crime hotspots, and West Midlands Police through their relationship with Cambridge University at offender management.

I know, too, the Metropolitan Police are conserving creating an academic post to support the continued development of research evidence in policing.  These are the sorts of examples I would like to see repeated across police forces and which I believe the College of Policing should support.

If we are serious about developing professionalism, these are the steps that need to be taken if we are to achieve our vision of the College of Policing. This is an important moment for policing. This is the vision which you will help to shape.


Over the past summer we have had the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics, and the Paralympics. These were major operations that affected forces up and down the country. That the focus has been on street parties and gold medals, rather than public order and police visibility, is a testament to the unwavering, courageous, and measured manner in which the police have done their job. This is the best of British policing - something which I will always fight for.

And over the last year, in the lead up to our summer of celebration, we’ve also seen the policing landscape change. The first steps towards the National Crime Agency; a more independent, more accountable HMIC, with a new leader; less bureaucracy, more professional discretion; and progress towards the first directly elected police and crime commissioners. As these changes slot into place, they begin to provide the framework which will allow more of what I am clear must never change. The committed, courageous and above all trusted face of British policing. The job that you do, that your officers do.

The reforms that are still to come:

  • changes to ensure that skills are rewarded rather than just time served;
  • changes to ensure that police officers are equipped with the fitness and the right professional skills to do their job;
  • changes to the way talent is recognised and able officers are promoted.

These are all reforms which will free you to lead, to set your priorities for cutting crime and to trust your officers to meet the standards which you set.
They will open up police forces and change police culture by promoting the best of British policing.

And the College of Policing will give you a stake in the future of forces, the way in which policing evolves. You are the chiefs of tomorrow. We’ve made changes to give you the space to lead now and in the future. Because make no mistake, to step up and receive that mantle, to become the chiefs of tomorrow, you will need to be leaders, not just managers, crime fighters, not bureaucrats, decision makers, not pen pushers.

At last we are giving police the trust and respect that they deserve, removing central government intervention, cutting the red tape and trusting leaders - trusting you - to fight crime in the way that you know best.

Our reforms are not complete yet, but with your help and your leadership we are moving closer to realising a vision of the future with greater trust and accountability, where both the police and the public are winners. And these changes are here to stay, because I believe that the British police are the finest in the world, and they will remain so. 

Published 11 September 2012