Cleveland Police Chief Constable Richard Lewis talks frankly about the force's troubled past and how he plans to turn the service around

Cleveland’s top cop has said residents should expect more armed police and officers being told to use stop and search “as often as you can”.

Monday, 9th December 2019, 1:40 pm
Cleveland Police Chief Constable Richard Lewis
Cleveland Police Chief Constable Richard Lewis

Cleveland Police Chief Constable Richard Lewis has spoken openly about a raft of changes being made after the force was found to be the worst performing in the country.

It’s been just over six months Mr Lewis was appointed to the role and tasked with turning the failing force around.

A devastating PEEL report published last month revealed that Cleveland was the only force in the country to be rated inadequate across all areas of inspection.

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Cleveland Police – a force let down by leadership

Mr Lewis spoke on a Facebook Live broadcast about the problems facing the force, and first praised the hard work of officers and staff.

He was speaking on a Facebook live with Middlesbrough deputy mayor, Cllr Antony High.

“I’ve worked internationally and the staff that we have here front line are the equal of anywhere else I’ve worked,” he said.

“They’ve been let down by leadership.”

Cllr High agreed adding: “And we need to be clear on that because those guys are on the streets risking their lives for the people of Middlesbrough and Cleveland day by day.”

But then Cllr High asked the chief constable to explain the dire situation at Cleveland Police.

Mr Lewis said: “The HMI, the people who come in and inspect the police, they inspected us back in May and they inspected us on three different criteria.

“How efficient we are, how effective we are and the legitimacy we hold with the public most importantly but the work force as well.

“They can grade you in four different ways. We’re the only force in the country, I’m sad to say, that has been graded as in inadequate in all three of those areas.

“That’s the first time that’s happened.

“On the flip side of the coin, we’re going to be the first force that goes from that to three outstanding – it’s a long-term project.

“But as a result of that report we are put into that special measures group.”

Expect to see more armed police

Mr Lewis said that there were six different areas of concern identified by HMI.

“The things that caused the greatest concern are things like the fact we don’t understand demand,” he said.

He went on: “The types of things we see in Cleveland that shouldn’t be happening is that we try and suppress demand and we try and do that for good reasons, I think, but it’s perverse – we shouldn’t be doing that.

“The starkest example of how we suppressed demand is an area I’ve worked in before.

“I’ve worked in west Wales – the quietest place in England and Wales. Statistically it’s the safest place, because nobody lives there frankly, and the least violent place in England and Wales.

“In that area last year, we deployed firearms over 300 times. Deploying police officers with firearms to deal with a specific threat.

“Now when you think about Cleveland being the second busiest place in England and Wales per head, in terms of violence probably the around fourth in the country.

“We deployed firearms here on fewer than 100 occasions last year.

“Now that shouldn’t be the case.

“So for example knife crime – people fighting with machetes in the street – my response to that is to not send unarmed officers.

“We should be sending police officers with guns to those incidents and deploying with the type of force you would expect when people are fighting with knives or machetes.

“Because if we don’t respond in that way, people will begin to accept that is simple way of living.

“In towns like Middlesbrough and across Cleveland, that should not be the case.”

He added: “It may be that in your local newspapers or online, some of your residents might see that there are more police officers with firearms being deployed – that’s a deliberate plan on our part.

“Some community members might think that’s happening more often and that’s a bad thing – it’s us responding the way we should.”

More Bobbies on the beat

Mr Lewis said another major cause for concern was that Cleveland wasn’t doing enough to prevent crime.

“If you’ve got a problem with your neighbour that stretches into criminality or anti-social behaviour, what happens too often is that a police officer will be deployed or a PCSO, they deal with what’s happening, they walk away and we don’t think about what the long term issues are.

“So tomorrow night, you call again.”

He said when he joined, there were no neighbourhood police within the force.

“It might sound old-fashioned to some people – Bobbies on the beat – but we need people walking on foot.

“You don’t interact with people sitting in cars.

“Neighbourhood policing is more about prevention.”

He added: “We’ve got to stop walking away from things until they are actually sorted.”

Vulnerable people

The inspection also found that Cleveland Police was not doing enough to safeguard vulnerable people such as missing people, people with mental health problems, the elderly, the young and the disabled.

“The HMI tell us we’re not dealing with vulnerable people well enough and perhaps more worrying than anything is the fact that we’re not safeguarding children,” said Chief Con Lewis.

“This is something that we’ve already started to put right.”

He continued: “On vulnerable children for example, what happens when you turn up to a domestic abuse visit.

“You have to fill out a form. Filling forms is boring, but filling forms is important.

“The form that they fill in is a PPN, a Public Protection Notice.

“The compliance rate, as in how often we fill in that form, back in March was at about 52%-53%.

“Those forms are filled in now 99% of the time and we’re now asking why hasn’t that other 1% been done?

“Unless you capture the information about domestic abuse cases you can’t manage the risk.”

Ethical standards

He said: “Everybody who has read the newspaper over the last few years will know there have been issues around this.

“The first thing I felt I needed to do upon being appointed was to appoint a whole new chief officer team.

“From the police officer side they are all brand new. I think what’s important as well is that none of them worked in Cleveland before.

“Long-term I think it’s important that local people see that there are local people coming through Cleveland Police to take those top positions.”

He said he had hired his former boss, Ian Arundale, to be his deputy with a focus on enforcing the highest ethical standards within the force.

Mr Lewis added: “With a whole new chief officer team, we don’t know anybody.

“So we can afford to point at somebody and say you’re the best person for the job and not because we’ve had some kind of professional relationship previously.

“That doesn’t come into it, we can make objective decisions because we haven’t got those kinds of professional relationships to rely on – that’s a good thing.”

He added that a union member or staff association member had been placed in every single interview to oversee the process and ensure candidates were being selected on merit.

The way Cleveland Police treats its workforce

The chief said the force had not been communicating with staff well for a long time which had fed into a lack of trust among staff.

He added that he, as a chief constable, regularly goes out on patrol with front line staff to ensure he understands the problems and issues facing the force.

“In between the problem on the front line and me, there are a number of ranks,” he said

“I’ve got to somehow cut that out and get to the root of the problem early.”

Shoplifting

The chief said: “We are here in Cleveland twice as bad as the next worst force in terms of shoplifting – twice as bad as the second worst.”

He said a number of police failings had contributed to the problem.

“Not turning up to shoplifters for example – Cleveland Police should not be turning down the opportunity to arrest somebody.

“If somebody has stolen hundreds of pounds of goods from a town centre, those people need to be arrested.”

He added: “We’ve got to do the basics, and basics means arresting people.

“That wasn’t a priority before, it is now.”

Drugs – an increase in stop and search

Cllr High asked what was being done to tackle the problems caused by drugs across the force area.

“There are a number of strands in terms of our response to drugs,” said chief con Lewis, adding that drug problems are often the root cause of other crime such as shoplifting.

“I am a big proponent of stop/search,” he said.

“Stop/search has to be used properly, it has to be done in accordance to the law, obviously, but we haven’t stop/searched anybody in Cleveland.

He added: “We’ve got to be out in communities and where the need is there, and the evidence suggests that we can, stopping people and searching them – searching the cars that they’re driving.

“Nationally we’ve seen that that has been a tool that has not been used as often as it had been previously.

“We’ve got to make sure that we don’t target one group of people over another and make sure we scrutinise our stop/search properly – but we’ve got to stop people and search them – it’s OK to do that.

“And the message from me, the chief constable of the staff is, do it as often as you can, but in accordance with the law.”

Lack of funds and the loss of 500 officers

“What was really shocking, I found, was that the people of Middlesbrough and Cleveland were being told that we’ve got less officers because there’s not the resources to appropriate people in positions,” said Cllr High.

He added: “You can imagine the shock then when you publicly come out and say there’s money in the bank to invest in certain areas of delivery?”

Chief con Lewis said: “The police and crime commissioner gives money to Cleveland Police and then holds us to account in the way that we spend our money.

“It’s been said in a number of forums that we have lost something like 500 police officers over the course of the last nine or ten years – and that is the case.

“But once the money arrives at Cleveland Police it’s up to us how we spend that money.

“I can’t ask the people of Middlesbrough or the people of Cleveland more generally to plough more money into policing if I’m not spending the money I’ve already got.

“Within the budget, there is money provided from the PCC to us for another 100 police officers but it wasn’t being spent.

“I wasn’t here so I couldn’t tell you why that was the case. But I think it’s relevant if your residents are paying council tax and tax generally, that there’s an ethical imperative for me to spend every penny of it.

“There’s no point people paying tax if it’s just sitting in my bank account at Cleveland Police.”

Chief con Lewis said the new officers would be recruited within the current financial year.

He added that along with the additional police announced by central Government, Cleveland Police would have a total of 172 new officers “within the next 18 months”.