It's day two of Sir Hugh Orde's tenure as head of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), and already he's been causing quite a stir. Whilst he seems to have some good ideas, he has absolutely the wrong approach to getting them implemented.
To give a bit of background, ACPO is an odd creature - part professional association, part government policing institution, part lobby group and part private company selling advice, testimonials and...ah...data from the police national computer.
Sir Hugh is a long-standing member, having been by all accounts an effective Chief Constable of Northern Ireland. He seems to have become ACPO President as a sort of consolation prize for not getting to be Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
As I mentioned, his first few days have already caused a stir. On Monday, he took to the airwaves on the Today Programme. It was gratifying to hear the question about the police pension scheme framed in terms of the TaxPayers' Alliance's view that reform is urgently required. It was even more gratifying, though, to hear Sir Hugh agree that it is high time for pension reform.
This is good news for taxpayers and, ultimately, for police officers. As Sir Hugh explained, police pensions have for far too long been based on a dangerous system of IOUs, not on any actual fund. In Northern Ireland, he said, there are 7,000 serving officers whose pension contributions do not store up money for their own retirement but rather are used to pay out pensions to 12,000 retired officers. That is hugely unsustainable - meaning that unless we get reform, then taxpayers are almost certainly going to have to bail out overstretched pension schemes and/or ultimately some retired police officers may find there simply isn't the money there to pay them what they are owed.
Sir Hugh's response to the next controversy to strike him was also an interesting one. Fresh from making a speech about how strapped for cash most police forces are, he had the rug pulled under his feet by news of a variety of lavish benefits and bonuses being enjoyed by his fellow Chief Constables. Remarkably, rather than try to defend their inflated deals, he actually intimated that it was something that he disapproved of. Finally, a senior public official holds the same views on remuneration as the public.
The problem lies in his preferred solution:
'If there is no self regulation, in my judgment the only way to prevent it is through new legislation.'
Oh dear. It seems Sir Hugh has a taste for central, top-down control to improve the running of public services. It is bad enough when anyone starts shouting "the government must do something", but when one of the most senior policemen in Britain does it that's even more dispiriting.
This enthusiasm for centralisation could also be seen in Sir Hugh's comments on the future of police authorities this week. Having expressed his enthusiasm for "accountability", he then went on to give a kicking to the idea of electing police authorities or police commissioners to oversee the different forces.
Giving the people a say over policing would, he said
"drive a coach and horses through the current model of accountability"
Ah yes, the model of accountability which sees a gaggle of JPs (unelected, and picked for their ability to be respectable and adjudicate minor crimes) and councillors (voted in to a totally different office for their views on bins, libraries and potholes) appointed to a Police Authority. The model of accountability which has delivered policing that has left the public feeling ignored and unconsidered, suspected rather than served.
He even welcomed the Government's withdrawal of their excellent proposals for electing Police Authorities, saying:
"it seems to me that communities have a right to have their police service held to account in a sophisticated and apolitical way"
Ouch. By pitting the idea of sophistication against that of democratic election, he backed the select and out of touch minority who currently run the police against the majority of "unsophisticated" people who just happen to fund the police, and who have to live at the sharp end of the crime problem.
By apolitical, he actually means unaccountable. Again, Sir Hugh casts aside the idea of giving the people a say over this crucial public service despite the clear public interest. It is ironic that the policing establishment which has become so obsessed with "stakeholders" still seems intent on ignoring the public at large - the only stakeholder group who should really matter.
It is ironic that election of police authorities or commissioners, along with genuinely localised funding of the police, is actually the best way to deliver solutions to the three problems Sir Hugh has so far expressed a desire to see fixed.
Police pensions? The public would gladly vote for a sustainable reform of the scheme. Senior officers getting obscene bonuses in the middle of a recession? Voters would soon put a stop to that. Overstretched budgets? Given the power to slash red tape, cancel pointless central government imposed projects and refocus resources on frontline policing, the people would jump at the chance.
Sadly, while Sir Hugh has thus far displayed a good instinct about what needs to be done, he is still hoping beyond hope that central government will descend, deus ex machina, to implement it with thunderbolts of Whitehall directives and Westminster legislation.
What he cannot see is that the "sophisticated and apolitical" approach that seems so clean and tidy has failed to deliver any of the things he wants - in fact it created most of these problems in the first place. It might feel a bit dirty getting involved with the hoi polloi, but if he was to open the door to the unsophisticated and political masses he might well find that they would start putting things right. After all, for real people policing is not about academic considerations it is about safety, security and even life and death - they urgently need it to be done properly.
So give it up, Sir Hugh - even if they agreed with you, which they do not, the top-down Sith Lords will never get it right, trying to micromanage every little detail from the Imperial Throne Room. Join the Jedi rebellion and trust the people to do the right thing. They might just surprise you.