Matthew Scott, Police & Crime commissioner for Kent
Speech to the Excellence in Policing Conference
APCC Lead for Mental Health
APCC Lead for Performance
Conservative Spokesman on Brexit
Police performance has been in the spotlight consistently in recent months, and for understandable reasons. Death on the streets of London, an increase in the number of incidents reported to Police and reports of fewer justice outcomes have all contributed to increased public concerns.
However, the Police are dealing with too much “non-crime” demand impacting on their ability to respond. Around 20% of Police time is spent dealing with crime, the rest is everything else – Mental Health, missing persons, safeguarding and other issues. This is very real.
The shopping centre manager walked towards me with an urgency that you don’t often see. I was giving out my surveys to shoppers when he approached me with concerns about the welfare of a young person who was threatening to take their own life in the car park. He and his staff had convinced the individual to come into the centre for help.
Their first reaction after this was to call the Police, as a lot of people might do, but they were at a loss to know what else they could try to do. I suggested that he might like to telephone the local mental health team to see what help they could offer, and perhaps come and see her. When he did so, I was surprised then by what I heard. He was told “call the Police – it will be quicker”.
Sadly, this wasn’t the first time that I have been involved with a case whereby someone might take their own life. It’s happened twice before. But I was taken back by the ease with which someone in health service, who themselves might be under pressure, would pass a potentially vulnerable person to potentially the wrong source of support. But this is the reality of the demand on Policing in 2018.
Mental health alone accounts for a third of all Kent Police time. It is so wide-ranging and varied now that some Chief Constables believe that their Officers are spending more time on issues that are the responsibility of others within the public sector, such as health and social services, than crime. This has to change.
And yesterday, at the Mental Health and Policing Conference, we heard how some of these demands are being managed. Nearly every force now has a street triage service of some kind – a sticking plaster over the real capacity issues. Mental health nurses and counsellors providing telephone support in control rooms.
Yet the need is wider than crisis. 1/3 of Police time in Kent is spent dealing with cases involving mental health. The National Crime Agency estimates that 22% of people go missing directly linked to their mental health. In Kent, that’s 2200 reports a year – 7 a day – without considering those where their is an underlying health need but may not be the main cause. Welfare calls. Cuckooing in property where a vulnerable person lives. And in the justice system itself – 47% of persons brought into Kent Police custody under suspicion of committing a criminal offence have a known mental health condition. We aren’t criminalising mental health – but it shows now more than ever that we need the advocacy and safeguarding of appropriate adults and independent custody volunteers. Of the 1500 plus times people were detained under the mental health act, we know that 179 were repeat presenters sectioned an average of 5 times each.
It is cases like this, and countless others, that demonstrates the need for the post of PCC. Not only can we hold Policing and other agencies account on behalf of residents, but we can make sure that traditional crimes such as burglary don’t get forgotten. That’s why in Kent, every non-emergency call may not be attended immediately, but each crime is investigated.
My Police and Crime Plan has ensured that every community, whether urban, rural or coastal, receives the same level of focus. I’ve made it a goal for the Force to become more accessible, so they have introduced online crime reporting for those who do not always need to phone. As the voice of victims within the criminal justice system, I have used my powers to provide extra help to those in need and enable victims to hold offenders to account.
My drive for greater value for taxpayers’ money has enabled Kent Police to keep all 300 of its PCSO posts, maintaining an important link with all our towns and villages, and increase Officer numbers. Using funding from my Office, I am providing alternative places for people to go to seek extra help with their mental health and reduce the demand on Policing, such as wellbeing cafes. I’m also investing in technology to make it easier for Officers and Staff to do their jobs and provide a better service to residents.
Violent crime, especially gang related, is spreading out of London and our cities, and this is big issue for Kent Police. I am setting up a Violence Reduction Challenge, which will include the public sector, charities, victims groups and others to try and understand to problem and put measures in place to crack it, backed by extra Officers. Kent Police will continue to use stop and search powers and have had some successes recently tackling offenders, but this is an issue that is wider than just Policing so we all need to do better together
Kent Police is also performing better, as a result of the Chief Constable changing the way his Force operates. This reflects the need to continue to investigate more serious and complex crimes, as well as those issues which still concern residents, such as antisocial behaviour and burglary. His new model for policing contains innovation as well as making the best use of both Police Officers and Police Staff in managing demand. I mentioned missing persons earlier on. His Missing and Child Exploitation Teams are having phenomenal success in just a year. They’ve reduced the time spent looking for missing children by 68%. Some districts report up to 90%.
In every area it was inspected in in both my first and second years in Office, for efficiency, effectiveness and legitimacy, they were judged as “good” or “outstanding” in every single area. And herein lies the opportunity for the future. There are of course always concerns about inspection regimes and what this generates. But I see HMIC reports as a positive, even if they don’t reflect what the Force believes, because sometimes, you are all so proud of your teams that it is hard to accept criticism. It’s human.
Policing is one of the most watched institutions in the UK with perhaps more oversight than any other. Police and Crime Commissioners setting priorities and holding Chief Constables to account. HMICFRS completing regular inspections.
Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) and Appropriate Adults (AAs) looking after the welfare and interests of people in custody. Independent Advisory Groups, on a wide range of issues from equalities and stop and search to local policing.
An always interested Home Office, and many more, notwithstanding their own internal mechanisms. And both the press and individuals on social media reporting 24 hours a day on Policing activities.
There are good reasons for Policing to have oversight – Police Officers and Staff have the ability to make significant decisions with real consequences that affect people’s lives, depending on the circumstances. The ability to remove liberty and if warranted, use restraint and force. And not just to apprehend criminals, but also when they have made the judgement that someone needs to be detained for their own safety under mental health legislation.
And the publication of Force Managements is where Forces can rise to these challenges and show what they are about. To fight every bit of fake news and show the realities of policing our counties in 2018. I think you have to see FMS as a prospectus for your force that shows to the public you serve what it is really like, not how it is perceived. Embrace FMS and publish it. Don’t wait for the FOI and the battle over redaction. Own it.
And use it to build on weakness. We talk a lot about demand and managing it. I’ve used a lot of statistics already. But what confidence can we have in them if we are not accurately capturing demand in the first place, from initial crime recording failures upwards? In mental health we see this acutely. When the policing minister asked us to Evidence Mental Health demand it was hard, because it was being done in so many different ways. We cannot rely on dip sampling.
And as HMIC moves to a more risk based approach, caution yourself against complacency. Fewer inspections or lighter touches can be just as much as a risk.
No one can pretend that there hasn’t been a substantial change within our Police Forces. The facts on Police numbers speak for themselves. Crime and antisocial behaviour are down according to the crime survey for England and Wales, but people are reporting more incidents that need investigating and issues such as mental health and welfare stretch Officers and Staff further. This is never something I have shied away from. But rather than complain about it, here in Kent, I am doing something about it.
By March 2019, if Kent Police meets the recruitment goal I have set, there will be over 250 more Officers. This has been done through local efforts to save money and with the help of council taxpayers, not unfunded and uncosted promises espoused by others. There will be more people going to work in the Police control room to answer 999 and 101 calls to improve the service. I am not unique. In Essex, Sussex, Warks, West Mercia, Cumbria, Cambridgeshire, Devon & Cornwall. In case you spot the link between all of those PCCs, Nottinghamshire and Humberside are recruiting too.
Across the country, PCCs are making a difference. We are holding Chief Constables to account far more effectively than the old Police Authorities. We all meet the Chiefs regularly in private, but in Sussex, Katy Bourne streams her monthly meetings. In West Mercia, there was effectively no professional means of holding to account before John Campion took Office. Matthew Ellis is empowering local neighbourhoods to hold Staffordshire Police to account and Youth Commissions (not Commissioners…) are now common. Rural crime is now higher on the agenda thanks to individual PCCs and the work of Julia Mulligan through the national network she runs.
PCCs are a voice for victims within the criminal justice system. Anthony Stansfeld has been tenaciously taking on alleged bank frauds and activities which have cost small businesses their livelihoods and their homes. In Hampshire, Cambridgeshire and Sussex, PCCs are doing more to support victims of stalking and harrassment, where as few as 1% of people come forward. Peter McCall in Cumbria launched his county’s first women’s centre and Kathryn Holloway in Bedfordshire scrapped the failing victims services contract and launched a new in house hub.
We are responsible for the Budget and the council tax precept. And in these difficult times, whilst none of us gets into politics to increase the tax burden, Conservatives were able to argue successfully with the Government for flexibility in the precept. We were subsequently able to negotiate with our residents that a £12 a year rise for Policing was reasonable and would help deliver more.
We are also challenging partnerships to do better. Marc Jones in Lincolnshire has brought together a system wide review of mental health services within criminal justice to help protect vulnerable people better and improve pathways. Philip Seccombe has drawn up a new concordat for local authorities and Police to better deal with illegal traveller incursions.
In Devon and Cornwall, PCC Alison Hernandez was selected to be pilot area for mental health treatment requirements because of her leadership through the local Criminal Justice Board to reinvigorate their mental health partnership.
And in Kent, I’m pulling together criminal justice agencies including the CPS, Courts and Police to draw up a cross sector plan to improve performance, which has been poor for a considerable amount of time.
There are still issues that need resolving that we will need the government to help with. Fraud and cyber is half of all crime, but we don’t put the resources into it nationally that we should. Technology is constantly evolving; but every crime is now likely to leave a digital trace in some small way. But for every report telling us to embrace tech, AI and data, I cringe. I’d love to. But I don’t think I can. There isn’t the support. Perhaps that’s an actual problem the transformation fund should solve.
When I first arrived at Kent Police Headquarters on 12 May 2016, I kept my visitors pass. I did so as a reminder that no politician has a right to assume they have as long as they want in Office, nor should they take their time for granted. I am a visitor here in between elections helping to protect and serve the people of Kent. I will continue to do public engagements so that I continue listening to and reflecting the needs and wants of the people I represent.
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