Required: Leaders in Policing
Updated: May 29
Over and out.
Three candidates to be Metropolitan Police Commissioner have been ejected from the contest after failing to make it through the initial 'paper sift'.
Jon Boutcher, the former Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police, whose application was revealed in a previous blog-post; the ex-New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush, bidding to be the first overseas police leader in the UK ; and Kevin Hurley, a police officer turned police and crime commissioner who was always a long-shot, have been turned down.
While appointing Bush would have been an exceptionally bold move, the decision to reject Boutcher at this early stage, without even an interview, is a little surprising. Was there a hint of policing 'politics' involved? We may never know.
There has been no word so far about the three other contenders - Sir Mark Rowley, the former Met Assistant Commissioner in charge of counter-terrorism; Shaun Sawyer, who's about to step down as Devon and Cornwall Chief Constable; and Nick Ephgrave, a current Assistant Commissioner in the Met - but the expectation is that they will progress to the next round, which the Home Office says involves "candidate testing/interactive exercises".
If the applicants survive that, they will be invited to an interview with a panel led by Matthew Rycroft, the Home Office Permanent Secretary. The final stage is a meeting with Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and Kit Malthouse, the Policing Minister. Whether the trio meet together or separately is unclear. There is no formal role for the Prime Minister in the process but it is unthinkable that he won't be consulted, given the prominence of the position and his experience as London Mayor, before the Queen approves the appointment. It looks as though the timetable is over-running by a week or so, and may take some time; in fact, I wouldn't discount the possibility that the Home Office will try to persuade people who have ruled themselves out to reconsider.
Let us hope that it does not take as long to fill the Met vacancy as it has at the National Crime Agency, where it has now been almost nine months since Dame Lynne Owens announced that she was retiring as Director-General. The advert for the job went out in December and the two final candidates, acting DG Graeme Biggar and Met Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, have both been rejected despite 'fireside chats' with Patel. The selection process is being re-started amid claims, reported in the Sunday Times, that Lord (Sir Bernard) Hogan-Howe, the former Met Commissioner, is being "shoehorned" into the role. As a result, there is a risk that Basu will be lost to policing in the UK, a loss that it can ill afford.
A wider problem
The lack of permanent leaders in the two biggest law enforcement jobs in the UK highlights a wider problem in policing: inexperience and churn in senior ranks and in the service overall.
The two most crucial policing bodies in England and Wales - the Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services and the College of Policing - are both under new leadership. About a-third of police forces have or soon will have chief constables appointed in the last 18 months - including the second biggest force, West Midlands Police, where Sir Dave Thompson is due to retire. And in the Met, a series of senior officers are expected to depart in the coming months.
A degree of churn is inevitable in policing, as in any other profession; it's desirable to have fresh faces and to provide pathways for talented officers. But the number of changes in such a short space of time, the loss of expertise and resilience and the uncertainty that creates are troubling, particularly with concerns about public confidence in policing, rising levels of some types of crime and the potential for a summer of unrest.
It's a similar picture in terms of the overall police workforce. The demanding police 'uplift' programme, with a target to install 20,000 extra officers by Spring 2023, provides tremendous opportunities, particularly to boost ethnic minority and female representation. But as well as the 20,000 additional officers being recruited, it's estimated around 30,000 are being hired just to replace those who resign or retire. By this time next year the composition of the service will have been transformed with one-third of police officers having had less than four years' service.
The risks of this unprecedented recruitment surge were outlined by Sir Tom Winsor, in his final 'State of Policing' report as Chief Inspector of Constabulary. "There is a heightened danger that people unsuited to policing may get through and be recruited. On occasion, police recruitment vetting processes identify applicants’ connections with organised crime groups that try to infiltrate the police. In too many cases, the system fails. This can have catastrophic consequences. There is also a risk of recruiting officers who hold views that are generally incompatible with the office of constable, such as extremist and racist attitudes."
It's another reason why the police service will need the very best leadership in the years ahead - and why the Government should do more to value the senior officers that it already has.