The Metropolitan Police hierarchy is such an absurdly high tottering structure – eleven ranks from Commissioner to constable – the likes of Simon Byrne and Bernard Hogan-Howe can never know what happens at the ground level.
Sir Bernard and his entourage are held responsible for failures so they understandably want to control everything. However, because they are so remote, they put great store in targets and performance figures. These are poor proxies for the real business of policing, but are the only information that can be easily measured.
Unfortunately, as I've explained in earlier blog posts, these proxies are almost meaningless.
What happens in practice is the Commissioner creates a philosophy, or brand. The two or three ranks below turn this into a broad set of principles. The two or three ranks below then convert these into a package of actions. Finally, the lower three ranks attempt to carry out this, now highly theoretical, scheme. Examples are Sir Bernard's Local Policing Model, or Sir Paul's Single-Patrolling.
Why not halve the distance between the top and the bottom? Eliminate those highly-paid ranks that achieve little but insulate the Commissioner from the rank-and-file: Chief Inspectors, Chief Superintendents, Commanders, Assistant Deputy Commissioners, Deputy Commissioners. These cosy layers ensure that Commissioners' schemes are disconnected from reality.
With a much flatter hierarchy the top bosses might better understand and be motivated to take into account the experiences of the officers at the coal face. Those constables struggle to make the policies work, fighting against day-to-day realities.
This leads me to the other factor. The senior managers never feed the constables' experiences back into their grand schemes. They are unwilling to tweak and amend the policies to get them to work. Once begun they are always cast in stone, and so ultimately every top-down scheme fails. I don't care how many graphs and spreadsheets the Commissioner can produce to 'prove' otherwise. My colleagues and I witness the consequences at the ground level.
Bill and Melinda Gates run a multi-billion dollar charitable foundation aiming at helping impoverished people in the developing nations. They travel around Africa speaking to and living with the same people they are working to help. Bill and Melinda take note of what they learn and use this information to decide where the Foundation's money is channelled.
They only consider that a project has succeeded if they see a tangible result for money spent. They really care that the Foundation's work results in products that work.
Their reward derives from the satisfaction of creating these products and real improvements in people's lives. Met managers of all levels, however are satisfied if they simply gather enough performance figures to keep their managers happy. The senior officers consider it a success if they have the figures to generate graphs and spreadsheets demonstrating they have achieved notional reductions in crime and increases in public confidence.
There's a huge difference between these two ways of interpreting 'success'. One management style works and the other doesn't. The Met's approach flows from the fact the Met managers are embedded inside a reward structure that recognises only one thing: achieving targets – arrests, detections, stop-searches.
As long as this reward structure continues nothing can change. We will continue along this trajectory of rewarding managers for figure-gathering. Sir Bernard claims 'Victim Focus' is everything, and yet every officer would say we are not at all in the business of focussing on the victims. We are hounded daily for figures. Figures are everything.
If an S-grade – a rape for example – has reached 59 minutes with no officer free to attend, it is down-graded to an E-grade (48 hours attendance target) and becomes simply another appointment in the Local Police Team's diary.