PCC Simon Foster has written an open letter to the Home Secretary, addressing several issues on policing. Here is the letter in full.
Dear Home Secretary,
Thank you for your letter dated 28 August 2023, the contents of which I have noted. I am grateful to you for writing to me about all of the issues raised in your letter, which included a wide variety of matters, that ranged from changes to Home Office Counting Rules to Anti-Social Behaviour hotspot patrolling and Immediate Justice.
In particular, you requested that I write to you by the end of September, to make clear my plans to improve confidence in local policing and police visibility, with a view to sharing results by March 2024. I set out my response to your request in this letter.
However, as the democratically elected representative of the West Midlands, it is important that I also set out the reasons why, both the people of the West Midlands and I have cause to doubt that the government does have a shared mission to relentlessly pursue criminals and improve visibility and responsiveness. The people of the West Midlands and I judge the government by its actions and not by its words.
Rebuilding Community Policing
I have no doubt that you will be reassured by the fact that in the West Midlands, I have been leading the way. I agree with you that community policing is the bedrock of British Policing. That is why, I committed to re-building community policing in my Manifesto published in April 2021, upon which I was elected in May 2021 and again within my Police and Crime Plan, published on 1 November 2021.
The reason community policing needed rebuilding was because it had been dismantled, as a consequence of reckless cuts imposed on policing by the government since 2010. That was a big mistake, counter-productive and a false economy. I am pleased that you now share my commitment to rebuilding community policing.
We need preventative, proactive, problem solving, visible policing out on the streets, keeping people, families, business and local communities safe and secure. I do not seek to repeat the contents of my Police and Crime Plan in this letter. It sets out my plan to rebuild community policing, including improving confidence in local policing and police visibility. I would invite you to read it, if you have not done so already.
Neighbourhood Policing Operating Model
On 5 December 2022, I appointed a new Chief Constable, who shares my commitment to rebuilding community policing. The Chief Constable and I have been working together to do exactly that. On 3 April 2023, West Midlands Police (‘WMP’) launched a new Neighbourhood Policing Operating Model, with the intention of rebuilding community policing.
Additional resources have been allocated to the 7 Local Policing Areas, all of which are under the control of the 7 Chief Superintendents. Amongst other matters, this will improve confidence in local policing, police visibility and the ability of the Local Policing Areas to be able to respond flexibly to the demands and needs of local people and communities.
Fair Funding for the West Midlands
The people of the West Midlands have a right to expect that the government will get the basics right. However, it is a matter of serious concern to me and the people of the West Midlands, that the government is failing to get the basics right and is seriously undermining confidence in local policing and police visibility. Improved confidence in local policing and police visibility, at the most basic of levels, is predicated upon having police officers and Police Community Support Officers (‘PCSOs) to call upon.
Although you refer to the headline figure of an additional 20,000 police officers in England and Wales, West Midlands Police (WMP) have 800 fewer police officers and 500 fewer PCSOs than we did in 2010. The people of the West Midlands have been paying the price. Despite the commitment, dedication and hard work of police officers and staff, that has had a serious adverse impact on confidence in local policing and police visibility, response times, the conduct of investigations, including the pursuit of all reasonable lines of inquiry and the ability of West Midlands Police to prevent, tackle and reduce crime.
The government continues to support a police funding formula that costs West Midlands Police £40 million a year, the equivalent of 800 police officers, people are paying more local Council Tax for less local policing, West Midlands Police received the fifth worst percentage 2023/2024 financial settlement in the country, faced £28 million of cuts in 2023/2024 and faces a further £28 million of cuts in 2024/2025.
I remind myself that this is within the context of other police forces across the country, now having more police officers than they have ever had before. With all due respect, those police forces do not carry the same level of threat, risk, demand, need and vulnerability that West Midlands Police does. That is an entirely perverse outcome, that defies all common sense.
As highlighted in the recent open letter from Chief Constable Gavin Stephens, in his capacity as NPCC chair, the continued inexplicable delays to consulting on, let alone implementing, a fair police funding formula that should right this wrong, ensures that West Midlands Police remains at a significant disadvantage and makes the pursuit of all reasonable lines of enquiry and the principle of the first “golden hour” extremely challenging.
The continuing gross injustice of a police funding formula that is hopelessly out of date and unfit for purpose, has been yet further exacerbated by the recent approach to additional funding streams, such as Safer Streets 5 and the ASB pilots. Previously, such additional funding pots were subject to open bidding processes, which served to enable funding to flow to wherever the need was greatest. The recent irrational approach that simply divides up funding to each of the 43 forces at a flat rate, irrespective of need, disproportionately disadvantages larger forces such as WMP and further frustrates its ability to meet public expectations and needs.
Special Grant Application
As you will be aware from your officials and the Policing Minister, we submitted a special grant application specifically to help us manage our under-resourcing, looking to utilise police staff investigators as an interim measure, whilst awaiting the implementation of a revised and fair funding formula. It was with great disappointment that I read the Policing Ministers response, rejecting our call for support.
999 and 101 Call Response
Building trust and confidence in policing is essential, because if people do not have trust and confidence in policing, it will not be possible to deliver an effective and efficient police service. Access to police services is a necessary part of building trust and confidence in policing and people’s satisfaction with the service they receive. That includes, both in relation to the time it takes for people to access the service and the quality of the service that is provided.
For far too long and far too often, despite the hard work of police officers and staff, West Midlands Police was not complying with either its own Citizens Charter or the required service level agreements, in relation to the service provided by Force Contact and in particular, the answering of 999 and 101 calls. However, as a consequence of the Force Contact Optimisation Project, investment and innovation, hard work on the part of officers and staff and the oversight and scrutiny that I have been providing, there has been a significant improvement in performance.
Since April 2023, West Midlands Police has met the required national standard for answering 999 calls. There has also been significant improvement in 101 performance. However, I will continue to hold West Midlands Police to account, to ensure that it continues to drive improvement, both in relation to Force Contact calls for service and Force Response to incidents – to ensure that it complies with service level agreements and delivers a service that the people of the West Midlands are entitled to.
GRIP Funding: ASB Hot Spot Policing: Safer Streets 5
Both my office and WMP have worked at pace to put GRIP funding to immediate effect in areas of greatest demand and need. Early indicative data from our GRIP areas suggests the patrols are effective giving a 5% serious youth violence reduction on the day of the targeted patrol and a 41.5% reduction by Day 2 following the patrol. Longer term, Problem Orientated Policing development continues. More widely, we have seen a 10% reduction on hospital admissions for under 25s with sharp object wounding compared to the 2019 baseline.
Our ASB Hot Spot policing went live on 14 July, in accordance with Home Office requirements. As at 7 September, 1,633 patrols had taken place across 24 hot spot locations, improving confidence in local policing and police visibility. We have also invested in off road motor bikes and training of police officers, to combat the criminality and anti-social behaviour caused by off road motor bikes.
Our Safer Streets Bid 5 includes action to prevent, tackle and reduce Violence Against Women and Anti-Social Behaviour in the night time economy. It will also include investment to prevent, tackle and reduce criminality and ASB on our roads, including additional speed camera vans, speed guns for community speed watch and increased third party reporting.
In August 2023, I welcomed the introduction of a new Victims Strategy by West Midlands Police – to improve the service it provides to victims of crime and to ensure compliance with the Victims’ Code. Bearing in mind that the Victims Code has been in existence for 18 years – since 2005 – there is no conceivable excuse that West Midlands Police or any other criminal justice agency could have, for not being fully compliant with the Code.
The rights and welfare of victims – as set out in the Victims Code – must always be at the forefront of the service provided by WMP and the wider criminal justice system. It is absolutely essential that WMP and the wider criminal justice system comply with the Victims Code at all times. There is no excuse for not doing so. I will continue to hold WMP to account, to ensure that it complies with the Victims Code. I welcome the Victims and Prisoners Bill. However, it plainly requires improvement, to ensure that both the rights and welfare of victims are at the forefront of the criminal justice system and the government makes good on its commitment to victims.
AI Automated Triage Pilot
I look forward to learning more about the proposed 101 Artificial Intelligence (AI) trial taking place in the West Midlands. I am keen to engage with the Home Office on this project. We have established a national leading Ethics Committee with a particular focus on AI, so as to ensure that the use of AI is always proportionate, necessary and in accordance with the law. The Ethics Committee is an expert panel, that is able to add real value to AI as it develops within policing capabilities, both locally and nationally.
I am concerned at the lack of any reference in your letter to preventing, tackling and reducing Violence Against Women and Girls and Domestic Abuse. DA offences make up around 18.3% of all crime in WMP between April 23 to Aug 23. Of all offences reported to WMP in the same period, 17.7% are marked as VAWG related more generally.
I am concerned at the lack of any reference in your letter to preventing, tackling and reducing fraud, both in person and cyber enabled fraud. As you will be well aware, fraud represents 40% of all police recorded crime. It is the crime that people are most likely to have been a victim of or to become a victim of.
What the people of the West Midlands need
On behalf of the people of the West Midlands, I have three immediate requests, all of which require urgent attention:
Firstly, the government needs to face up to the acute financial challenges faced by West Midlands Police and step up with essential financial support, to ensure, amongst other matters, that the so-called Uplift is not wasted on putting police officers into roles where police powers are not required;
Secondly, it needs to level up and reinstate our 800 missing police officers and 500 Police Community Support Officers; and
Thirdly, it needs to implement a fair funding formula for West Midlands Police.
All three of these requests are required so as to ensure justice, safety and security for the people, families, businesses and local communities of the West Midlands.
In the West Midlands, we are united in our commitment to constant and unremitting action to prevent, tackle and reduce crime. That includes prevention, early intervention, diversion and addressing the underlying causes of crime, so that wherever possible, we are able to prevent crime happening in the first place, because the prevention of crime will always be better than having to deal with the consequences of crime.
If you require any further information or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
West Midlands Police and Crime CommissionerBack to News Archive