District Commander delivers upbeat Policing Plan review

Screenshot 2022-12-14 at 19.30.31

At a Full Council meeting in Oldham today, the Borough’s most senior police officer delivered a positive update to a bold plan he outlined in the same civic centre just over thirteen months ago:

1. Respond to incidents (not done well in past, he said at the time).

2. Investigate and detect crime. Do it better, follow every lead.

3. Reduce harm. By addressing (1). and (2). Drive down demand and release resource for better service in neighbourhoods. Arrests almost doubled year on year (Oct 2020/Oct 2021). No apologies for going after criminals.

4. Give outstanding service. Benchmark is: ‘Would you be happy with the service GMP provide to your Mam and Dad if they had used, or needed, our service’.

5. Build back public trust and confidence. By delivering 1. to 4.

Underscored by this remark in answer to a question from the Council Leader (as she was then), Arooj Shah: ‘We have to prove that what we say is what we do. Get out there on the job’.

This ‘back to basics’ Policing Plan, put forward by Chief Superintendent Chris Bowen, was set against a backdrop of GMP still languishing in Home Office ‘Special Measures’ and morale amongst front-line officers demonstrably low after years of very poor senior leadership at HQ.

That changed just a few weeks ago with the announcement by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) that the force had emerged from Special Measures as ‘the most improved in the country’.

C/Supt Bowen told Oldham councillors in a surprisingly short presentation that, whilst he had a lot of force statistical information to devolve in his update, he would try to make the data Oldham-specific. A promise upon which he duly delivered in these key points:

– Response to 999 calls better than at any time in past two years. GMP is now in top ten forces in country and better than any other of the seven metropolitan police forces.

– Response time for 101 calls now down to an average of 2 minutes across the force but just over 9 minutes in Oldham Borough (down from over 14 minutes last year.

– Despatch of officer(s) to Grade 1 calls (the most serious) with the police service-wide standard of 15 mins occurs in 85% of cases. With many of remaining 15% only narrowly missing the target time.

– Despatch to Grade 2 calls now down from 16 hours last year to 3 hours this year

– A better use of the appointment system for calls and follow-up calls has led to increased efficiency and officer deployment.

– An enhanced victim focus has led to the number of open crimes in Oldham being reduced from 6,500 to 3.100.

– Investigations are now, routinely, more timely and proportionate.

– Arrests overall in the Oldham Borough are up 51% and Domestic Violence arrests (a force priority) are up 57%. There has also been an increased use of civil orders in respect of protecting DV victims.

– £151,000 has been the Borough’s share of proceeds of crime assets seized from criminals. This has enabled C/Supt Bowen to re-distribute this windfall amongst a number of key community projects.

– Operation Vortex continues to disrupt serious criminals, particularly targeting those involved in drugs, trafficking and knife crime.

– Similarly, Operation Avro will return to Oldham soon with a day of multi-unit resources being applied intensively against both known and unsuspecting criminals. Last year it resulted in 23 arrests on the day.

– The stated aim of providing ‘outstanding service’ to victims is still on an upward curve with updates on investigation progress now provided regularly. As is the parallel ambition to make Oldham the safest place to live and work in Greater Manchester.

– Stop and search increased by 468% and positive outcomes by 21%. Officers are attaining increased confidence in deploying this tactic, reflected in the fact that complaints against officers has shown no increase.

Chris Bowen signed off what was, generally, a very well received report with some words borrowed from a pop star of yesteryear, Noddy Holder, and his iconic song, ‘Merry Christmas, Everybody:

“Look to the future, it’s only just begun”.

The chief super faced eight questions from selected councillors:

Cllr Amanda Chadderton, the Leader of Oldham Council: She pointed out that it was 6 months since the Oldham CSE Assurance Review was published and asked for an update on Operation Sherwood, set up to seek justice for victims. C/Supt replied that he was limited upon what he could say publicly about a live, sub-judice police investigation but gave assurances that victims were kept properly updated as was Oldham Council’s Cross-Party Review Team.

Labour’s Clint Phythian asked about measures to curb speeding in his Royton North ward. C/Supt Bowen gave assurances that recruitment of specialist traffic officers was well advanced and it was an offence to which there was force-wide priority.

Cllr Howard Sykes MBE, the Leader of the Opposition and elected Member for Shaw, asked ‘when will my community (in Shaw) feel the difference?’ as, to them, the present situation still felt like ‘the bad old days’. On his own enquiries he believed that the number of response officers had fallen from 30 to 18. C/Supt Bowen outlined an unprecedented recruitment drive that is bringing an additional 120 new officers into GMP every five weeks. ‘The biggest recruitment drive in history’ he added. By March, 2023, Oldham could expect to have 33 new officers operational.

A second question concerned action. or lack of since 2018, over a request for assistance from the police over DBS checks in which the LibDems had no confidence. C/Supt Bowen promised to make enquiries and bring an answer back to council officers.

Cllr Sam Al-Hamdani (LibDem – Saddleworth West and Lees) pointed out that, previously, the Greater Manchester Mayor promised a dedicated police office for every ward in the Region. He asked asked how many are so far in place across Oldham Borough. C/Supt Bowen said that two wards in Oldham didn’t have a dedicated NPT officer but by the end of March, 2023 every ward across the Borough would have one.

Cllr Graham Sheldon, the Conservatives’ Group Leader, was another to raise issues over speeding vehicles. Specifically, in Uppermill, his own ward. ‘An accident waiting to happen’ with ‘dangerous drivers’, he said. C/Supt Bowen referred to his previous answer and added that NPT teams were being trained up to use equipment. He also promised to look into use of speed guns by non-police officers, the problem being who buys this equipment.

Cllr Dave Arnott (Conservative – Royton North and not dressed as an elf on this particular occasion) enquired about progress of the investigation into the firebombing of Cllr Arooj Shah’s car in Glodwick in August, 2021. This question is a ridden to death hobby horse of a notorious, unemployed, Tameside-based conspiracy theorist and close associate of the Oldham Conservatives and it is not difficult to conclude that Cllr Arnott was acting as proxy for Raja Miah and his group of his supporters whom self-style as The Rabble, a significant number of whom live in Royton. C/Supt Bowen said the investigation was still live and the victim was kept properly updated.

Cllr Brian Hobin, the Failsworth Independent Party Group Leader, asked about the effect of rotas and what appears to be either  ‘everybody on duty’ or ‘everybody off duty’ in his ward. C/Supt Bowen said that rotas were being re-scheduled and the problem should be alleviated over the coming months.

Cllr Lucia Rea, (FIP – Failsworth East) asked for feedback on CSE helpline that was set up in wake of the publication of the Assurance Review. C/Supt Bowen said that any victim of any crime was always welcome in Oldham and that, specifically, feedback on the helpline was provided to the Cross-Party Review Team.

These are Chris Bowen’s biographical details, supplied by the GMP press office:

‘Chief Superintendent Chris Bowen grew up in Troedyrhiw in South Wales. He moved north to study a degree in Computing and Information Systems at Bradford University and, subsequently, obtained a Masters Degree in Police Management and Leadership from the Warwick Business School.

‘He joined West Yorkshire Police in 1997, starting his career at Odsal. Chris spread his wings with postings across West Yorkshire including Neighbourhood Policing, Patrol, Operational Planning, Public Order Training, Firearms Command and National functions including the CT Network.

‘Whilst working at West Yorkshire Police, he served as a Superintendent of Operations on the Leeds District – one of the biggest operational districts in the country – before fulfilling the role of Head of Contact in the force.

‘Chris was one of the most experienced Public Order Silver Commanders in West Yorkshire. He has experience of commanding a wide variety of events from the Leeds United promotion celebrations, the Chapeltown Carnival through to varying protests’.

Oldham’s District Commander reports to the two chief officers with joint responsibility for the Local Policing portfolio, Assistant Chief Constables Chris Sykes and Scott Green, the latter of whom started at GMP in September, 2021. ACC Sykes had previously held the ‘poison chalice’ portfolio that included the infamous iOPS computer upgrade (read more here).

Page last updated Thursday 15th December, 2022 at 0820hrs

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Picture credits: WYP

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2022. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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