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Interview: The county line man

As Assistant Commissioner in charge of operations at the Met, Nick Ephgrave has one of the biggest jobs in policing. He speaks to Police Oracle about trying out new ideas and the regular flow of senior officer traffic between Surrey and other forces.
Published - 06/05/2020 By - Chris Smith

On the morning Police Oracle speaks with Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave, the country is well into lockdown and he is on his way to check in with some of the 20,000 frontline officers that he’s responsible for as head of operations for the Metropolitan Police.  

ACC Ephgrave gives an upbeat assessment of how it’s going. The country has adapted to the lockdown and the Home Office data shows where the real policing issues are.

“It’s a very interesting time for policing. We’ve had our part to play and the crime figures have never been so interesting. There’s lots to be positive about,” he says.

Rethinking how the job gets done is going to be a part of the post-lockdown future. It's exactly the sort of intellectual challenge he thrives on and has been a mark of a career that began with the Met.

He joined the force in 1990 as a PC and began his service in the East End of London. His time as a detective included working for Special Branch at the height of the IRA’s campaign. He then switched back to uniform and CID roles and then set up the national counter-terrorism co-ordination centre. He was former Commissioner Sir Ian Blair’s staff officer for a year before becoming Borough Commander for Lambeth.

But it’s his time as Chief Constable of Surrey Police, which he joined in 2015, that has marked him out. The force was in a tough position with less than flattering Inspectorate reports and had been rapidly changed by the time he rejoined the Met last year.

Surrey has recently been signposted by the National Police Chiefs’ Council for its approach to disclosure and is also attracting interest for its work on sustainability.

Its alumni includes Lynne Owens, now head of the National Crime Agency. There are plenty of other senior officers who have Surrey on their CV. And that's not all. Both the current Chief Constable, Gavin Stephens, and Police and Crime Commissioner David Munro are Cambridge University engineering graduates.

So, despite the odd blip, the force is useful for career prospects and attracts interesting people. Why is that?

ACC Ephgrave’s analysis is that location is a factor: “I think Surrey benefits as a county by sharing its border with London. It grows lots of senior people because it’s so big.”

Transferring to another force is a difficult decision for any officer who has tried it and housing cost is clealry a factor for those with families – which plays in Surrey’s favour, he believes.

He says: “It gives options to those who want to move up but don’t want to move house. If that’s an issue then it’s places like Surrey – or Kent to a lesser extent. Surrey has benefitted more from people who wanted to do something else but didn’t want to go too far away. It isn’t to say that all the good police tend to come from there: I did 23 years with the Met before I transferred.”

It’s then about whether officers can then put their experience to use or pick up learning from dealing with issues that spill over from London and adapt it to another force.

Mr Ephgrave says that can be achieved: “You learn from a city force – it’s a mutually beneficial process. [Surrey is] almost a city and has a boundary with London so it’s had the benefit of the cross-fertilisation. Of course, because it’s right next to the capital, there's the stuff that’s happening in South London that you’re more aware of so you can pick up the best practice that’s happening.

“It’s small enough to be able to do things quite quickly but large enough to be meaningful. If you’ve got bright ideas and got good things you want to test out, you can make them happen quite quickly because it’s more compact. You pull a lever and things happen quite quickly.”

But it’s not just about tackling par

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