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Building firm foundations for policing in our county

As Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, I am committed to ensuring that experienced outside voices help inform both my thinking and that of the Chief Constable of Essex Police as we make decisions about the future of policing in our county.

As I’ve travelled and met with members of the public, many have suggested there has been a drop in confidence in policing.  I look at some of the high profile cases that have been in the news across the country, and my judgement is that for every failure of police leadership there has been a failure of governance.  I firmly believe that the creation of Police and Crime Commissioners is a clear step towards improving the governance of our police forces. 

There are several mechanisms through which I hold the Chief Constable to account.  I have created a brand new event called the Essex Police Challenge, where four times a year the people of Essex and I ask questions directly of the Chief Constable in public.  The Challenge event is filmed and made available in full online, providing a permanent record of this public scrutiny.  We also publish notes on our website of the more frequent performance review sessions I hold with the Chief Constable.  Such opportunities for direct public questioning of our senior police leaders were rare and little-used under the old accountability model.

Secondly, I have established a scrutiny function within the Office of the PCC in Essex to work jointly with the Chief Constable’s management team so that he and I gain a similar ‘ground up’ view of how well the force is rising to the changing challenges of policing Essex. This does not pry into operational matters; they must remain the responsibility of the Chief Constable. But he is accountable to me for the effectiveness and the efficiency with which he runs the force. My judgement is that almost all management data should be as available to me as it is to the Chief.

Third are the mechanisms to review some of the more tricky areas. My Deputy oversees the work of the Professional Standards Department, not interfering in any respect other than to monitor the progress of tricky cases, to ‘dip test’ closed cases and to offer feedback on outcomes. On a quarterly basis I then meet with the Deputy Chief Constable to review a comprehensive report of the work of PSD, which to some initial controversy, we publish with as few redactions as possible.  In the past, police misconduct cases were handled in almost total secrecy, keeping the public well and truly in the dark.  This is open, transparent and hard hitting governance ensuring the public know that officers who make mistakes in good faith will be supported but that there is no place in policing for those who abuse the authority of their positions.

In addition to this routine and everyday governance I have set up a new Strategic Board to ensure that as the Chief and I focus on current priorities, we are also looking to the longer term, 5-10 years ahead, to ensure we lay down firm foundations for effective policing for the future. I have been most critical of the former Police Authority for failing to do this in areas such as technology, computers and estate – the buildings from which Essex Police operate. We now have an overarching Strategic Policing Board with two committees, one looking at ethics and integrity and the other at strategic finance and investment. We attracted five outstanding lay members to join these boards and they have a key role to play.

The centrepiece of the new structure is a Strategic Policing Board, which will help the Chief Constable and me, refining our vision for policing in Essex and its relationship with other public partners.  The Finance Committee considers long term funding issues and the implications of current financial challenges.  It will not usually be concerned with short term accounting or audit matters.  The Ethics and Integrity Committee is working strategically to help understand what the future ethical challenges for our police service might be.  It may for example consider key issues such as the appropriate use of force, the treatment of whistle blowers and covert policing.  It will not get involved in individual cases of misconduct, but it would look at lessons learnt from current casework and emerging issues.

Here are some early thoughts from members of those boards.

Gary Sweeney, Chair of the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group and vice Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “Health and policing share so many mutually challenging objectives as public services that are directly accessible to the public. I think it is important that we learn from each other. My mission as a leader in commissioning health services is to foster open honest and transparent dialogue with the public in all service areas. I have found Nick and his team very open to discussion on this issue.”

Prof Betsy Stanko, an internationally acclaimed academic specialising in crime and policing, who works as Head, Evidence and Insight, at the London Mayors’ Office for Policing and Crime, said: “The landscape of policing is very complex, and I am happy to draw on my experience working inside and outside the police service in a number of countries.  I am pleased to share my learning with Essex and help them steer through a very challenging landscape for the best future for Essex Police.” 

Keith Attwood, a former CEO of e2v technologies plc and an experienced Board Director with 30 years of management experience in multiple market sectors including telecommunications, aerospace and medical, said: “I have over 30 years of management experience in the commercial world and I am delighted that Nick Alston and his team value that experience in dealing with the significant future challenges they face in serving their stakeholder community. In these times of great fiscal and cultural change, accountability, openness and appropriate governance has never been more important. ”

Lyle Watters, Chief Financial Officer and Vice President Strategic Planning for Ford of Europe, said: “Police board advisors bring a wide range of experiences from senior leadership roles in other sectors. We draw on these experiences and offer perspectives that challenge and enable critical thinking about the way forward for policing.  It’s been really refreshing and reassuring to see the open and thoughtful way in which new ideas have been embraced by Nick, Stephen and the team.”

More details on the Strategic Policing board can be read here.

A record of the first meeting of the Strategic Policing Board can be accessed below.

Strategic Policing Board Notes 160614

I am convinced that here in Essex we are developing and implementing dynamic and innovative ways of holding our police to account, hopefully in a supportive way, but most certainly in a more transparent and locally accountable way than for very many years.  And in ways that I believe better support and serve victims of crime.

Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex


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PFCC for Essex, Kelvedon Park, London Road, Rivenhall, Witham, Essex, CM8 3HB
01245 291600

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