In respect of police and crime commissioner performance, the report makes some significant recommendations, which I shall paraphrase because I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bew, will want to flesh some of them out. They fall into the areas of standards, evaluation, sanctions, disclosure and transparency, objectivity in dealing with complaints and safeguards in appointment procedures.
Although the intention was that PCCs would better hold the police to account, that was never the only mechanism. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the College of Policing, the Home Office, parliamentary committees and so on all have a role to play, but it seems to me that none of the issues of “gaming” of crime figures, which I referred to back in 2013, has gone away. Dr Rodger Patrick—yes, the same one—tells me that it is continuing. He believes that it is institutional and, having seen some of his evidence, I have to agree with his interpretation. Even HMIC seems to admit that police under-recording of crime may be significant, but then it gave the West Midlands force an improbably high approval rating of 99% for its recording procedures. However, at the very time that it was carrying that out audit, circumstances were unfolding which led to the eventual murder of Jacqueline Oakes in January 2014. Apparently the force knew about Ms Oakes’s killer and the history of violence and abuse. It seems that the IPCC has now served notices on 26 serving officers, seven police staff and two officers who have left the force in connection with this case. This suggests an institutional issue and a failure to record information—the precise factor that HMIC was supposed to audit. I am told that, subsequently, the West Midlands PCC examined 13 domestic homicide reviews from that force and found that in more than half of them there was a failure by the police to take robust action. So, even had incident reporting been as good as HMIC suggested, the resultant action was defective. Middlesex University reported on West Midlands’s domestic homicide reviews in July 2014. This found that the process remained less than joined up, with many stakeholders, different and poorly integrated areas of focus and an absence of holistic management. Dr Patrick, whom I regard as a great expert on crime recording and statistics, has pointed out that the HMIC methodology of auditing forces’ performance is weak. Of course, we will probably never know whether these factors contributed to the death of Ms Oakes. There is a line in the sand on the question of oversight of police operations. The definition of “operations” as a term of art matters and is based on understandings that go back to the 1920s or earlier. The details of response to an emergency, the sources of information used to disrupt criminal activity and the methodologies for apprehending wrongdoers would of course qualify as being operations. However, there has to be transparency and accountability by the police. If, as I apprehend, freedom from interference in operations can in certain circumstances translate in modern terms into a denial of any oversight rights at all, I think it is time to redefine what is or is not “operational” in this context.
In a conversation today with one of the police force deputy commissioners, other issues came to light, particularly in connection with youths in custody, where there are few, if any, common protocols linking the police activity with that of local authority education or social services departments. Furthermore, it seems that there are no protocols setting out the respective areas of activity of HMIC and IPCC and how these interleave. If either had a clear road map of their scope and activities, such a protocol would be unavoidable. So on one level agencies defend their turf vigorously; on others, there is unnecessary overlap; and, on a third, there are some significant gaps which erode confidence and ruin, degrade and may even cost lives.
My point is this: all the regulators of the police—police and crime commissioners, HMIC, the IPCC, the College of Policing, the Home Office and so on—are themselves to a degree embedded with policing, and I wonder whether this does not in some circumstances interfere with true independence and objectivity in holding to account those who need to be held to account. For their part, police and crime commissioners walk a tightrope: they need to work with their chief constable in a collaborative manner but yet be able to take the ultimate sanction if need be. But they can only be as good as the performance of other regulators permits. I finish, with his consent, with a quote from the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, at the annual Newsam Memorial Lecture 2015 hosted by the College of Policing. He said: “It is no good preaching principles and codes in an organisation if, for example, promotions, pay and other incentives actually encourage something quite different. A number of investment banks had exemplary statements of values. But what was actually rewarded in them, right up to their chief executives, was excessive risk-taking and the pursuit of profit at the expense of customer service”. So ongoing indifference, acquiescence, rewarding poor performance, an administrative Nelson’s eye, if you like, and poor leadership remain. Indeed, Tone from the Top is a prophetic title. This matters. Confidence in the forces of law and order and the cohesion of society are at stake—as, ultimately, is the rule of law. That is why this report is important for what it says and what it infers, and why it requires government attention.