This week sees the final interviews for the job of Met Commissioner. There are some truly outstanding people in the running.
And what awaits the successful candidate? Simply, the honour and responsibility of leading the finest police service in the world. The Met has its faults and failings of course – some of them grave – but it remains an extraordinary institution.
More than the institution though, there are the people – as fine a group of women and men as you could ever hope to meet. Some of them fall short, but most of them are about as remarkable as people can be: the everyday heroes and heroines who police our streets. It seems to me that serving them is the greatest leadership privilege of all.
The new Boss is going to arrive to a set of eye-watering challenges – a combination of operational and organisational demands the like of which policing has not seen in a generation and more. And they are not unique to London – policing the length and breadth of the country is feeling the strain.
I’ve written before about the need for police leaders to make some really difficult choices – and to have difficult conversations, not least with the public, about what we are able to take on with the resources available to us.
The choices (and accompanying need for conversations) can, at times, seem endless:
Between Emergencies and Engagement
- Those at risk of greatest harm – together with those guilty of causing it – must always have first call on our resources.
- Whatever else we might face, we remain the agency of first and last resort. And that is exactly as it should be.
- But as we hurtle from call to call with finite resources, there are consequences for the amount of time we are able to spend listening to and speaking with the people we serve.
- There is a balance to be struck – not least between short-term fixes and long-term solutions – and it won’t be easy to find.
Between the Frontline and the Back Office
- There are further cuts to be made – with seemingly inevitable consequences for officer and staff numbers.
- The Met has been able to maintain frontline officer numbers in recent years – but not without significant consequences for our police staff colleagues.
- There is a balance to be struck – not least in avoiding the need for police officers to backfill roles previously performed by police staff – and it won’t be easy to find.
Between Uniform and CID
- The demands for specialist investigative skills are growing all the time: homicide, counter-terrorism, child abuse, serious sexual offences, gun and knife crime – and so the list goes on. Then there is the whole new (and apparently limitless) world of cyber crime.
- In times of financial constraint, every new investment in investigation becomes an abstraction from visible uniform policing.
- There is a balance to be struck – not least in the resources allocated to dealing with high harm vs. high volume crime – and it won’t be easy to find.
Between the Past & the Present
- The sins of our past have found us out. And there is no option but to confront them head on.
- But – as others have said before me – every resource we invest in dealing with the past is one less available to invest in dealing with the present.
- There should be no hiding from our failings, but there is a balance to be struck between then and now – and it won’t be easy to find.
Between Police Priorities and those of everyone else
- I have never known a good police officer to turn their back on someone in need of help. I hope sincerely that I never will.
- But, increasingly, policing appears to find itself picking up the pieces (or, more importantly, the lives) that have fallen through the gaps in the support that the state is able to provide: Mental Health services, Adult Social Care, Youth Services and even the Ambulance Service.
- There is a balance to be struck between saying ‘no’ and yet never ignoring a person in trouble – and it won’t be easy to find.
Between People & Performance
- We must never take for granted the enormous levels of discretionary effort – the endless ‘extra miles’ – that go into making policing work.
- I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I know more good coppers working under significantly more strain than at any previous point in my career.
- And we cannot just run people into the ground – with ever growing demands and ever greater workloads.
- Morale has been raised as a growing concern for policing nationally – and we need to listen to the reasonable voices of concern.
- In addition, the health and welfare of officers and staff is coming increasingly to the fore – the inevitable scars that result from a life in blue.
- There is a balance to be struck between the professional demands of an endlessly complex day job and the personal needs of our most precious resource. We simply have to look after our people.
These are challenging times for policing. The new Commissioner will need – and deserve – our support in taking on arguably the most challenging job in British policing.
The current Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, hosts his retirement function at Scotland Yard later this week. I wish him well for the future. After almost 38 years of public service, he’s earned a break.
And I wish his successor equally well too.
It’s one heck of a job.