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It’s the Bob and Chris Show: police chiefs helping us with our inquiries

It’s the Bob and Chris Show: police chiefs helping us with our inquiries

🕔18.Dec 2013

Say what you will about Bob Jones, the reluctant police commissioner, but one thing he certainly can’t be accused of is running away from public scrutiny.

Mr Jones never misses an opportunity to point out that he thinks the police commissioner system should be scrapped and replaced by something more akin to the old police authorities.

He rarely misses a chance, either, to engage with the media and people of the West Midlands.

Mr Jones yesterday undertook his third ‘webchat’ alongside Chief Constable Chris Sims. Between them the pair answered in real time 49 questions ranging from the future of police dogs to force recruitment plans and the impact of spending cuts on crime.

We didn’t, of course, get to see questions that might have been deemed too sensitive or rude to be published still less responded to. But Mr Jones made the point that he holds regular ‘surgeries’ where people in the West Midlands are welcome to raise any point privately with him.

Police commissioners aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and the turnout at the 2012 West Midlands election was a dismal 12 per cent. But one of the advantages of having an elected police commissioner is that everyone knows where the buck stops, and who to complain to when things aren’t going right.

The former West Midlands Police Authority held regular meetings in public, but the chairman and members certainly did not submit themselves to questioning in the way that Bob Jones has done.

For the first time, the chief constable of the West Midlands is available every other month for an internet exchange with the public.  The last time chief constables put themselves on a public pedestal in such a way was probably 40 years ago when they regularly attended local council meetings to field questions from councillors before police authorities came into existence.

The wide range of issues raised at the December webchat kept Mr Sims busy for just over an hour before he had to depart for a pre-arranged appointment. Mr Jones managed a full two hour stint.

What did we discover from the exchange between police chiefs and the people?

  • West Midlands Police employs a ‘tiny number’ of officers with criminal records for assault and domestic violence. Sacking them would be ‘against the spirit of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act’.
  • Mr Sims thinks the chief constable of Derbyshire was wrong to suggest that police forces routinely manipulate crime figures to make themselves look better. Mr Sims has ‘great confidence in the data we publish’.
  • West Midlands Police has no plans to reduce in size its police dog section and will invest in new kennelling.
  • Applicants who were offered jobs as police constables but then prevented from joining the force when recruitment was frozen will not automatically be offered posts in future.
  • Mr Sims believes the sharing of data between public agencies is ‘probably the greatest strategic challenge facing policing’.
  • Police officers are not being sacked for ‘spurious’ disciplinary reasons in order to save money. Police Community Support Officers are seen as critical to the success of the force.
  • Changes to prisoner transport arrangements are being considered as part of a strategy to allow a ‘faster throughput of prisoners’.
  • Cash payments to police informers are ‘limited and appropriately dealt with’. Such payments are overwhelmingly focused on the activities of organised crime gangs.
  • Mr Jones has asked the Senior Salary Review Board to cut his £100,000 salary. He ‘hasn’t made any plans to spend the reduction’.
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