Feedback from the public in the North on how police treated them could make or break officers’ promotion hopes under new plans for increasing accountability in the PSNI.
Officers intend to phone people affected by crime and ask them to assess the policeman or woman who dealt with their case – data which will then be relied upon in future job interviews.
Chief Constable Matt Baggott revealed the initiative as he launched a series of police commitments to the public.
The four-page pledge is being sent to 750,000 homes across the North this week outlining what people can expect from the PSNI.
It includes promises over response times, keeping people updated with the progress of investigations and identifies key community priorities, such as tackling anti-social behaviour.
The new officer appraisal system, which will see around 9,000 people phoned, will come into operation this autumn.
“When people want to move on in their career, whether that’s a promotion or anything else, one of the fundamental questions they will be asked is: what did the public think of you?” explained Mr Baggott.
“So we will be ringing people back. They could say: ’Matt Baggott: he really kept me informed, was caring, was a real ambassador for the PSNI, asked me how it (the crime) could be stopped happening again, asked me anything else I can do for my family, put me in touch with a neighbourhood officer, absolutely first class.’ Okay, there’s your entry point into the future career then.
“But the alternative: ’Matt Baggott: indifferent, wasn’t terribly professional,’ Well, clearly we are going to have some work to do then.
“So like every other major £1.2 billion organisation that relies upon confidence to succeed, we are no different, we’re no different to a commercial company except our business is far more difficult and has far more implications for Northern Ireland.
“But there wouldn’t be any company who wouldn’t ring people back and say how was our service, so why don’t we do that.”
Mr Baggott insisted the list of pledges represented a significant step change.
“These aren’t airy-fairy, stuck on the wall, soft, pink, fluffy, does it really matter, this is serious step change in accountability after 10 years of having the PSNI in life,” he said.
The chief said he had decided to publish the set of pledges because his career had shown him the method worked.
He said it helped instil more confidence in the police.
“Confidence, to be frank, underpins everything we do and if you are going to have confidence in policing you need to demonstrate you are performing consistently in the things that matter,” he said.
“Without confidence you don’t have officers kept safe; without confidence you don’t have witness statements, without confidence you don’t have good information; without confidence people won’t report a crime to you.
“So if we are to perform as a police service on behalf of everybody people have got to have confidence and the best way of proving that you are actually there for people is to set your standards consistently and keep to them.”
He added: “So it’s a contract between ourselves and everyone in Northern Ireland, setting out the basics that people want from policing and if you like proving to people our own impartiality and the fact that we are performing to a very high standard indeed.”
Mr Baggott said while many of the pledges outlined are already being delivered by officers, the commitments would ensure consistency.
“I think what we haven’t had is consistency so the idea that you get the same service in Strabane as you would in Derry as you would in Bangor is very important to me because we’ve got to prove we’re impartial,” he added.
But the chief constable acknowledged that the security situation would mean that officers may sometimes be unable to meet the commitments, particularly in regard to response times.
“We are not going to compromise police safety,” he said.
“There will be times when we have to say ’sorry, we can’t do that’ and that may be because there is particular information or concerns and I’ve got to be realistic about that because I am certainly not going to undermine our own colleagues’ safety by being either careless or clumsy.
“But I think this (the pledges) is entirely part of dealing with the security situation and we saw that at Ronan’s (Pc Kerr’s) funeral, the more confidence people have in us: our impartiality, what we stand for. And the more we can demonstrate that, firstly the more these people (dissidents) will be persuaded and isolated and, secondly, I think there is a real momentum at the moment around embracing good policing and I want to keep that going and, thirdly, you never know when a kindness will end up in a piece of information that will keep someone safe.
“So this is the story of truth. I am reading all the time from these people (dissidents) that I am a general of an occupying army, I am under political control: absolute load of nonsense.
“The best way to give the truth to that lie is by demonstrating very obviously who you are and what you stand for so I think this is really important.
“And why shouldn’t the 99% of decent people have a better police service that looks forward? Why shouldn’t we allow them (the dissidents) to push us back, why shouldn’t we have neighbourhood officers in the right numbers to make a difference?”