Chief Superintendent Gavin Thomas
Good afternoon colleagues, and welcome to our guests and of course welcome to you Minister.
Here we are at a new venue with a new President, and a new Home Secretary, and a new Policing Minister and ministerial team.
And there are many of you who are here at Conference for the first time, so a particular welcome to you all.
Minister you are most welcome and I appreciate you taking the time out from what must be a particularly busy period for you personally to address our conference. Thank you. It is very much appreciated.
Our Association has always had a constructive and positive relationship with the Home Office, its Ministers and its officials. Long may this continue.
We will support and work with you, as we share a common motivation: to serve the public and ensure our country is a safe place to live.
There will, of course, be occasions on which we may disagree.
We will not do so just to be contrary or unhelpful, but due to genuinely held beliefs arising from our professional knowledge and experience gained as senior operational leaders in policing.
On such occasions, you have my assurance that we will always be constructive in our criticism and will work with you to seek practical solutions.
This, I would suggest is the sign of a healthy relationship.
Like many of us I am sure in this room, I had no real career plan when I joined the service.
I certainly did not think that I would be in the privileged position of leading this Association and of being entrusted to represent you and speak on your behalf.
On Wednesday 23rd June 1982 Police Constable 273 Gavin Thomas aged 18 and a half stepped out of Cirencester police station, in Gloucestershire, on his first foot patrol in uniform.
On that day PC Thomas made his first contribution to law and order by issuing a car tax penalty notice!
I joined during a period of social unrest, and huge change in our society.
Policing was in the middle of this, providing reassurance, support and service to the public.
These are functions which policing in this country has always done and will continue to do.
Our police service is second to none and we should be extremely proud of this fact.
It is neutral, unbiased and apolitical in seeking to preserve law and order in our society.
I will stand up here now and say we don’t always get it right.
We make mistakes. I am not afraid to say we will always make mistakes.
We make mistakes because police officers are human. Sometimes, this fact seems to be overlooked.
Yesterday, you heard from Matthew Syed and it is clear the service has a long way to go to improve how it learns when things go wrong.
Experiences from the past, and I am referring here to the tragedy of Hillsborough and various legacy events, show us that, as a Service, we must in future respond quickly and positively when things go wrong.
We need to recognise when what we have done has failed, learn by that experience, and bring about change to ensure that policing improves for the public good.
However, this will be dependent on developing a culture in policing in which people and organisations are capable of swiftly reflecting on what went wrong, without the need for lengthy investigation.
Protracted investigations work to the detriment of those affected by policing and those officers who make difficult decisions – and whom we know will not always get it right.
Nor is it enough to simply say that, whatever the particular event was, it occurred many years ago and things are very different now to how they were then.
We must demonstrate to the public that we have learned and changed as a result of those things that went wrong.
This is the only way we will reassure them that a tragedy such as Hillsborough will not happen again.
At the heart of Hillsborough are 96 people who lost their lives when they should not have done so; and hundreds more families and loved ones who have grieved and sought answers for far too many years.
The human tragedy, the human element, is what we must never forget.
Trust and confidence in policing are at the very core of our legitimacy.
The recent spike in hate crime and instances of intolerance are clear and current examples of how vitally important trust and confidence in policing are.
More importantly, the public need to have that trust.
They need us to stand with them and their communities and act against hate.
I’m talking about when people are targeted just for being different.
When was it ever right that a citizen in this country could walk up to another and tell them to go home, abuse them for their race, religion or nationality.
It is wrong.
It is unlawful.
And we as police officers will do all we can to bring offenders to justice.
Because everyone – absolutely everyone, without exception – should be confident to come to us for help and protection when they need it.
We have come a long way as a service and sometimes we do not reflect sufficiently on that, or recognize how much we have changed over the years.
When I first walked out of Cirencester Police Station the uniform and equipment had changed very little in generations.
My personal protective equipment was limited to a pair of handcuffs and a piece of wood with which defend myself.
There was no technology, other than perhaps a radio.
There was no culture of professionalism in those days – although that is not to suggest that police officers were not professional then. They were. It was individual professionalism rather than organisational.
There was no desire to be different and to address diversity.
I became a Detective very early on in my career and I can recall the CID office being a smoke-filled room stacked with papers and dominated by men.
We worked by intuitive experience, learning from each other as to who we perceived to be the best at getting the arrest and interviewing suspects.
It is not my intention to paint a negative picture.
I worked with many committed and inspirational colleagues, whose values were to serve the public and protect them from people who would do them harm.
We have moved on and will continue to do so, but those values remain unchanged.
That is one of the strengths of this great service and why we are seen by many law enforcement colleagues across the world as the standard.
But we do need to move on further, and to do so much, much faster.
We need to move on in many areas and there are a number of priorities that I want to focus on as your President.
The first is wellbeing.
Many of you here have heard me speak about this subject over the last few years at District meetings and here at Conference.
Since 2010 the number of police officers in the Superintending ranks has reduced by 27% or 450 officers. There are now just 1217 across England and Wales.
This is the largest percentage reduction in any rank in the service.
Policing has had to change and adapt to meet the period of austerity after 2010. I understand that.
We, as senior police leaders and as an Association, have worked positively and tirelessly to help forces respond to the financial challenges being faced whilst, as best as we can, protecting the extent and quality of policing that we provide to our public.
But, what has concerned me is that many forces have simply reduced the numbers of Superintendents and Chief Superintendents without really understanding the demands upon them, or what it is that our members do.
Nor have these reductions in numbers been accompanied by transformational change to the way that policing works; what officers do and how they do it.
What this means is that you are now commanding areas and responsibilities that were shared previously amongst two or even more of you.
You are working longer and harder than ever before to keep the service delivering and to ensure that the public are protected.
What does this mean?
It means that we have some colleagues with commands larger than a quarter of our smaller forces.
There are many colleagues here now delivering policing services to entire counties or areas that are larger than those for which some chief constables are responsible.
Our Personal Resilience Survey, to which 81% of you responded, suggests that the reduction in ranks is having a significant impact on your workload; your work/life balance and your health and wellbeing.
And yet in many areas colleagues are being told that savings still need to be made.
That the administrative support to assist you in leading these bigger commands is being reduced.
That vehicle provision and other practical ways to help you to do your jobs and to support your effectiveness, is being reviewed.
Or that the provision of health screening is being cut.
What I am seeking from the service is the following.
These are not luxuries.
These are not even perks.
These are basic requirements for anyone in any job – but certainly for those senior operational leaders in a modern policing service who have vast responsibilities and significant amounts of risk.
They are also essentials for those whom you lead; those whom we ask to go ‘above and beyond’ for the public; those who put others before their own families and, on occasions, even before their own lives.
As your President, I will continue to campaign and highlight how important these issues are for you; for the Service and, ultimately, for the public.
We are a people organisation and, if policing asks too much of its people and starts to lose them, what will we have to give to the public?
I spoke just now about wanting policing to value its staff.
I also want to see it value the difference in its people.
I’m not just talking about those of our people with protected characteristics.
I’m also talking about valuing people who think differently, who do not necessarily “fit in”.
I’m talking about valuing those single, individual characteristics that make every single one of us unique.
I want to see the service valuing that difference as a positive.
And this is not just because it will help us be more representative of our communities.
By embracing difference and actively seeking to value such qualities in our people we can challenge convention and bring innovation to the service.
“Group think” in teams and amongst police leaders is not helpful.
If anything it is highly damaging and stifles innovation.
It contributes to a lack of pace and imagination and the absence of the entrepreneurial spirit of reform.
And reform we must – still.
We have been talking about this for some years as an Association.
It is time to do more than just talk about it.
We are leaders. We are the senior operational leaders in policing. We are responsible for setting the example and showing the way to those whom we lead.
So it is incumbent upon your Association to set an example here and demonstrate that we are both different and representative.
We have progressed considerably from being almost exclusively male and white.
But we have some way to go still.
The challenge both to me, and to those of you in this room, is what it is that we are going to do practically to deliver this change.
So when we have a vacancy in our Association at either branch or district level, who fills it?
Someone who looks, thinks and acts just like the person whom they have succeeded?
Or can we seize the initiative, and look for and encourage someone who is different to the person that went before them?
I want us – I want you – to lead here.
I want you to actively look for members who are different. Someone who may just need a prompt to come forward and be part of this fabulous organization to which we are privileged to belong.
Someone who may need a bit of extra support to do the role alongside their day job.
But who may bring that new thinking and those new ideas, as well visible or less visible – difference in our representation.
So my plea to you all today is to actively consider how you as a leader can through your actions, positively open up our Association to difference.
It is one thing talking and understanding the issues it is another – through leadership – to do something about it
If we cannot change ourselves, and the way we look, think, behave, how can we possibly hope to bring change to the service?
I want us to lead by example. You have a critical part to play here.
I want to turn now to the subject of vulnerability.
In particular that constant theme that is a risk throughout the policing agenda – consistency.
Again I have spoken about this on a number of occasions already this year.
My view is simple.
It is unacceptable and unsustainable that across our public services there is such inconsistency in how we protect our children and other vulnerable people.
It cannot be right that people have different experiences, or receive different levels of service, based upon where they live.
It is a fundamental responsibility of public servants to protect those who, for whatever reason, cannot protect themselves.
Minister, this Association has started to do something about this.
In our report on Public Protection Units earlier this year we surveyed the 70 colleagues charged with leading public protection within their various forces – an area of police that carries huge risks.
We uncovered some alarming findings.
That is not a healthy picture.
It is not an acceptable picture.
I am calling for three things
Firstly, that Superintendents receive the training and development needed to enable them to undertake these roles, and that they and are licensed to practice in protecting vulnerable people.
I am grateful to Alex Marshall and the College of Policing who as a result of our report have picked this issue up and are developing it.
This is not only for the benefit of the people working in public protection but ultimately for the benefit of the public.
It seems to me a legitimate question to ask why we have standards, accreditation and skills to practice in say firearms, public order and driving patrol cars, but no requirement when protecting children and vulnerable people? How can this be right?
The second is a review of Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASH) across England and Wales.
These should be at the centre of partnerships, working together to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
Yet they are very different in how they are organized, operate and how they share critical information.
They have information and intelligence that could save life and prevent harm.
Yet it takes a serious case review or enquiry into the death of a child or vulnerable adult before the full picture of the risk to them is known, and which agency had what information that if shared might have, just might have, prevented that tragedy.
If we have consistency and a standard it will go some way to how we in this century of big data ensure the right professional can make the right decision at the right time, because they have the right information.
This is not easy.
It is a complicated picture that requires cross-agency and cross-government commitment.
But the prize, Minister, if we prevent even one child from harm or one adult from exploitation, is worth it.
Finally, and this is in the context of consistency, we speak of the term vulnerability.
But there is no standard definition of this term to which all public services – including policing – can work.
Would it not be a great thing that policing, education, health, social care , probation and the charity and voluntary sectors and many more are working to the same understanding, the same criteria and the same standard.
I think the public have a right to expect this; in fact I would struggle to explain why this is not already the case.
It cannot be right that a missing person in one area may not be defined in the same way as a missing person in another area.
Vulnerability is one of the new volume demands that will define our service and what do we for years to come.
We will not get on top of it by sticking to traditional ways of working and thinking.
New ideas are needed but we can start by fixing an old problem: I am asking for a common definition of vulnerability not just for policing but all services who are responsible for protecting children and adults.
The ONS statistics support the magnitude of the challenge.
Women were significantly more likely than men to have experienced rape and sexual assault during their childhood.
This equates to an estimated 567,000 women aged between 16 and 59 having experienced this type of abuse during their childhood, with and an estimated 102,000 men.
Those are enormous numbers. Take a moment to think about the magnitude of those figures.
Another area of magnitude that is a priority for me is cyber crime.
Cyber is the single biggest revolution in our society for generations.
Its impact is as profound as the industrial revolution.
Currently 88% of all adults in this country use the internet.
That figures goes up to nearly 100% among 16-24 year olds.
We are globally connected like never before:
In the next 60 seconds
We have access to information on a scale that was unimaginable even a decade ago – and remember the iPhone is less than a decade old.
More than 90 % of all global data was created in the last two years and by 2020 digital information in existence will have grown from 3.2 Zettabytes today to 40 Zettabytes.
And if you are wondering what is a Zettabyte, it is lot – over a trillion gigabytes! The average laptop is 500 gigabytes.
Even cyber itself is expanding and developing at a pace that we and other conventional institutions find hard to comprehend and address.
The internet of things is currently 13billion devices.
By 2020 it is be predicted to have expanded to 50billion devices.
There are fantastic opportunities within all this development.
But rarely does opportunity go anywhere without its best friend, challenge.
The Internet, particularly through the dark web, has become a modus operandi for people across the globe to abuse and harm children.
This has meant that Public Protection Units, originally formed to address interfamilial abuse at a local geographic level, are now investigating crimes enabled through the Internet across the globe.
A good example of this is the NCA investigation and conviction of Richard Huckle earlier this year.
Huckle was convicted of 71 counts of sexual assault on children in Asia.
He is believed to have abused and assaulted more than 200 children.
The Internet was a key factor in his offending, being able to connect and share images of his vile abuse across the world.
The Internet is undoubtedly a force for good.
Yet is also an enabler of crime and harm like nothing we have ever seen before, on a scale of demand that we need to understand.
The ONS put the amount of cyber crime at 3.8million online fraud offences and 2million computer misuse offences in the last year.
As huge as those numbers are, I welcome them. I welcome that we know what they are.
Because this means the crime statistics are starting to reflect how criminality has changed.
The web and other technology, as well as legitimate opportunity for us, also provides illicit opportunity for criminals.
The scale of this means that we cannot tackle it how we have tackled conventional fraud.
You cannot arrest an IP address.
It requires bold new ideas and there are two broad areas that I think we need to go further with.
Firstly I am aware that the Government has invested in internet safety campaigns to educate and inform the public.
Whilst this is welcome, I suggest that what we actually need is social change.
We as citizens need to understand and take ownership of our own safety and security when we live our lives ‘online’.
We should ensure we protect our data and behave as we would now when we leave the house and lock the door.
I am not sure there are many insurance companies that would cover you if you habitually left your front door open each time you left the house.
Preventing criminals from getting into your computers and phones should be as commonplace as the steps you take to prevent them from getting into your home.
Secondly I believe the service needs to quickly start to think of how we are going to tackle online fraud.
What was a specialism is now the norm.
It requires skills in all our people to understand cyber and investigate fraud
I have called previously for the police to directly employ cyber and financial experts direct from the private sector and yes even from school.
A teenager today has a different mindset and approach to new technologies.
It is intuitive and natural to them in a way it isn’t to people even just 10 years older than them, never mind twenty years their senior.
So I believe we need to embrace that difference in approach and redefine our partnerships with the private sector which can benefit from us, as well as us benefiting from it.
This brings me to my final key priority and I suppose has been demonstrated in what I have just said.
I want the service to develop a long term vision for policing – a Policing Futures Strategy.
If I asked all of you in this room today what do you see as the threats, risks and opportunities for policing say in 2052, there would be I suggest very mixed views.
Probably some scratching of heads and the odd damp towel round the forehead in a dark room!
Whilst you would give it your best shot, I am pretty sure that any emerging themes would not be evidence – based or supported by any research.
My colleague Paul Griffiths, your Vice President, outlined one possible vision of the future in 2052.
It may have sounded like the stuff of sci-fi movies, but it was based entirely on technology that is in development today.
Driverless cars, artificial intelligence, personal health data at the touch of a button – it is all real.
I want to see a cogent, evidence-based, researched futures strategy that is credible and is respected not only within policing, but also by policy makers, and commentators alike.
It should take us well beyond the short-term time scales that currently influence change and strategy in policing.
After all if as leaders we do not have some notion where we are going and what we perceive the risks and opportunities to be, then we will be operating in a sphere of short-term reactive cycles that are costly, inefficient and which do not actually solve the problem.
We will be permanently behind the curve rather than ahead of it. Being reactive rather than proactive. This no way to operate.
I see this as a real opportunity in collaboration between the world of academia, the Home Office, the College of Policing and the service itself.
We have the talent, and the leadership across all ranks and levels in the service to achieve this.
What if we had such a strategy that was informing us on a regular basis say ten years ago.
Maybe, just maybe, we may have been in a different place as to how we are meeting cyber crime, the proliferation of on line fraud, and Internet-enabled criminality against children.
I can remember not very long ago being challenged as to why I was talking so much of the threat of cyber crime rather than the more conventional crimes that we are all used to.
That is not being critical for it is very easy as leaders to operate in the contemporary.
In my judgment leadership is not just about leading people in the here and now but also about understanding what the risks and opportunities are for our service, probably beyond our own tenure.
Minister, my colleagues across England and Wales despite the significant challenges that we have experienced since 2010 continue to be at the forefront of leadership in the service.
They are highly committed, enthusiastic, passionate and motivated men and women who, without fail, go that extra mile; put in that extra work; are ‘on call’ when they should be resting and spending quality time with family or friends; and cancel personal commitments in order to come into work at the drop of a hat.
I want to them to be able to lead, not just for the present – for the here and now, but also for the future; to ensure that the Service remains fit for purpose and that we continue to provide the best possible policing that we can for the public whom we serve.
I know that, if given the opportunity to do so, our members will embrace this challenge and will work to ensure British policing remains a success for those generations of police officers that will follow.
As the President of this Association – as your President – I could not be more proud than I am now standing before you this afternoon.