On the 14th March I wrote to Katy Bourne, Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner because I had reached a level of frustration with Sussex Police that I could no longer bear. Broadly speaking, this was because whenever I had been a victim of crime Sussex Police had failed to do anything significant about it, but when I took part in a peaceful protest I was arrested and subjected to legal proceedings for 14 months during which I had seen the Police engage in a mission to get a conviction at all costs… even it that meant lying under oath.
If the Police fail to protect you from crime and fail to investigate crimes committed; and then proceed to alienate people who had previously been sympathetic to them by providing false evidence against them and lying in court in order to criminalise them – that is a failed Police force.
But I don’t want the Police to fail. I’d much rather have the Police than not have the Police. I appreciate the efforts of the huge numbers of officers who are actually trying to catch criminals and reduce crime. But they need to be able to operate in a system that enables them to maintain their impartiality, their integrity and their focus. They need to get back to the basics of cutting neighbourhood crime, not acting as the Government’s heavies to enforce the Government’s will. That’s the job of the Armed Forces. And they need to stop acting as private security for private companies – that’s the job of private security hired by the company.
For all these reasons I wrote to the Police & Crime Commissioner. This is her reply:
02 April 2014
Dear Mr Druitt
Thank you for taking the time to write to me in such detail with your views and experiences of Sussex Police. You raise a number of points in your letter and I would like to address these thematically:
Supporting victims of crime
Victim Focus is a key priority in my Police & Crime Plan and I have pledged to improve victims’ experiences and confidence in the criminal justice system. That is why I welcome the recent introduction of the Victims’ Code, which will ensure victims are placed at the heart of the criminal justice system. The Code sets out the enhanced professional standards by which victims of the most serious crimes can expect to be treated and the appropriate levels of support they will receive. As Chair of the Sussex Criminal Justice Board I will be working closely with Sussex Police and partners to ensure all agencies understand their obligations under the Code and that all victims of crime in Sussex know their rights and receive a high standard of service.
Response times are a consistent theme during my monthly Performance & Accountability meetings with the Chief Constable, which are webcast live. At the end of last year I noted that there had been an overall reduction in Grade 1 response times in comparison to the previous performance plan year and I asked for reassurance that Sussex Police is continuing to monitor, review and improve its response times. The Chief Constable has set out the Force’s aim to achieve a safe response to calls and explained that it has set up a working group to focus on five key areas of performance; technology, deployment of vehicles, training of call handlers, continued support for response teams and recruitment of police officers. Transformational changes within the organisation, including a 20% reduction in the Force budget, will naturally impact on performance. However, public safety and confidence in the police must remain a high priority for Sussex Police and this is something I will continue to challenge the Chief Constable on.
Police response in Balcombe
I visited the protest camp in Balcombe on several occasions to speak to local residents and protestors to understand their issues around the policing response.
As a result I addressed these issues during an accountability meeting with the Chief Constable when I directly questioned him. This meeting was webcast live and the minutes are published on my website.
Like you, I am not an advocate of unnecessary targets. Sussex Police Authority had numerous target s in its 2012/2013 Local Policing Plan. I believe targets can have unintentional consequences and often unhelpfully incentivise police officers to pursue particular outcomes and crime types ahead of others.
By contrast, my Police & Crime Plan has removed targets and the associated performance pressures they bring. There is now an emphasis on strengthening police officer discretion to focus activity around local priorities which differ by district and division. This approach empowers local District Commanders and staff with greater discretion to exercise their professional judgement to ensure that offenders are dealt with effectively, safe in the knowledge that no one outcome is favoured over others.
Strengthening police officer and staff discretion should also help promote a more victim-focussed approach, by removing perverse incentives for forces to record and pro-actively pursue certain crimes on the basis of locally-set detection targets. It will also encourage officers and staff to consider the needs of victims and the importance of engaging them throughout the criminal justice process.
Trust and integrity in the police
I am a Director on the Board of the national College of Policing, which has been established to set and maintain high professional standards in policing. The College,s Code of Ethics, which will very soon be coming into practice, sets out the expected standards for all police officers and staff and emphasises the importance of personal integrity and professional conduct.
Increasing public confidence is one of my key priorities and trust in the police will play a big part in helping to achieve this. The majority of officers serve with professionalism and make an enormous contribution to keeping us safe. I have seen this pride and dedication first-hand when I have joined officers out on patrol and at their early and late-turn briefings. I agree with you that trust in our police is essential and that is why I am committed to keeping standards high in Sussex.
As Police & Crime Commissioner I have a statutory duty to consider complaints against the Chief Constable of Sussex Police only. Complaints against Sussex Police are investigated by its Professional Standards Department. I hold a quarterly accountability meeting with the head of this department to seek my own assurances that these matters are handled robustly and in accordance with the statutory guidance.
As a member of the public you also have the right to make a complaint directly to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). Information on the work of the IPCC and the complaints process can be found here: www.ipcc.gov.uk
Role of Police & Crime Commissioners
Since the election there has been widespread debate about the role of Police & Crime Commissioners. Her Majesty,s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) recently published a report acknowledging that Police & Crime Commissioners are driving forward a better focus on community policing issues and reducing the level of bureaucracy seen under the previous Police Authorities. Just over a year into what is a brand new role some very good work has already been carried out across the country. Police & Crime Commissioners have set Police & Crime Plans with clear priorities and objectives that reflect local needs.
I think one of the most important roles of Police & Crime Commissioners is to hold Chief Constables to account on behalf of the public. In Sussex my monthly accountability meetings with the Chief Constable are webcast live and this effective form of scrutiny has already been recognised nationally by the Policing Minister as best practice.
Police & Crime Commissioners also have the ability to work across multiple force areas. This is already happening in Sussex with some of the changes proposed within the probation service and Surrey and Sussex police forces are working together much more effectively .
For the first time ever Police & Crime Commissioners are directly commissioning services that are tailored to local needs. From April 2015 Police & Crime Commissioners will take on the full range of responsibilities and funding for
commissioning victims services in their Force areas. This will replace the current model where the majority of services for victims are provided at a national level by government.
People in Sussex tell me they want more effective and efficient local policing and the Chief Constable and I share this view. The authority of my role means that, despite budget pressures, I have been able to reverse the decision made under the Police Authority to cut back on police numbers and I have opened recruitment for frontline officers for the first time in three and a half years. This clearly reflects the ability of PCCs to respond directly to what local people want.
Thank you once again for taking the time to consult me as your police and crime commissioner – it is much appreciated.
Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner