75 Harborne Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 3DH
Tel : 0121 454 6171
Fax : 0121 455 8670
5.45pm to see all the candidates in action including me.
As warm up read the on line article from the interview with Editor of Professional Security Magazine, Mark Rowe.
by Mark Rowe, Editor
In November, elections are running for police and crime commissioners (PCCs). A former senior police officer is among those running, as an independent. Mark Rowe went for coffee with her and put some private security-related points to her.
What has the private security industry been doing ahead of the elections for police and crime commissioners? Cath Hannon asked me. I floundered for an answer until it dawned on me; that was an answer, of sorts. The private security sector has done zero about PCCs. Though that lack of action may only mirror a national lack of interest in the elections – which are not until November 15 – as a conversation with Cath Hannon showed, there’s much at stake, both for whoever gets elected in your police force area, and for the private security sector. Take the privatisation of the police, or outsourcing, or business partnering, ‘and all of them mean different things’, as she pointed out. She was in West Midlands Police for 30 years, reaching the rank of detective superintendent.
As featured in the April 2012 print issue of Professional Security magazine, West Midlands was one of the police forces, with Surrey, that was preparing a ‘framework’ as a template for forces to contract for work to the private sector. “But that seems to have stalled,” Cath said. On the other hand, she adds, Lincolnshire Police have entered into a long-term contract with G4S to deliver services. “So nationally we have an imbalance now, on what policing means; not just to the public, but to police officers, and to the Government as well. And there needs to be some clarity there.” Cath draws the line at what has been and is the core activity of the police: they can take away somebody’s freedom; they can detain people, whether to make them subject to an investigation or a criminal justice process. “And the only people who can do that have got to be individuals who are trained to a very high standard, who understand what it means to take somebody’s liberty, and understand that they are interfering with a key human right.” And there’s all sorts of legalities? I interjected. Cath went on: “And that’s non-negotiable, it’s a core responsibility for the police.”
That said, Cath had begun our conversation by complimenting Professional Security, as she had gone through it online between arranging to meet and the meeting. She also made a point about how private security moved on, using surveillance and other technology; something that police were maybe not as good at. She said: “I can see benefits in learning from and working with industry, private companies, and individuals who have already learned and experienced and developed, from facing some of the issues that the police services are facing.” But those benefits must be for reasons other than saving money, she added.
I brought up another topic where private security overlaps with policing; business crime, and retail theft. As I said, retailers and businesses generally will grumble about police response or lack of it to crimes. What’s to be done?! She said: “You can take this back to when police officers were dedicated to shoplifting and worked hand in hand with retail businesses; everybody knew exactly what they could expect, they knew who the regulars were.” Those anti-shoplifting teams knew the people who stole food; who through personal circumstances had got themselves into difficulty, compared with the organised criminals working the country. Retailers and police and indeed the criminals, she suggested, knew where the boundaries were. “As time has gone on, a gap has grown between what industry wants and what the police can deliver; and the criminals have made use of that.” The role of the police commissioner, she added, is to fill the gap, understanding and translating what the public wants, into what the police do; so that the police, likewise, understand what is required of them. “At the moment, I feel people aren’t quite sure what it is they want; and the police aren’t quite sure what they are trying to cover. And the austerity cuts have definitely had an impact.” While the Government has presented the cuts in terms of reducing police bureaucracy, she queried whether police can deliver what they used to – and by that she means ‘last week’ rather than in a more distant past. Part of the commissioner’s role, she suggested, ‘is to be very clear on what the police are going to deliver on behalf of the public, not what the police thank they should deliver’.
Continuing on crime against retail, she raised what she felt would become a more and more contentious issue; use of ‘out of court resolutions’. In other words, police might deal with a retail thief with a fixed penalty notice rather than through the criminal courts. She pointed outside; we were inside a well-known chain of coffee shops in a small mall of shops in suburban Birmingham, which was as she said a microcosm of what’s in a city. “I would expect a PCSO for this area to know all the staff within these retail stores, to know what their issues are, and to be able to articulate to the policing hierarchy what needs to be done to keep these areas safe and secure. But I would also expect that to be the local police officers as well.” And, as she went on, whether it’s littering or anti-social behaviour, if there is a problem in the area, businesses and everyone have to recognise that the problem is for the wider community too. As she said, the police are seen as the problem-solvers: “The police are part of the solution, but they aren’t the solution.” Police, to sum up, cannot deliver by themselves.
On a more personal note, I asked her why she was putting herself through this? The catalyst, she recalled, was a retired lady from Walsall, a member of neighbourhood watch: “In January I went to a conference, essentially about how funding streams will change. I was listening to what they said about the role [of PCC] and my honest reaction was, ‘good luck’. Whoever gets that role is going to have a really significant challenge.” During a workshop at the conference, the neighbourhood watch woman said that if she were 20 years younger, she would give ‘them’ a run for their money. That planted a seed in Cath: “I thought, I am 20 years younger, I do have knowledge and experience that is relevant to the role, and then I did some research and looked at the other candidates and I followed it for a couple of months and the seed blossomed into the recognition that I have already invested more than 30 years of my career policing the West Midlands , right from being a bobby on the beat through to strategy. So the bottom line for me is, I still live here, my family and friends still live here and if anybody can broker that new relationship between the public and the police, it’s me.”
She brought up the limited information about the elections. Rather than calling the electorate apathetic, she said: “You can’t be apathetic about something you don’t know about, and the vast majority don’t know about the election, or the importance it’s going to have for their safety and security. So I want the West Midlands to wake up and recognize that they cannot be apathetic about their safety and security; they must engage; they must decide on a candidate; and I would encourage them to treat November 15 as ‘independence day’.”
About the elections
Nominations will open on October 8 and close October 19. The first PCC elections will take place on November 15; PCCs will take office November 22. Visit the Home Office website for more – http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/police/police-crime-commissioners/
About West Midlands
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce is holding a hustings on September 25, from 5.30pm, at Chamber House in Harborne Road, postcode B15 3DH. Visit http://www.birmingham-chamber.com/BCCG/Events/EventDetails.aspx?event=3422
About Cath Hannon: visit www.cathhannon4pcc.com. As she says somewhat ruefully, standing for PCC has put back her doctorate in police, security and community safety, that she is doing though the John Grieve Centre at London Metropolitan University, having gained a masters degree in clinical criminology. Her doctorate is to do with the monitoring and management of high-risk offenders. She’s been interviewing senior police and probation officers. At the end of her career in the police, she was concentrating on child protection. ‘Some people might say that was the fluffy end of policing,’ she says, ‘but I met some of the most committed, dedicated and professional people you could ever wish to meet, who were working to tackle some of the worst activities that humans engage in.’ Child exploitation and domestic violence, for example.