Friday, 24 January 2014

Squandered Opportunity

The oath I swore to the Queen made mention of prosecuting offenders and preserving her Royal Highness' peace, but precious little about the Met's performance indicators.

So why is it that we, the police, still have targets?

Metropolitan Police Service senior officers like to push unfeasible targets on to the MPS rank-and-file to justify their next promotions – Cut crime by 20%!

What do such targets achieve? Police can only mop up after crime, not magically reduce it, so these targets can't possibly be met. Senior managers know this, but their bosses – the Commissioner, Assistant Commissioners on so forth – still expect them to be achieved. So the senior managers take the only action they can: they order everybody to cook the books, and this has continued for decades. So let's get rid of these pesky targets. They achieve nothing and turn caring coppers into headless chickens running around chasing arrests and detections.

This isn't as impossible as it sounds. Few people seem to realise that the Commissioner is about to squander a once-in-a-career opportunity. Let me explain.

In 2013 Theresa May bravely ordered police chiefs to scrap targets, however police chiefs have ignored her instruction. Quite rude of them I hope you'll agree. Similarly, Tom Winsor has made it clear in his reports that he has little time for targets, and Chief Superintendent Curtis, president of the Superintendents' Association of England & Wales has also expressed the same view.

She said “...targets lead to increased audit and compliance work and dysfunctional behaviour. There is an urgent need to develop a more trusting management culture in the service.”
So, can we start to sense a consistent signal?

Oddly, a Chief Inspector on my borough recently took it upon himself to impose his own arrest and detection targets. Perhaps, like many of the cooks in the kitchen he feels he knows better than the Home Secretary? More likely, he is simply ignorant of the views of the Great and the Good. Unfortunately, he is very typical of police managers.

I've thought long and hard about this, and it seems clear we will be eternally stuck with targets because the present generation of police chiefs have no experience of managing without them. They rely on them. It's been decades since there were any real leaders in the police - they no longer know how, and simply stick with what they know. The opportunity that coppers thought would never come – no longer being slaves to the figures – has been granted - but the bosses haven't even noticed.

From the point of view of a police manager the great thing about targets is that they allow one to avoid actually managing - creatively solving problems or making decisions. You can get away with simply passing your own targets on to the staff, or sub-managers, beneath you. This is what Mrs May meant when she told the Superintendents that targets are “ excuse for lazy management.”

What neither the Home Secretary nor anybody else appears to have realised is that the target culture suits our C21st Metropolitan Police Service managers. They might lack the capacity for creative thinking and courage of real leaders, but these qualities are no longer needed: appropriately interpreted performance figures can easily 'prove' a manager's performance. She can then receive that pat on the head from her boss, and hope for her next promotion.

What this means is that we're stuck with targets unless the Home Secretary and Commissioner start forcing senior officers to eradicate them. And that can only happen if managers at all levels have the courage to make a leap of faith.

So come on managers - let's stop being scared, and embrace a new era of policing! Sigh...who am I kidding? This opportunity is going to sail on past, unnoticed, and the farce will continue.

I should probably include more humour in my blog posts, but it tends to be occluded by the sheer amount of fact to be communicated. With this in mind, perhaps all my points ultimately revolve around one theme – a view of our management expressed succinctly by one of my constable colleagues:

“No matter how hard you try, you can't polish a turd.”

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- Justice and Chaos