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Interview: chief aiming to move out of special measures 'this year'

The force's new CC Will Kerr has promised to 'fix' the issues identified by HMICFRS in October last year.

PSNI, Police Scotland, Devon and Cornwall – this may not be the most obvious career trajectory, but for the latter’s new Chief Constable Will Kerr, it makes all the sense in the world.

CC Kerr has been in policing for 34 years; 27 of those have been spent in the PSNI, with a further four at Police Scotland and an NCA secondment undertaken inbetween.

So why the move to Devon and Cornwall? He told Police Oracle: “That sense of belonging in the community that you’re policing is incredibly important, and this is a perfect working example isn’t it?

“Devon and Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly, the extent to which we community support down here, people who want us to succeed, people who want to work closely alongside us to make sure policing is as good as it could be – I mean, if you can’t make that work here, you’re not going to make it work anywhere.”

There's also a personal element to his decision. CC Kerr's wife grew up in Cornwall, and this move allows the pair to return to her roots.

Although Northern Ireland has a very different policing environment CC Kerr says his experience there is invaluable.

“I think there’s a lot of learning that’s actually really helpful from having had a significant amount of policing experience in Northern Ireland, because you get at its heart the importance of the basics for policing, you get at its heart that if you don’t have public trust and confidence in policing, you can’t deal with anything."

CC Kerr says that being locally visible is his priority for Devon and Cornwall.

On day four of joining he sent a message to the force outlining accessibility and visibility as the first of three areas that he wants to define his term.

The second? “Looking after our people”, a necessity he acknowledges has been further highlighted by the recent findings of the Police Federation’s Pay and Morale survey which found morale to be among the top reasons for officers wanting to leave the service.

Central to this is the expectation that policing plug the gaps in other public services, particularly those relating to the provision of mental health services.

He said: “This is a very, very significant strategic problem for British policing at the minute. HMIC were talking about this in a report in 2018, and we still haven’t addressed it. The system, the public sector as a whole hasn’t been able to address it.”

Recalling the words of a trainee officer during his time at Police Scotland who told him – “I joined to keep people safe, but I now spend more time keeping people company” – CC Kerr concluded: “The system is failing elsewhere, so all those service failures displace onto policing.”

He says his third priority is standards relating to quality of investigations and police conduct.  

Yet the force has been in special measures since October and HMICFRS' decision was made the month after CC Kerr's appointment was confirmed.

The problems identified centred around crime recording, call handling (including abandoned calls) and its inability to adequately manage registered sexual and violent offenders.

Of the force's current status, he says: “My job is to make sure that there are detailed plans which there are to fix it, and to make sure it’s fixed this year, and it will be."

As far as crime recording goes, CC Kerr admitted that "our systems just weren’t capturing those as consistently and as early enough as should be the case".

A new structure which ensures more scrutiny of the force's compliance with national crime recording standards has been created to help address this. 

Highlighting issues with IT and recruitment/retention as factors behind the force's call handling, he said: "All that aside, we just need to get better."

In terms of how registered sexual and violent offenders are managed, the new chief attributes some of the problems to capacity. 

"We just needed to invest more resources in that space. We’ve already done that, we’re already starting to see a significant improvement in the backlog and the visits," he explained.

Workload management has improved as a result of that investment, while neighbourhood policing teams are working more closely with offender managers in order to build knowledge of risk profiles within communities. 

HMICFRS' final report is due to be published at the start of February. 

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