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Response to Chris Sims, Chief Constable of West Mids' Police

I have just read The Times article "The obsession with police numbers is pin headed' by the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police and I want to say that it is a breath of fresh air in terms of clarity of representation. [version available on the ACPO website]

Mr Sims has an apparent new found political confidence since giving select committee evidence last month, and is growing into the unofficial role of "the voice of common sense" for police forces across the country. Politics has generally been avoided by police chiefs, and Mr Sims is brave to speak up. Should he speak out of turn, he will face backlask from his police authority, the home office and local MPs. He represents his officers well, so i have no doubt that he has their support, and therefore should keep up the good work.

The Times article warns against trying to identify exactly what roles are, and what roles are not, front line. Its a mistake made by the overseers at HMIC, and Chris Sims says it's of no help to the cuts debate. I agree with him. 

HMIC report entitled "Demanding Times, The front line and police visibility" has defined the front line as "...those who are in everyday contact with the public and who directly intervene to keep people safe and enforce the law." I think this is fairly reasonable. But the report then goes on to list which roles are front line, middle office and back office, which is not so reasonable or useful. What would be more useful is looking at the functions the police perform rather than the staff that do them. Where a particular function is found to be disproportionately expensive, unhelpful, underused, or inefficient it should be dealt with by either making changes to it or removing it completely. The question should be "would this function be missed by the public or is it essential to fulfilling a core policing value?". Where the answer is no, reform or removal. Mr Sims gives one example of this 'function approach' in his force, where they no longer accept lost property reports. 

Let the police do what they are good at
don't turn them into the new social services
Near to the end of his article he alludes to cuts that effect what the police would call 'partner agencies'. These are organisations like social services, housing, and education agency's. In the pre-cuts era the police often had to be multidisciplinary because those 'partner agencies' either did not have the resources to do their jobs, or they simply slacked off knowing the police would pick up it up. In reality, the police's duty of care is the widest out of all of the public services and therefore we end up looking after the mentally ill, the homeless and the vulnerable where the mandate to do so rests with another agency. The risk of cutting funding to partner agencies is that the police will, by default, have a duty to pick up the slack.

So a cautious well done to Chief Constable Chris Sims, lets hope his foray into front line(!) politics is a successful one.