Come out of the canteen, chief constable (CORRECTED)

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The Independent Online

WHAT more has to happen before the chief constable of Merseyside police commits himself to the 21st century? For those who believe that equal opportunities are part of the purported lunacy of the left, an argument now raging between Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) and Merseyside's chief constable is edifying.

A reputation for extravagance and inefficiency, bad temper and bad management has shadowed this butch force since the late Seventies. But a damning draft report by the HMIC's chief, Sir Geoffrey Dear, which was leaked last week, amounts to a relentless critique of management conducted by masculine intuition.

Disquiet over the failure to provide equal opportunities is matched by criticism of what traditional constabulary culture regards as hard policing. Sir Geoffrey said he was 'disappointed' with the lack of evidence of crime management strategies and 'disturbed' by the failure of the top management to create a computerised crime intelligence system. 'HM Inspector takes the view that if the force is to adopt a pro-active and credible role in the investigation of crime, then it can ill-afford any further delays.'

Merseyside's chief constables have been through great public rows before. Ten years ago Margaret Simey's majestic leadership of the Merseyside police authority tested the democratic limits of its powers. She was succeeded by a Labour lad, George Bundred, who rode shotgun for the chief constable against Alison Halford's sex discrimination case. And now the chief constable is in a deadly bout with the resolute Sir Geoffrey and the increasingly investigative HMIC.

Gone are the days when an inspection began with the drinks cabinet. Under Sir Geoffrey, scrutiny is serious. Armed with a commitment to public service and modern management as well as the mandate of Home Office regulations, the inspectors went into Merseyside having done their homework.

Students of policing, crime and equal opportunities have never seen anything like the HMIC critique of Merseyside. It could not be more explicit. Although equal opportunities was the subject of a survey of 12 forces last year, and although the chief constable of Merseyside was warned it is a 'non-reversible policy', according to the draft report this work did not appear to enjoy the chief officers' commitment. The inspectors expressed 'disquiet' that those officers saw it as an 'additional extra' rather than an 'integral part of the management and organisational process'.

Indeed, the draft report noted, there was little evidence that the 1989 Home Office equality guidelines were being implemented. This conclusion is astounding, given the catharsis of the Halford case and the subsequent industrial tribunal settlement, which obliged both the constabulary and the Home Office to monitor equality processes and outcomes in Merseyside.

Despite this, tolerance for racism and sexism in the Merseyside force appears to be still evident enough to warrant criticism by the HMIC. The implication is that this affects the force's management of public order and its response to violent and sexual offences against women and children. This in turn impinges on public safety and crime control.

The draft report confirms that the force has failed to implement the official policy on the creation of domestic-violence units. Although chief officers knew this would be one of the inspectorate's concerns following a Home Office circular in 1990, and although a pioneering unit was given a positive evaluation in 1992, nothing has been done.

It is not just that senior management has not implemented Home Office policy; the inspectorate deemed the top officers incapable of doing so. The chief constable, James Sharples, reacted to the draft report on 4 January with a line-by-line repudiation. The tone echoed his dyspeptic protest to the Police Complaints Authority in 1989 when he insisted that he would answer none of the PCA's inquiries about a complaint in which it had taken a particular interest.

Sharples complained that the HMIC report had caused 'anger and dismay' and that it 'damaged relationships'. He then threatened future inspections: 'I have genuine worries about future visits to this force by your team.' The chief inspector was not deterred and a week later cautioned the chief constable that after their negotiations 'the major issues remain unaltered'.

The chief constable and his cohort's estrangement from their middle managers and other ranks is manifest in correspondence between the two that was leaked along with the draft report. The chief constable's perceptions 'do not square with the responses given by your junior staff and your intermediate ranking officers'. Nor, he added, did they 'square with my inspection'. Anticipating Mr Sharples' presidency of the Association of Chief Police Officers next year, he warned: 'Your absence will continue to grow.' Clearly, there is a crisis in the force.

A police policy consultant says: 'Equal opportunities is now understood to be a management enhancement technique, not just a question of civil liberties.' Last year HMIC published an equal opportunities survey of 12 forces and specified its expectations of police managers. 'It is central,' said one inspector, 'if you don't get it right internally, then you won't get it right externally and you won't treat the public right'.

Some chief constables will resist the HMIC and we can expect that resistance to harden, the greater the HMIC's rigour. Others, however, welcome its new profile. It is part of their defence of local accountability as a way of saving policing as a public service.

Their enemies are baronial chief constables and Michael Howard's Police and Magistrates Bill. The indolent camaraderie of traditional police authorities who preferred the prejudices of canteen culture has not protected local control or the discipline of public service. An intrepid inspectorate is the professional guarantee that local control does not simply shield chief constables' autocracy.


IN yesterday's article by Beatrix Campbell, Geoffrey Dear was wrongly described as Sir Geoffrey. We should also make clear that Mr Dear is an HM Inspector of Constabulary, not the head of the HMIC. We apologise for any embarrassment caused.

(Photograph omitted)