I have mentioned before in this column the very considerable respect I am developing for our new Police Commissioner, Martin Underhill. He seems to be doing all the things we would hope a police commissioner would do, transforming the hopes and aspirations of his electorate to the professionals in the police in an articulate and effective way, and earning plaudits all round.
But it remains the case that the most important determinant of the effectiveness of our police force in Dorset is the Chief Constable. The Police Commissioner can have an enormous influence on the strategy. But, in the end, it is the leadership given by the Chief Constable and the culture that creates which really makes the organisation work or fail to work.
So I have been looking forward to meeting the new Chief Constable ever since she arrived a few months back – and I am very delighted to be able to report that my first impression is hugely favourable.
In the past, my meetings with chief constables have always been at headquarters in Winfrith. To my surprise, the new Chief Constable, Miss Debbie Smith, arranged to meet me in Bridport at the police station there. And when I arrived, there she was in the little office normally belonging to our excellent local inspector, dressed in civilian clothes and without any entourage whatsoever. She struck me as somebody friendly, down to earth but very sharp. She has the characteristic that I have come to think is pretty much an indicator of the ability to lead a large organisation – a certain clarity and simplicity using a few straightforward words instead of long, convoluted bureaucratese (which, in my experience, almost always disguises confusion beneath the surface of the words).
Another very tell-tale sign is the reason she was in Bridport was to find out more about what her officers are actually doing, and she explained to me that she had now done enough of this to get to the point where her colleagues were actually willing to open up and talk to her about what it was all really like.
If I were a police officer, I would want a chief constable that took that attitude, leading on the basis of a real understanding of what happens on the ground, rather than allowing themselves to be imprisoned at headquarters.
With a Police Commissioner who cares about how the police respond to the concerns of those they are there to serve and a Chief Constable who has the capacity and intention of leading rather than just manage, I think we have every reason to be optimistic about the future of policing in Dorset, despite all the financial pressure on a small county police force.
Bridport News, 27 May 2013