Met chief should look North for clues to better policing

July 28, 2022

“Whatever else happens, things need to feel different to the public that we’re here to serve…. And not tomorrow, not next week. Today.”

These were the words Stephen Watson, now Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, used to a group of senior police officers when I worked for him over a decade ago. It had been a week marked by intense gang violence in our part of the capital. Watson decided he’d had enough and as the Commander for East London he came in on a hot Saturday afternoon to make clear his expectations to the team on the ground.

Since his appointment as Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police a year ago, Watson has brought the same no-nonsense approach to a force which the police inspectorate had judged to be inadequate or requiring improvement against every single measure.

One of the tricks of police leadership is making the hugely complex appear incredibly simple. After his successful turnaround of South Yorkshire Police, Watson is applying the same lessons to Greater Manchester. Having made a public commitment to turn the force around within two years, or resign if he failed, he has set to work with energy and vigour. The first step was a clear out of senior leaders who didn’t have what it takes. Along with a new executive team, every local District Commander was reselected for their jobs – in many cases new people were brought in.

Watson has described his approach as ‘back to basics’ policing. Much is made of people demanding more from public services, but when it comes to policing the public’s expectations are radically simple. When you call 999, the police will answer quickly. When a crime is happening, the police will race to the scene to try and catch those responsible. When you report a crime, it will be investigated and every effort made for the suspects to be caught, charged and rapidly put before the courts.

This is the sort of clarity that Watson is bringing to policing in Greater Manchester. Police officers knowing what the law is, knowing what they are there to do and then being allowed to get on with it. Perhaps the most important thing Watson has done is to remind the public and the men and women of Greater Manchester Police that ‘Policing Can Win’ over those who would commit crime and disorder in our communities.

As Sir Mark Rowley prepares to take up his post as Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, another police force currently in ‘special measures’, he would be well advised to look north to see what lessons can be learned.


This was originally published in The Times

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