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PSA President questions decision to call in HMIC over policing activism

Paul Fotheringham also used his presidential address to emphasise the importance of neighbourhood policing as a 'must have' and urged the government to engage more on welfare.

What Home Secretary Suella Braverman perceives as political activism in policing is actually the service's desire to "promote and welcome inclusion in all its forms", according to PSA president Paul Fotheringham. 

Ms Braverman has asked HMICFRS to inspect whether police involvement in political issues is impacting the 'effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy of operational policing in England and Wales'.

In an accompanying letter to all chief constables she made clear her concern that so-called 'public displays of allegiance with political causes' have left some forces open to criticism and dwindling community confidence.

Mr Fotheringham criticised Ms Braverman's decision to commission this review during his presidential address at this year's PSA conference.

“The Home Secretary recently wrote to all chief constables to question some of the work in this area under the subject of political impartiality.

"She gave examples of police activity that she felt had led to the damaging of public confidence by supposedly apolitical police forces siding with one group over another.

“She references ‘dancing and fraternising with political demonstrators’, which we assume relates to police attendance at Pride. She talks about the displaying of the progress flag and the wearing of badges.

“These are deeply personal and passionate matters for our staff and our communities. What I have actually seen are plenty of examples of effective community engagement and a desire to promote and welcome inclusion in all its forms.

“Trust and confidence starts with how we treat our people. If they cannot be their true selves at work, how can we expect them to police our communities in the best possible way? The language being used here matters."

Policing minister Chris Philp defended the Home Secretary's stance during his address to the conference. When host Sameena Ali-Khan asked whether attendees agreed with his response, no hands were raised.

This subject formed part of a wider discussion on the concept of 'woke' policing held during Monday's inclusive culture panel session.

Abi Johnson, Chair of the Race Action Plan Independent Scrutiny Board, accused Ms Braverman of weaponising the term to the detriment of progress on issues of discrimination - including within policing.

“With this current Home Secretary, with the rhetoric that she’s using, with the distraction techniques that she uses around these matters and her scattergun approach to terminology like ‘woke’ – she will actively undermine the progress of these matters."

Mr Fotheringham also used his address to raise both operational and personnel issues. 

With the former, his view is that the 43-force structure is inhibiting performance. 

“Crime does not know or respect the boundaries we have imposed through geographical lines, and the power invested in individual chief constables comes with understandably localised priorities that are often at odds with what is best for a national service.

Mr Fotheringham advocated for strong neighbourhood policing but fears it has fallen victim to the current approach to performance measurement.

"The public being able to see and engage with the police will always lead to better, stronger relationships. I fear that because we cannot provide stats and figures to justify this work, it will always be viewed as a ‘nice to have’, rather than what it fundamentally is – a ‘must’ have.”

In terms of issues affecting personnel, Mr Fotheringham criticised the government for previously failing to respond to staff surveys that have revealed low morale within the service.

Mr Philp has now committed to creating a formal process to ensure this happens moving forward, he added.

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