In the particular world of policing, with 44 Chief Constables covering territory side by side across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, other operational agencies such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency hovering above, and some non operational bodies such as councils and other partners working alongside us, setting and meeting standards that deliver the best possible policing to protect the public is quite a challenge. There is a strong case - chief officers believe - to look at reconfiguring those structures to match evolving threats and risk to the public in the 21st century. But we should not forget that it is a structure which has led to a style of policing - locally focussed, operationally independent and accountable - that is recognised as world class.
It is also a style that requires a forum where, after debate, a corporate approach to the overarching standards that guide our profession is established. As police leaders it has to be our role in ACPO to maintain and develop those standards and ensure that they are clearly understood by all those who should know them.
All this is worth re-visiting after an extremely difficult couple of weeks for policing, in the face of media and parliamentary scrutiny surrounding both the status of ACPO and the use of undercover officers. It is worth reminding ourselves that the direction of travel, towards an Association firmly focussed on the role of professional body as I have outlined above, is one chief officers themselves choose and embrace. It is also strongly reflected in the Government's consultation document Policing in the 21st Century.
Over its history the Association has, time and again, been required to fill the gap where there has been a requirement for an effective, co-ordinated policing response. As a body composed of the police service's chief officers, it is uniquely placed to do so – providing a pragmatic solution where no national agency or alternative structure exists. We have, over the years, provided a de facto framework to house a number of tasks, carried out on behalf of the service through a pooled effort rather than individually in 44 separate organisations.
As an organisation that profoundly impacts upon public life, it is absolutely right that we should be subject to a clear accountability structure. Indeed, since becoming president, I have been vocal on my desire to move ACPO away from limited company status – a step we are wholly committed to, but which, it must be said, also requires impetus from Government to be achieved.
It is heartening then that we have a real opportunity to drive forward this agenda in 2011, a year that will undoubtedly hold great changes for both ACPO and the service as a whole. We have already secured inclusion for the Association under the Freedom of Information Act and await with great interest the publication of Peter Neyroud’s report on leadership and training, an important piece of work - currently with the Home Secretary - which I hope will be a catalyst to move on the debate and bring meaningful changes to the way we operate.
A word on undercover policing. The small community of officers tasked to carry out this exceptionally challenging job place themselves in real danger, day in, day out, dealing overwhelmingly with dangerous individuals in the higher echelons of criminality. It should also be stressed that those officers I have known in this area are remarkably brave people - dedicated professionals - who would not dream of working beyond their authorisation or in a way that might be of detriment to the service or their investigation.
It is through their work that critical intelligence is gathered, enabling us to detect and prevent serious crime, and ultimately, to keep the public safe from harm.
Questions of accountability have of course been raised as a result of the intense media interest surrounding undercover policing. However, I think we now have a proper approach with reviews into the individual conduct and the strategic issues that have emerged from the cases in the press. Policing in our tradition has always sought accountability, because it is from accountability that springs legitimacy and consent. I am confident that, as ever, the service will respond positively to scrutiny and that the lessons learnt will be of benefit to policing moving forward.