2006 Police Federation Conference – LACKING IN ANTI RACISM

October 20, 2006

Delegates at this year’s Police Federation Conference in Bournemouth witnessed probably the most profound and important issues being both discussed and presented in recent times. From the Chair’s address to the response from the new Home Secretary, Dr Reid.

From the motions considering extending the family of the Police Federation to the debate about “workforce modernisation” to the issues surrounding the possibility of amending section 3 of the Criminal Justice Act to provide an indemnity to those firearms officers who use reasonable force to nullify the threat of an offender in circumstances where the offender is fatally killed.

From the debate about science and how it can help provide reconstructive evidence which supports the honest views and observations of those colleagues caught up in the stresses that such incidents may cause, there was one theme which focussed all of these debates and one theme only: the office of Constable and the uniqueness of policing as a profession.

The conference viewed the recent bold moves by Government ministers to modernise the police service in to a model that of “effectiveness” and “efficiency.” Dr Reid suggested that those that had intimated that the police service was the last unreformed public sector institution did not understand policing. Conference stated clearly that the development of a two-tier service was compromising the delivery of 24/7 policing, and even when prolific offenders were placed before courts, little action was taken, only to leave these offenders to commit crime again. The message from conference to the Home Secretary was clear, please get you own house in order first. The new Home Secretary listened attentively on.

Whilst the Home Secretary’s views and acknowledgement of the incompetence within the Home Office caused murmurs and ripples in the corridors at Bournemouth amongst Senior Civil servants present, Dr Reid’s position was realistic and honest. A separate lecture by a Professor from Keele University made it categorically clear that there was one aim in the minds of reformists. And this aim did not necessarily mean a better police service, some reform appeared to merely mimic a cost cutting exercise and did not mean that the public will get the same level of good service that it currently gets or even a better service. On the contrary there were genuine fears that Home Office reform and beaurocracy would reduce sworn police officer numbers by 25,000 officers; and this revelation received wide and damming media coverage the following day.

The IPCC and Nick Hardwicke received a hard time as the rank and file showed their discontent in the manner in which the IPCC conducted some of their investigations and published their findings, in particular in relation to the Stanley case and the impact this had on two firearms officers. The IPCC report had left an open question mark over the integrity of the two officers and this was as a result of some of the words the IPCC had used when referring to the fact that the officer’s completed their notes together. Although the officers are now fully exonerated the words used in the IPCC report did not reflect a complete exoneration. The presumption that officer’s involved in fatal shooting incidents are automatically treated as suspects was put before Leicestershire’s DCC. (Perhaps there is learning for all Professional Standards departments). And his position was clear and appropriate for the IPCC; he intimated that the issue of joint note taking might well have been better placed by the IPCC in another arena and not this report.

The officer’s in this case had suffered unnecessarily. Nonetheless, conference requested that consideration should be given to the IPCC being monitored independently because of it’s inexperience. Both the Police Federation and scientific research showed in no uncertain terms that the officer’s accounts in the Stanley case were credible; there was therefore absolutely no issue of integrity. The case of Neil Sharman and his colleague and their relationship with the IPCC marked an incredible U-turn by the IPCC which ended with Chief Inspector Neil Sharman received a standing ovation from Conference. A fact remains that Nick Hardwicke did listen, but a further fact is that his teams have hindsight at their benefit and although he loosely apologised to Inspector Sharman; what he was unable to do was something that would have given him some credibility. He was unable to say he was sorry on behalf of the IPCC.

The day of the AGM masked no issues, as once again the office of Constable was a direct and related theme. The conference voted against extending the membership family of the Police Federation and pushed towards maintaining a professional status. In this way the conference of 2006 was arguably not only the best conference ever but it debated the most fundamental and important issues relating to the foundation of policing; and the potential for reform to lead to reduced numbers or rather, policing on the cheap.

Dr Reid, as a strong Home Secretary, might just be able to salvage some of the mess that his predecessors have left behind, (including the issue of the Victoria Cross and DC Oakley), and he has the track record and credibility to do this, but judgement day will come in the manner in which he continues his police reforms and whether he lives up to some of the promises made.

Acceding to the fact that some of the Home Office was incompetent might not have done anything to win the hearts and minds of Senior Civil Servants and policy makers; but Dr Reid may have won the hearts of many good police officers who try and do a good job day in day out. Lastly but by no means least, the conference remembered all those officers that had fallen in the line of duty in 2005/2006 including the most recent, Nishma Patel Nasri.

This year’s conference has shown the Police Federation of England and Wales in 2006 to be an extremely sleek and effective business organisation consisting of professional people that not only understand reform but understand the shape of a modern police service that is now required to police some old some new and some different demands.

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