Letter: League tables will not measure good policing

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The Independent Online
Sir: I manage a workforce of more than 4,000 people and control a revenue budget of almost pounds 150m, supporting a police force which was described by H M Inspector of Constabulary in his most recent report as 'in the vanguard of change within the police service'.

For some time now we have been using and refining performance indicators as tools of good management. They are based on comprehensive and scientific surveys of what the public of Sussex expects from us. Working closely with our Police Authority, we use the information to help set our strategy and priorities for an efficient and economic service.

When I retire at the end of August, my successor will face the rather different challenge of published 'league tables'. Part of a comprehensive package of change referred to by the Home Secretary last Friday, this is clearly linked to performance-related pay.

My guess is that my successor will be deeply conscious that his (I hope in the not-too-distant future it might be her) level of remuneration and future employment prospects will depend on good performance. Were I in his position I would immediately be scratching my head to work out how I might come top of the league in terms of the number of crimes detected and average response times.

So, reflecting on the work of our village and community beat bobbies, my successor may discover that, by these measures, they do not score highly. It may occur to him that if they were to be strategically re-grouped in centres of greater activity, they would be far more efficient in improving his force's 'league position'.

He might further conclude that officers engaged full-time on crime prevention or schools' liaison activities would be better deployed in plain clothes with instructions to concentrate on shop-lifting, drugs and similar offences which are detected as soon as they come to our notice. If at the same time detectives were encouraged to devote less time to attempting to clear the most serious cases, and spent more time picking off the perpetrators of minor crime, the detection rate could increase dramatically. Thus could my successor rise to the top of the league, his salary and future assured.

I trust that he would not show such callous disregard for the true needs of the community, but the prospect illustrates how linking league tables to performance-related pay has its dangers. Those who seek to judge police solely on the grounds of their ability to deal with crime and respond quickly to incidents are completely missing the point. The police are daily and deeply involved in a much wider spectrum of activity that has proved almost impossible to measure in terms of performance statistics but is vital to the whole notion of policing by consent. This remains the underlying principle of British policing, for which this country is still held in high regard.

I detect a growing anxiety that proposals for major reform of the police now being canvassed need the degree of public consultation and consideration last given to the subject by the Willink Royal Commission in 1960.

Yours faithfully,

ROGER BIRCH

Chief Constable

Sussex Police

Lewes, East Sussex

16 March

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