I am required by the Police Act 1993 to report annually to the Department of Home Affairs. My last two annual reports each ran to over 30,000 words and, whilst I have derived some satisfaction from being able to expound at length on matters that are important to the Constabulary and to me as Chief Constable, I have become convinced that the impact of such lengthy and dense documents has declined. The new, shorter report that follows is intended to highlight important issues, summarise key elements of the Isle of Man Constabulary’s performance and direct the reader to detailed charts and tables.
The Constabulary has not reduced its data collection, nor has it lost focus on the importance of maintaining low levels of crime. The comprehensive charts that have long been published are still being collated, as they form an important source of management information. Also include within the data is a chart showing performance against the annual policing plan, which is also a requirement of the Police Act 1993.
In the pages that follow I have highlighted some critical aspects of the Constabulary’s performance, either by way of commentary, or through simple graphics, which explain what the Constabulary and its officers have done in the past twelve months.
There has long been a tendency to judge the effectiveness of the Constabulary on the overall level of recorded crime. This approach is understandable but flawed. Our data shows that crime tends to amount to only about a quarter of our operational activity and, whereas low levels of recorded crime are generally a good thing, I am keen to see some types of crime actually increase. For example, more reports of domestic violence tend to suggest that victims have greater confidence in the police and increases in drugs seizures are usually a sign of increased police activity, which is often a sign of police effectiveness.
In general terms the 2017-18 year was one where there was an underlying growth in demand: crime was slightly up for the third successive year; drugs seizures were significantly up; offences committed by young people rose quickly; the Constabulary at times struggled to deal with the demands caused by an increase in reporting of non-recent sexual offences and our roads enforcement activity increased quite considerably.
On the positive side, road traffic collisions continued to reduce (there has been a 6% reduction in fatal and serious collisions when compared with the three year average); see the detailed analysis of collision data commissioned by the Department of Infrastructure; domestic burglaries were at the third lowest level since the 1970s; there was a welcome reduction in the number of mental health incidents dealt with by the police; formal complaints against the police were extremely low at just five in number; and the Isle of Man became even safer when compared to England and Wales, where crime appears to be growing at a fast rate.
The biggest issue is simply this: what has got to us to where we are will not necessarily get us to where we need to be. In other words, traditional approaches to policing have helped make this island the very safe place that it undoubtedly is. However, those approaches, the structures that we have put in place, the methods that we use and the way that we deploy our resources will not guarantee that we can continue to maintain, or even improve levels of safety. To some degree we are using 20th century approaches to deal with 21st century problems.
The problems we are facing are manifold, complex and fast-changing. Traditional crime is often less of a challenge than it once was. However, complex vulnerability, changes in how some young people live their lives, the ubiquity of cannabis, the impact of mental health problems, the threats from organised criminal groups and the impact of cybercrime and of technology in its broadest sense all combine to make the policing of the Island ever more challenging.
The Constabulary has become used to do more for less. We have successfully absorbed reductions in our budget. We have become used to working in difficult fiscal conditions and we have become adept at finding cost-effective ways of addressing problems. We understand as well as any organisation the financial difficulties that the government has long faced and we have learned to work closely with Treasury officials to find imaginative ways of tackling financial problems. Where we sometimes still struggle is in dealing with some of the structural aspects of our budget and in trying to tackle problems that cut across various public service bodies and therefore various public service budgets.
The most important thing that the Constabulary does is to try to deliver neighbourhood policing. Everything begins and ends in a town, or a village, or a housing estate. It matters not where the issue is domestic abuse, child neglect, drug dealing or poor driving. These things have their roots, their causes and their impacts in local places. In my view neighbourhood policing, when properly delivered, is key to the social wellbeing of this island and also to its continuing economic success.
We have reduced the scope of our work in local communities as we have sought to adjust to our changed financial situation. However, our approach is rooted firmly in the 20th century and I would be misleading the public if I were to allow people to think that we will be able to continue to provide the service we have given. In the year ahead work will start on a highly significant modernisation of what we do. We will attempt to produce a policing blueprint that is fit for the 21st century and which will combine placing trusted and visible officers into local communities, with different ways of tackling community problems.
Work undertaken in the United States of America in the mid-1990s and followed up in recent years by the organisation Kaiser Permanente and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention show that an approach of the kind that I have mentioned is not only important but necessary. Where children suffer some an adverse experience, such as witnessing domestic abuse, there is an alarming and measurable increase in the risks of them suffering poor mental and physical health, in becoming obese, in using drugs, in falling victim to crime and in them committing crime. I intend to place the tackling of adverse childhood experiences at the heart of the Constabulary’s future direction. Joined up local services targeting those most at risk is the best (and perhaps only) way that we can maintain our quality of life and, at the same time, ensure that those most at risk are both targeted and supported. This is the future of neighbourhood policing, but such an approach will require continued political leadership and a public acceptance that high quality, innovative services will cost money and look different.
There were 106 extra offences during the year and, in simple terms, these comprised extra drugs offences, extra non-domestic burglary offences (which were linked to the drug trade), more domestic assaults and considerably more public order offences.
All of this said, crime remains very low and the rapid increases in crime that are being seen in the United Kingdom are not necessarily being mirrored here. There, the 2017 data shows that knife crime rose by 22%, firearms offences by 11%, thefts of and from motor-vehicles by 17% and robbery by 33%. The overall increase in crime there has been 11% . By way of contrast, there were no offences of robbery reported here in 2017-18! and, even with the rise in non-domestic burglary, property crime is comparatively very low indeed. A word of warning, though: offences involving the possession of prohibited articles and offensive weapons doubled during the year from 15 to 31.
Arrests rose by 2% during the year, in line with the overall growth in demand. However, the arrest of young people (those below the age of 18) went up by an alarming 22%. This is proof positive that our youth justice team, which was once highly effective and which was an exemplar for positive multi-agency working, is now failing. The decline began when resources were taken away from the team by one of our partners. Where there were once five specialist workers, who worked hard to prevent offending and reoffending by young people, there are now two. Even with an immediate injection of resources it would take some considerable time to restore the status quo ante, which saw young people being diverted from offending at the first possible opportunity.
Drunkenness offences increased slightly during the year, but they remain well below levels seen in the fairly recent past. See also, my address to the opening session of the triennial sessions of the Licensing Court.
A significant aspect of the crime data is the issue of cannabis possession. The number of such offences increased and equated to 10% of all recorded crime. Quite simply cannabis is ubiquitous. Its status is a matter for politicians, but I am encouraged by the beginning of a debate about its uses, abuses and the law.
Record amounts of drugs were seized during the year, with the total combined street prices for drugs seized falling in the range of £802,690 to £883, 868. This is almost three times the value seized as recently as 2015-16.
It is difficult to draw precise crime comparisons with all of the jurisdictions in the British Isles. Jersey and Guernsey, for example, are just about to use the United Kingdom’s national crime recording model for the first time, whereas the Constabulary has been adhering to it since 2001. All things considered the Island is still about the safest jurisdiction in the British Isles and the detection rate for crime is higher than anywhere else.
The modernisation of the Island’s financial crime structures and processes in the summer of 2016 continued to have a considerable impact on the Constabulary during the 2017-18 year. The work of the Financial Intelligence Unit and the creation of an asset recovery team within HM Attorney General’s Chambers combined to help produce a considerable increase in the demands faced by the Constabulary’s Economic Crime Unit (ECU).
During the year the Treasury took welcome steps to try to rationalise financial crime budgets, so that appropriate resources could be put in place and better financial management could be undertaken. Additionally, steps were taken to try to ensure that resource levels are appropriate to meet demand and the increasing challenges thrown up by international scrutiny. This work by Treasury and others will continue well into the 2018-19 year and beyond, but there cannot be any doubt that there is now proper political awareness of the marked imbalance that has long existed between growing financial crime demand and available resources.
Considerable operational activity, including the continuation of some complex, long-running investigations, meant that the year was extremely busy. At the same time, external scrutiny from the Moneyval body continued, with extensive working being undertaken in readiness for a plenary meeting of the organisation in July 2018. The impact of this scrutiny has been felt by the ECU, yet it has done much to highlight the excellent work that is routinely being undertaken by comparatively few people.
International scrutiny of our efforts to deal with our financial crime obligations are just one sign of a world where policing is increasingly being examined and scrutinised. I made three appearances during the year before the Tynwald social affairs policy select committee, twice in connection with mental health matters, and once concerning its investigation into abuse at the Knottfield children’s home. I also appeared at a public hearing of the public accounts committee and I had informal discussions with a select committee on whistleblowing and with the newly formed constitutional affairs and justice committee, as it begins to formulate its programme of work.
Scrutiny is a good thing, especially if it leads to action. A transcript of my evidence to the public accounts committee, which offers a lengthy explanation of the impact of reduced budgets on the policing of the Island.
My opening address to the Knottfield inquiry hearing. It makes for sad and sober reading. I am certain that some good will come from the inquiry: justice may not quite take the form that some survivors of the awful abuse at Knottfield may wish, but there in now no doubt that they are being believed and their courage is helping to improve the services that contemporary victims are receiving. Furthermore, that courage is also helping others who have been victims to come forward and put their trust in the police. The impact on police resources of the reporting of non-recent abuse has been considerable for the last three or so years and there is little prospect of this changing.
2018-19 is likely to see the creation of a sexual assault referral centre, which will bring together services for the benefit of those who have subject to sexual violence. This will be a major and much welcomed development.
In previous annual reports I have made reference to the efforts we have put into working with diverse elements of our community. Those efforts have continued to develop and in the course of the year a significant step was taken in regards to oversight of our work, with the appointment of Jane Poole-Wilson, MLC as the first independent chair of our inclusion scrutiny group. This is a significant and welcome step. This is a short summary of the work of the group which she has written.
Two or three paragraphs are not enough to do justice to the full range of work undertaken by or within the Constabulary or to pay proper tribute to the hard work and dedication of police officers, support staff and our voluntary workforce, including the excellent members of the Special Constabulary. Sometimes I fear that police officers are taken for granted. It is a privilege to lead so many talented and committed people.
During the year we balanced the recruitment of high quality local people, who joined as probationary Constables, with the recruitment of experienced and well-trained transferee officers from across England and Wales. This meant that we ended the year with all of our posts filled for the first time in a couple of years. We have recruited on a values basis for many years and this manifests itself in the continuing low level of formal complaints. Just five in a year is a considerable achievement.
Our efforts to maintain and improve our professional standards in terms of training and development proved increasingly challenging. The College of Policing now owns the intellectual property rights to all police training material and it is determined to impose a surcharge on the Crown Dependencies for accessing this material. This is neither right nor fair and efforts to obtain cost-effective access, which is critically important if we are to continue to thrive, will inevitably continue into the 2018-19 year.
There are worrying signs about the impact of rising demand and increasing officer workloads. Officer sickness rose by about a quarter during the year, the largest increase for several years. Most of the increase was long-term stress related absence. During the year the Constabulary began a significant programme of work designed to improve mental health within the workplace.
Work continued during the year on the Constabulary’s ambitious digital strategy. The installation of a new core system did not proceed to schedule and it will not go live until January 2019, but it is important to note that the delays were entirely outside the Constabulary’s control. The new system is key to the eventual transformation of policing using technology.
A sad event took place during the year: the closure of Castletown Police Station. The brilliant, iconic Baillie Scott building was no longer fit for purpose and the replacement station in the town’s civic centre is much more functional, albeit that it is unlikely ever to become loved. Nevertheless, I am very grateful to Castletown Town Commissioners, who are excellent local authority partners and good landlords.
There is much in the Constabulary that is excellent, but the challenges of constrained budgets, changing demand and new types of offending pose real threats. The Constabulary has not sought more resources for several years, following government policy. At your request I will be submitting business cases for growth for the 2019-20 year to address shortfalls in training and development budgets; to meet succession planning challenges; to allow us to maintain both neighbourhood policing and the policing of our roads; and to tackle serous and organised crime. Whether any or all of those cases succeed will be of fundamental importance to the planning of the Constabulary’s future, as work is already underway to create the 2019-24 strategic plan.