Police chiefs must have ‘operational independence’ in responding to crime, says NPCC chair

The chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) says police chiefs must have “operational independence” when deciding how best to respond to crime.

Aug 29, 2023
By Paul Jacques
Gavin Stephens

Chief Constable Gavin Stephens was responding to the announcement from Home Secretary Suella Braverman that police must pursue all “reasonable lines of inquiry” to solve more crimes.

The Home Secretary said it was “unacceptable” that crimes such as phone and car thefts, shoplifting and criminal damage are seen as less important.

Minister for Crime and Policing Chris Philp added there is no such thing as a “minor crime” and all merit proper investigation where there are leads to follow.

In an open letter to Ms Braverman and Mr Philp, Mr Stephens said: “Police forces have had a duty to follow all reasonable lines of inquiry for decades.

“However, growing demand as well as the increasing and changing nature of crime means consistency across forces varies. It is therefore right that police chiefs have operational independence and are responsible for making difficult decisions around how best to respond to the breadth of priorities of local communities.

“All chief constables have to make difficult decisions on resourcing and competing priorities. Protecting victims and delivering justice for them will always be at the heart of those decisions.”

Mr Stephens said while there has been a 2.6 per cent increase in police officer numbers nationally since 2010, the number of crimes reported to the police has increased 25 per cent.

Approximately 21 of 43 forces still have less officers than in 2010, he said.

Mr Stephens said neighbourhood policing is the “bedrock” and a vital part of how police can prevent crime and protect our communities.

“We believe that the number of neighbourhood officers should be increased,” he said, with better opportunities for continued professional development.

Mr Stephens also highlighted how the “complexity of crime” has increased in recent years and new emerging technology has provided police with additional leads that have greatly assisted investigations by using video images from doorbells, CCTV and dashcam footage.

“We are also continuously learning, including from publicly available 999 performance data to improve the speed at which emergency calls are answered so we can deliver the fastest possible response,” he added.

In the letter, he urges closer working on wider criminal justice reforms, of which policing is just one part, and calls for a long-term plan to go beyond the focus on officers and bolster essential and specialist police staff roles

“We recognise effective policing requires action not just words,” said Mr Stephens.

He highlighted some “great successes” over the past six to 12 months, including:

  • The commitment to attend every home burglary across the country, ensuring victims receive the service they deserve wherever they are;
  • Seizing £130 million of cannabis and arresting 1,000 people, as part of the largest ever crackdown on cannabis farms and the organised gangs behind them;
  • Transforming the way police investigate rape and sexual offences, leading to charge rates and referrals to prosecutors increasing. For example, in Avon and Somerset Constabulary, one of the pathfinder forces, the volume of cases charged has more than tripled;
  • Tackling gangs using a new tactic called ‘Clear, Hold, Build,’ where police officers ruthlessly pursue gang members until they are gone from an area, before working closely with the community to stop the gangs re-emerging;
  • Removing almost 10,000 knives from the street and arresting almost 1,700 people as part of the national Operation Sceptre;
  • Arresting around 2,000 protestors who have disrupted day-to-day life of communities; and
  • Working with the NHS to ensure the right agency attends mental health callouts to provide better care.

“If fully supported by new health services, this could mean up to one million hours redirected to fighting crime on our streets,” said Mr Stephens.

Policing is working hard to fight crime and do better for victims, he said, adding: “Victims are at the heart of what we do in policing. Protecting victims and delivering justice for them is why so many hard-working officers, staff and volunteers dedicate their lives to policing.

“Delivering a trusted, effective, and accessible police service is the shared ambition of everyone in policing. It is what we expect, and it is what victims and the public deserve.

“We welcome closer working with government and the criminal justice system to help achieve this.”

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