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President's 2020 Conference Address

Home Secretary, guests and colleagues,

A very warm welcome to the 2020 conference of the Police Superintendents’ Association.  A conference which looks and feels incredibly different from anything we have hosted in the 100 year history of this prestigious event.
In the year that marks a full centenary since the inaugural association conference, there are many things we would have planned to mark this milestone.  Hosting the event digitally was not one of them, but although I’m disappointed not to be meeting with you in person, I am proud that we are yet again showing the responsive, innovative and tenacious attitude of our Service, by re-designing to overcome.
It’s hard to come up with an adequate phrase to describe the context in which we currently work. The word ‘unprecedented’ has become almost meaningless with the frequency with which it is used, and the term ‘challenging times’ comes nowhere close to encompassing the magnitude of what Coronavirus has caused to the public and the police.

As a mark of respect it seems appropriate for us to reflect on the scale of the tragedy and the impact on the lives of so many, including police colleagues who have sadly died from Covid-19. I will now pause to hand over to Canon David Wilbraham, the National Police Chaplain to say a few words….

What we have faced and continue to face, as a nation and a Service, is tough.

But – what we have done, and all we have achieved, is nothing short of incredible.

When I began my term as president last year, I set out my plan to focus the work of our association on the priorities of care…. for our people, our police and our public.  I’m proud to say that we have made real progress on issues impacting on each of these areas and I’ll take this opportunity to look at how Covid has affected them all, how we, as an association and as a Service, have and can respond, and where we need the support and care from you, Home Secretary, and our Government.

As a Service, we are adept at contingency planning for a range of scenarios including pandemics, but Coronavirus has posed threats and caused impacts far greater than anything we might have imagined. We know how to deal with criminals intent on causing harm, we know how to respond to floods or chaos on our transport networks, and we know how to support those who are most vulnerable.  But how do we respond to a complex, invisible killer virus that no one has encountered before?

Our people have, as always, been our most effective resource, our most valued asset, and the reason why we have remained strong as a Service.
We’ve had to strip away much of the ‘norm’ that our people know and depend on.  We’ve removed their workspaces, their face to face interaction with their colleagues and moved them into new roles.
For some, community interaction has remained crucial, but it has been carried out in a completely new way. For others, the office is now the living room, their workplace colleague is a child who desperately wants to talk into the webcam, and the look and feel of public engagement has drastically changed.

So how have our people responded?  With dignity, enthusiasm and professionalism.

Our members are senior operational leaders, tasked with managing the highest levels of threat, risk and harm.  They have therefore been at the forefront of strategic decision making and workforce command to lead our teams into this unknown crisis
At times, our members described this workload as “brutal”.

At the peak of the virus our officers were being intentionally and daily, coughed or spat at by people choosing to use Covid-19 as a weapon. 

Every day, police officers are going to work, interacting with colleagues and strangers, in the knowledge they could be placing themselves and their families at risk. It’s quite incredible that alongside this, we also now see a continuous rise in the number of assaults against our officers, as they simply try to do their job.

Add to that the constant use of mobile phones to record incidents to which our officers have responded, which can quickly and violently escalate.  In these situations, officers use their professionalism, instinct and values to protect people, but some members of the public see this as an opportunity to encourage aggression and to capture viral footage. We are accountable for our actions, but every citizen should feel a responsibility to help rather than film.

Despite these challenges, the increased violence we are starting to see, and throughout this emergency, we have never sensed that resilience is waning or that our services are starting to suffer.
This, is the nature of our people.

This, is why we have repeatedly called for the care and value our Service so clearly deserves.
Last year, I described the potential for our people to become ‘victims of their own dedication’, as I described the relentless workload facing our members, and that of many colleagues.
I described the mental health impact that this demand is having on those tasked with leading the Service and the continued breaching of Working Time Regulations with little regard for the resulting human impact.
Coronavirus did not take this away.  

We know from our most recent consultation with members through Operation Cadmium, which took place before the national emergency was declared, that the situation has not changed. Once again, on average, our members are working 50% longer than the average working week and are cumulatively working so many extra hours, that when seen as a representative sample of our association, members are carrying out the work of almost 160 additional full-time superintendents.
If this was the case before a national emergency ensued, we can only imagine the demands upon this small number of senior leaders when the crisis took hold.

Home Secretary. Last year, we asked for a number of national changes to be made to respond to the issues facing our members and to show a commitment to value they clearly deserve.
Earlier this year you made changes to the regulations to support our members. This included defining the working week of a superintendent so that people who needed to work part-time would not be penalised. This has particularly supported members with caring responsibilities and their families.
We thank you for this and appreciate the move towards a culture of value we have been asking for over many years.
Now, we must ask again for recognition of the pressures that continue upon our rank. Last year, we presented a case for a defined commitment to an enhanced number of superintendents as part of the national Police Uplift Programme.
Recent reports show us that uplift recruitment figures are healthy, but we are yet to hear of any commitment to our rank, which carries a huge weight of responsibility, whilst also being faced with large numbers of new recruits to lead and manage, alongside the lasting effects and impact of a global pandemic.
I reiterate, BEFORE Covid-19, the working hours of a representative sample of our members show we are working the hours across the country of almost 160 additional full-time superintendents. 

If we truly value our people, can we knowingly ignore this issue?
Workforce wellbeing continues to sit at the core of our association and as a member of the Board of the National Police Wellbeing Service, I am delighted to see the progress being made here.
I do believe, however, that we still have a long way to go in becoming a Service that can truly say it values its people in the way it should.
We’re a public-facing service.  We’re tasked with protecting people and supporting communities.  This will never change.

But our duty of care to our people should mirror that of our duty to our public.

As an association, we have taken the impetus to provide our members with development support and opportunities to help them within their roles.  We worked with the College of Policing to create an online toolkit for superintendents as part of their learning platform, to provide members with easy access to reference information, policy detail, procedural guidance and leadership support.

Going forward, I am working with the College to ensure that superintendents have access to regular learning opportunities as part of their continued professional development.
Whilst we are proud of the influence and achievements we have delivered, I ask that this push for support of our people remains a priority, to get behind those leaders that shoulder the heavy weight on behalf of our Service to turn strategy into success.

I have spoken here about the need for recognition of the efforts of our rank, but we are not an association that views our members in isolation.  I often speak of the blue team, we’re one police family, and we work passionately to develop our Service, build it and ultimately protect it from harm.
We are deeply concerned about the economic crisis our country now faces.  Coronavirus has left its mark on every inch of our country, and the huge financial strain that our nation’s leaders must now address should not be underestimated.
We understand that it will take a combined effort to resolve this, over many years, but our plea, Home Secretary, is for you to protect the policing services this country has depended on.
We cannot bear the brunt of the economic downturn, by stripping back services that have been nothing other than crucial throughout this national emergency.  Funding must be protected to support the promised uplift, and our people must not suffer as a result of a pandemic they have been called to fight on the frontline.
We’re also acutely aware of the huge financial impact of resolving the public sector pensions crisis and our Service must not pick up the bill for this. Cutting our resources to pay for this solution will do nothing other than penalise the very people who were impacted by this inequality from the start.
Home Secretary, you speak passionately about your support and respect for the officers and staff that work so hard to protect our communities.  We ask you for your continued care, fighting for our financial protection within the forthcoming spending review.

We have seen in the past a smoke and mirrors funding approach where funding was handed out with one hand and reduced with the other. In a Service still dealing with a decade of financial hardship, the pain is still a vivid memory and the nervousness of how we move forward is still profound.  We welcome the current administration’s manifesto commitment of funding for 20,000 additional officers and ask that you protect us from slipping back into the generation of austerity of the last 10 years.  

In last year’s conference address, when talking about the heroic efforts and incredible sacrifices of our people, I spoke about the tragic death of Thames Valley Police Officer, PC Andrew Harper. Now, one year after his death, we have seen and read the detail of that horrific night as part of the reporting from the trial. The impact was felt across every corner of our Service.
 Colleagues read with horror the detail of his death and would have felt utter sorrow for his loved ones and colleagues, alongside a poignant consideration of the risks they take for the good of the public. As an association, we support those campaigning for Harper’s Law and a mandatory life sentence for the unlawful killing of an emergency service worker whilst they conduct their duties. We will provide our support for any exploration of how a change of this kind could be implemented, to ensure justice is served on those found guilty of such abhorrent crimes.
 Last year, I called for the extension of the Elizabeth Cross to be awarded to the families of police officers who are lost in the line of duty.  Again, I ask for your support of formal recognition for families from all emergency services who pay the ultimate sacrifice.  

Home Secretary - as the Police Covenant continues to develop, there are significant opportunities to broaden the support for officers and families.  We remain keen to help develop these, which will enhance the experience of working as a police officer and the support for families who help us all to deliver a quality service. 
 The Police Service has now entered a ‘new norm’, untested and unknown, and it is interesting to note that many people have no desire to return to the ‘old norm’.

The Service has shown that it can and should trust its workforce, empowering them to work independently, remotely, with extremely positive results.
We’ve cut back on unnecessary in-person meetings with the resulting saving on resources and we’ve finally given the green light to a flexible-working model that could change the face of our workforce by opening doors to talented, committed individuals who have felt limited in their options because of the traditional rigidity of our processes.  We must not lose momentum here.

We know that we are still losing too many good officers and staff because we don’t yet provide the culture of flexibility and inclusion we should strive for.  We must maintain this momentum and use this extraordinary situation to harness every element of best practice to build a way forward.
This is a ‘new norm’, and in many ways it can be an improved ‘norm’. We should not lose the chance of far-reaching positivity and progress because of the tragedy that has led us to this place.
Covid-19 has caused a paradigm shift in the way we use technology to operate.  People who were reluctant to engage with technology as a daily Service enabler had no choice but to do so, and we were forced into moving with the speed and agility on issues such as IT, that we usually only see within the private sector.
This has to be the step change we need to move us into a Service that can truly keep apace with the digital evolution that continues around us.
We have proven we can and should harness this to our advantage and we have pushed ourselves forwards by years, in terms of where we thought we could be in the use of technology, to make or service more effective.

Coronavirus has placed what is arguably the single most important factor in the effectiveness of policing under the spotlight:  our relationship with the public.
Throughout the pandemic, we have walked a tightrope in balancing our management and control of the virus, government direction, public enforcement and community trust.
Never before have the public and the police been as aligned in the timing with which they have received information on police enforcement and never before have the police and the public had to learn the rules of policing at exactly the same time.
Incredibly, and in no doubt due to the professional interactions of our people, in the vast majority of cases, we have been on the same side.  Enforcement statistics have shown us that the ‘four Es’ policy has worked and that a very small percentage of the public were subject to enforcement action.
This wasn’t always smooth going, however.

The public were confused, and our people were confused. We made mistakes in our interpretation of guidance as it changed regularly and the public were frustrated around the limitations on their freedom and the conflicting information they were seeing and hearing as they battled to understand their ‘new norm’.
The government depended on us as a Service, and we answered, we delivered. 
We should be very proud that we have walked alongside the public for the most part, and that because our relationship, based on policing with consent, has lasted the test of time, we’ve been in this together.
But, this relationship is still fractured and fragile.
This brings me to the final area I wish to discuss.
An issue I see as the next national emergency facing our country: diversity and inclusion.
Our workforce is not representative of our communities and our services are not being delivered with legitimacy when it comes to ethnicity.
As individuals and as members of our Service, we stood alongside all those appalled by the shocking death of George Floyd in America.  Our outrage was clear and authentic.  Yet we also stand within an establishment that is still decades behind where it should be in terms of understanding, representing and serving the rich and diverse communities of which it is part.
This cannot continue and we are past the stage of simply talking about this.  Indeed, if we don’t address the diversity issues within our workforce as part of the Police Uplift Programme and at such a pivotal time for significant opportunity for change, we will face another 40 year problem as the current recruitment projection of over 50,000 start their careers.

We must respond at the pace and scale with which we’ve reacted to Coronavirus.
I’ve written and spoken at length about our association’s drive around valuing difference. We’ve worked hard in recent years, as shown by our work with the College of Policing on Coaching and Mentoring of under-represented groups, to make a tangible impact on some of the issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.
In addition to the suggestions we have shared directly with you Home Secretary, we’re contributing to a formal plan of action for the Service, where everyone in policing can and should play their part.
As a white male officer, like many of my colleagues, I do not have the ‘lived experience’ of colleagues from under-represented groups, so we can’t possibly claim to have the answers.  This is, for me, one of the biggest areas where we get it wrong.   We risk making assumptions from a completely misaligned background and experience.  We may have every intention of doing the right thing, but we cannot speak for people when we do not fully understand their perspective.
We therefore consulted at length with our members from under-represented groups and have their support in the work we have driven so far. But this isn’t reactionary, we have been interlinking with national network leads for years as we have always recognised the importance of difference.   

The insight this provides is crucial and we’ll be using this in our continued work to support the NPCC and College of Policing in creating a plan of action to which we must all be held accountable. This plan must have measures, outputs and scrutiny to answer the powerful demand for action.

Perhaps, as a colleague suggested to me on a recent call, we also need to add a fifth ‘e’ to our approach with working with the public.


We need to understand, truly, the views and perspectives of the people we serve who feel so misrepresented by their police service. We must not simply listen, we must hear their messages.
If a white police officer is approaching a young black person, what is the image of the police that the young person has formed?  What experiences have they had to date?  And what context are they living in?  
If a young Asian woman sees a police recruitment advertisement, what is her initial response?  What is her world, how is it different to the police officers she sees on screens and on the streets, and how do we make sure these worlds positively connect?
I speak to you today as someone who is passionately committed to harnessing the influence of our association to make a difference. 
It’s time to pick up the pace, raise our game and re-design policing to become what we know it should be in terms of its look, feel and background.  Home Secretary, I know you share our passion in this area, and I would ask that this issue becomes a core part of your National Policing Board agenda and inspection regimes going forward. We must be held to account on this matter in the same way we are with regards to operational policing, and we must work towards a clear vision of what we wish our Service to become.

These two emergencies have collided in recent months, catapulting us into dealing with challenges we hadn’t expected, but have been ready and able to confront.

Covid-19 may be a novel virus, completely new, with so much more for us to learn, but the many issues It has posed for policing are far from unique and deeply ingrained in our structure. They are part of our DNA as we continually respond, build and adapt.

It exposed weaknesses and strengths, it shook us to the core and tested our fundamental values in our relationship with the public.

It revealed a strong, resilient, passionate Service, full of incredible people, that I have always been proud to belong to.

It has created a new norm – but a norm that contains aspects we should have embraced years ago.
Now, once again, we re-build.
With social distancing here for the foreseeable future, with a whole new role for policing to play in ensuring public safety, with a duty of care to our people that has never been clearer, and with an absolute requirement to address diversity, equality and inclusion for our generation and generations to come.

We need to seize the moment for ever lasting change
Thank you