A police force has gone from being ranked as failing five years ago to being given the highest ever grades in the modern era by the police inspectorate.
Humberside police has been judged as outstanding in six out of nine categories by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
The chief constable of Humberside police, Lee Freeman, said one of his radical reforms was freeing up time for officers to fight crime by cutting the amount of mental health work done by police that was better managed by health professionals.
He said it was also better for those suffering from a mental health crisis to be looked after by people with sufficient medical training. “If you slip off the curb and break your ankle, you are not going to end up in a police cell or in a police van. Why should it be any different if you are having a mental health crisis?” he said.
The inspectorate agreed and in its report today found patients were getting better treatment, and that the police had freed up resources.
Humberside police pioneered the strategy, which saw them give the health services a year’s notice that they would no longer routinely spend hours sitting with patients in a mental health crisis, or ferry people to hospital.
The scheme – called Right Care, Right Person – is attracting national attention. Several forces, including the Metropolitan police, are studying it, with its commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, wanting to reduce the time lost by officers dealing with work that other services should be doing.
Freeman, who has been chief constable since 2017, said: “We do not have to wait for legislation or ministerial strategies. We can help ourselves.”
Freeman said he kept good relations with the health services after initially playing “hardball”, with practitioners agreeing that experts – not police officers – should look after those with health needs. He also managed to claw back 1,100 officer hours a month – 7% of the total. “We held the line, and that led to partners in mental health trusts, the ambulance service and NHS, spending more money.”
The inspectorate said: “The Right Care, Right Person approach means that vulnerable people receive the support they need from the right organization. The force has experts within its control room to support those vulnerable people until help arrives.”
Humberside today scores a record six out of nine outstanding grades, never achieved by any force since the inspectorate started issuing grades. It was rated good in two areas and adequate in one.
Freeman said the principles driving change were the same for small, medium and large forces. “Changing culture takes longer than you think,” he said.
He warned against a top-down approach of leaders dreaming up edicts and dishing them out, instead asking staff and officers for their ideas. “I took over when the staff were angry, they felt unsupported, unlistened to and undervalued. They felt the leadership did things to them, not with them.
“Just shouting at people and telling them they are not good enough does not work.”
Freeman said the culture change had seen officers willing to call out hateful or poor behavior by colleagues and “walk through walls” to improve crime fighting. He said: “Sergeants and inspectors work for the staff, not the other way around. It is high support, high challenge. We expect them to go the extra mile for the public.”
Freeman said there was now a genuine neighborhood policing effort. Stations closed at the height of the cuts were reopened, and local officers policed areas and would rarely be taken away. Communities raised problems and saw them being dealt with, he said.
Humberside is a rare success story for British policing, which has been beset by a series of scandals and concerns about its effectiveness. A total of six forces in England and Wales have been placed in special measures by the police inspectorate – a record – with concerns that a seventh may soon join them.