Mike Todd: A man with a vision to drive guns from Manchester's streets

The Monday Interview: Chief Constable of Greater Manchester
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The Independent Online

Mike Todd is doing a good impression of a drunk. He sways from side to side before clutching an imaginary figure around the waist and saying in a slurred voice: "I love you man". He stops, looks up and adds: "I know you, you're the new Chief Constable of Manchester."

The encounter, between the 46-year-old police chief and a drunk standing in the middle of the road, took place during a routine street patrol shortly after Mr Todd took over the job of running Britain's second- biggest police force.

The story shows that he is not afraid of getting stuck in; that his aim of raising the profile of the police is working, and that Manchester policing is being shaken up.

You could not imagine a greater difference of style and attitude than that between the new Chief Constable and his predecessor, Sir David Wilmott.

Sir David was considered by many as more of a "company manager" than a cop, and with his low profile and grey image, he was described by a seasoned regional journalist as the "John Major of policing".

By contrast, the new man is a high-profile former Metropolitan Police officer - where he is tipped to return as a future commissioner - who is prepared to make waves.

Since taking over last October, one of his prime aims has been to improve the force's fairly miserable crime-fighting record - it has one of the country's worst detection rates, with only about 16 per cent of offences being solved, and it failed in the past year to achieve six out of nine key performance targets. The arrest of a BBC reporter last week, who was investigating claims of institutional racism in the force, is further evidence of an enduring image problem. The new man does not appear to be greatly impressed by everything he has inherited. He introduced a US-inspired scheme in which he holds regular brainstorming meetings where the chief superintendents who run the police divisions have to justify failures to cut crime.

Mr Todd said: "It's an almost five-hour interrogation about the performance of GMP [Greater Manchester Police]. Chief superintendents have to explain themselves. We are saying to the organisation that we will hold you to account. They are not there just as ambassadors any longer, they are police leaders in charge of millions of pounds of resources. We really need direct accountability."

In one of these sessions Mr Todd discovered that supervising officers were not listening to tape recordings of interviews with suspected criminals to check if they were being carried out properly.

Incensed at the pitifully low detection rate for burglaries in some divisions, the Chief Constable studied the last three interviews from the two worst-performing areas.

He was shocked at what he discovered, with officers not asking the most basic of questions and being easily fobbed off by the suspects. "Some of them would have been better off being interviewed by someone who has watched The Bill or Inspector Morse," he said. In one case, an officer was interviewing a burglar who was caught red-handed but whose accomplice escaped. The officer provided the suspect with an easy way out by suggesting that he probably did not want to give any details about the other man for fear of a revenge attack.

Not surprisingly, superintendents now listen to the tapes and some officers are getting fresh training. "I have concerns about some of the skill levels. It is about getting leaders, not just people who manage the paperwork. It's about accountability," said Mr Todd.

"Some people spend most of their time serving the computer - they come on to their shift and have a list of about 14 jobs that they have to do. You have got to get out of the office and be pro-active." He also suggested that "lazy" officers could also be part of the problem.

He is keen to continue the transformation of Manchester's image from that of a city over-run by gun-toting gangs and awash with drugs. He wants to build on the success of events such as last year's Commonwealth Games and the European Cup final, and take advantage of the city's growing reputation as a fashionable centre with a vibrant music and bar culture.

But he admits that the city's "Gunchester" nickname is still well deserved. "I think there is more of a gang culture here than in London. It is so ingrained that there is almost an acceptance. Teenagers become involved at a young age and grow up with it going on all around them. I think it is getting worse because of the availability of guns."

In response, the police have staged a series of high-profile operations, including armed road-blocks and trying to clean up some of the worst areas, such as Moss Side.

"We are trying to turn it around. Education is one key area. We have some of the mothers who have lost kids [in shootings] working with our anti-gang strategies. It is about providing positive role models and diverting youngsters away from gang life." As part of the more modern "can-do" approach, he has scrapped the 330-word "force philosophy" and replaced it with a snappy 41-word "vision statement", which includes, "we will make Greater Manchester safer; bring criminals to justice; be visible on the streets."

As ever, resources are an issue. Despite going to John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, to argue that his force wasthe worst resourced in the country per head of population and needed more funds for extra officers, he returned from London empty-handed.

Undeterred, he launched a publicity campaign to persuade the city council - and more importantly the council tax payers - to come up with up extra money to pay for 600 officers. Under the slogan that it would cost the average council tax payer less than the cost of a can of Coke a week (43p a week to be precise), it was agreed.

The force is now looking forward to employing more than 8,000 officers for the first time in its history. The force has also pulled 200 traffic officers away from their normal duties to concentrate on street crime, burglary and antisocial behaviour.

Another problem Mr Todd inherited is the continuing fall-out from the case of Harold Shipman, the Manchester GP who in January 2000 was convicted of murdering 15 elderly patients. Last month the force suspended Detective Inspector David Smith, 42, who was severely criticised for failing to uncover any evidence of Shipman's career as a serial killer and was later accused of lying to cover up his incompetence.

Mr Todd said: "We have learned huge lessons in the way we investigate deaths. It has also shattered the illusion that certain professions are not capable of this type of crime."

Part of winning over the support of the public is having laws that are considered just and reasonable, which brings us to the issue of speed cameras.

Mr Todd controversially opposes police chiefs such as Richard Brunstrom, the head of the North Wales force, who wants to see a growing expansion of camera technology and has set a target of three million speeding fines a year. He is concerned that the public believe this is just a revenue-raising scheme that has nothing to do with road safety.

"We would never set a target of arresting 5,000 people for burglary every year, or 3,000 cheque frauds. The aim should be to increase safety on the roads and reduce deaths. In a 40mph limit you could be prosecuted for doing 44. If it is 2am in the morning a police officer, using his common sense and discretion, would not prosecute. If you become over-reliant on camera technology you lose your discretion."

THE CV

Michael Todd: Born 1957. Married with three children.

Education: Degree in Politics at Essex University.

Career:

1976: Joined Essex Police and served as a uniformed officer and a detective.

1995-98: Assistant Chief Constable in Nottinghamshire.

1998-2000: Deputy Assistant Commissioner at Metropolitan Police.

2000-02: Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police, responsible for territorial policing, covering all 32 London boroughs. Led operations including the policing of May Day demonstrations, Notting Hill Carnival, the Queen's Jubilee celebrations and the Met's Street Crime initiative.

2002- Chief Constable of Greater Manchester.

Hobbies: Enjoys mountain biking, computer games and reading. His heroes include Alexander the Great.

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