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GMP on road to recovery says CC Watson

GMP was placed into special measures in December 2020 following a review that found 80,000 crimes had not been dealt with.

CC Stephen Watson hit the ground running in May of last year, coming down hard on professional standards and vowing to quit after two years if there weren’t improvements. 

Now, one year on, he spoke to Police Oracle on just how far the force has come. 

“I’m conscious I’m bombarding you with numbers,” he explained. 

“But, the statistics are key to a story like this.” 

And indeed, if we take 999 calls - last summer the average answering time was over a minute, while July’s average was 14 seconds.

And attendance times? Grade 2 incidents last May took on average 20 hours 55 minutes for someone to attend. Now it’s one hour 27 minutes. 

Arrests are up 61% on a three year average and positive outcomes up 19%. 

“The failures in GMP were, frankly, those of strategic leadership. It has nothing to do with the quality of our people - I think that assertion is borne out by the progress that has been made," he said. 

“But there is something about harnessing the spirit of the organisation reminding everybody within the organisation that we are a disciplined service, that we have a very clear mission, and that our mission is underpinned by a set of values.

“I do like to remind people that they all joined the police. We don't sell bedroom furniture for a living.” 

When CC Watson came into post, he banned visible tattoos and said the force would be “looking smarter”.

He again told Police Oracle that he undoubtedly expects officers to shave, turn up to work on time and look smart - but he is also in the process of replacing all of their kit - including restoring ‘number one kit’ with traditional tunics, shirts and ties. 

They’ve also changed and rejuvenated the leadership, bolstering the force executive team and putting District Commanders in place at Chief Superintendent level in every district. 

Uplift is on track, and while acknowledging their “tough position” as one of the larger forces, CC Watson is optimistic they will meet the final target. As of the latest attrition rates - theirs stood at 6.5%, lower than the 9.1% national average. 

Chair of the GMP federation, Lee Broadbent, however, told Police Oracle that while the force has seen an increase in officer numbers, GMP is not exempt from issues of retention that are being seen nationally - and where they’re seeing people leaving, it’s not to transfer but they’re leaving the police. He also warned that the workforce is “close to burnout”. 

“The balance of the workforce, whilst increasing slightly, isn’t keeping pace with the demand that we’re still seeing,” he explained. 

“We are fully behind the Chief’s plan and vision - but it has to be done in a sustainable way and I think that’s recognised by the force. 

“Until those changes are embedded in the force, which is likely to be another year to 18 months, the delivery and what’s happening are all being delivered by a workforce that is working to absolute capacity.” 

The force also has a detective scheme in place whereby they have employed 200 retired detectives tasked with carrying out initial investigations into reported crimes and preparing arrest packs for completed inquiries and identified offenders. In time those roles will be replaced with new officers but for the moment it is easing pressure on frontline staff. 

“We cannot get into a 'bums on seats' mentality, I want people who have the potential to serve the public for the next 30 years,” CC Watson told Police Oracle. 

In within that, the Chief is making it easier to exit officers who should not have been recruited in the first place. Speaking of Regulation 13, which regards officers in their probationary years, he is removing HR-led “impediments”. 

“As far as I'm concerned, if I have a sergeant and an inspector, who having done the job fairly and objectively and have put in all of the inputs to develop an individual - if they turned to me and say this individual is simply not cut out for the job, then I will dismiss them from the service,” he explained. 

“Of course, you have to make sure that they’re done fairly and objectively and you have some measures to make sure you don't get into postcode lottery. But the best way to drive up standards is to make your more junior leaders more powerful.” 

On this point, Fed Chair Lee Broadbent said: “The Force and its leaders have a positive duty to create safe working environments and provide support and training to every individual so as to ensure they can perform to their full potential.  

“We will always support our members, and the force to that matter, in ensuring every colleague is treated as an individual with particular consideration taken to any additional support and or equipment required to perform their role.”

CC Watson lastly emphasised the importance of not “getting bent out of shape” by people external to the service, saying that there’s a host of different agendas out there. The core of public confidence lies in the police’s ability to pick up the phone, investigate crime and arrest bad people. 

“There is a grave danger, that in not delivering the basics brilliantly, we lose public confidence, no matter the amount of virtue that we hope to signal on Twitter," he explained. 

“There is a tremendous amount of work still to be done, to turn around what has become something of a sleeping giant, that that is no longer the case is very pleasing. 

“I have no doubt that the capacity and the capability of the organisation is absolutely equal to the challenge.”

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