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Chief officers must have previous UK experience, former commissioners warn

Lord Blair and Lord Condon put forward amendment to Policing and Crime Bill
Published - 01/11/2016 By - Helena Hickey - Police Oracle

Anyone applying for a chief officer rank should previously have served as a senior officer in the UK, two former Met Commissioners have urged.

In a proposed amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill, Lord Blair of Boughton raised concerns around the fact it is no longer a requirement for any senior police officer to have policing experience.

“Somehow this Government, and to be fair, particularly this political party, seem to be of the view that policing is unlike anything else and that it is not important for senior police officers to have had experience of doing middle-ranking work,” said Lord Blair, who served as commissioner of the Met between 2005 and 2008.

“I do not understand that. You would not do that in the armed services, law, medicine or accountancy.

“The amendment would put back into statute that it would be a good idea – just a simple, good idea – if the beginning point was that it was likely to be useful if somebody had served in a senior police rank before they applied for a higher one.”

The amendment proposes anyone applying for the post of assistant or deputy chief constable in any force, as well as commander or deputy assistant commissioner in the Met or commander or assistant commissioner in the City of London Police must have previous experience in the UK police service at the rank of superintendent or above.

It also states any individual applying for the position of chief constable of any force, assistant commissioner, deputy commissioner or Commissioner of the Met, Commissioner of the City of London or Director or deputy director of the NCA must have experience in a rank no lower than two ranks below that to which the application is being made.

However, it does state a foreign officer could still apply for such a role if they had the right experience provided the Secretary of State, on advice of HMIC, gives prior approval.

The debate is particularly timely considering Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s recent announcement to retire, with some suggesting former New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton could take on the role.

Lord Blair cited former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s statement that “When the bombs go off, I don’t want somebody who is an expert in retail – I want somebody who knows what happens when bombs go off.”

He added: “Just remember Nice. The things that happened in Nice could be happening somewhere in Brighton tonight. You would want the senior officer down there to have some experience of policing; you would not want him or her to have just walked in from a completely different environment.”

Lord Condon, commissioner of the Met between 1993 and 1999, said being a commissioner or chief constable was about more than being an able leader but about “very specific command and control within policing.”

“While an able General Admiral or former Permanent Under-Secretary, for example, can bring enormous leadership and administrative skills, they will be at a disadvantage initially in not understanding or knowing some of the cultural, professional and technical issues that face policing,” he said.

“I hope that the Government, the Home Office and the Chief Inspector of Constabulary will put their heads together to help us find a way through this, because the direction in which we are going will not enhance police leadership; it will weaken it.”

Despite championing policing experience at a senior level, the former officers do not criticise direct entry and instead state that the current schemes up to and including that of superintendent should be built upon. 

The Minister of State at the Home Office, Baroness Williams of Trafford, said she would allow future discussions on the issue before the House of Lords Report stage takes place but added that the College of Policing was developing a “rigorous assessment and development package” for those interested in the top jobs in policing.

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