Frontrunner to be new Cleveland Police chief constable says he will focus on future and boost confidence
The frontrunner to be Chief Constable at Cleveland Police has been grilled on whether he has the mettle for the top job.
Richard Lewis faced questions on everything from his mining heritage to his stance on ranks at the Cleveland Police and Crime Panel.
The deputy chief constable of Dyfed-Powys Police is the preferred candidate of Cleveland’s Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger to take on the role of top cop.
Cleveland Police has faced a turbulent time of late.
It saw the departure of former chief Mike Veale in January less than a year into the job following serious allegations about his conduct.
But Mr Lewis told councillors more than once he’d be here for the long term if selected – and how he was keen to look to the future at the force.
He said: “I have noticed after arriving in Cleveland, and speaking to a number of officers and staff across the organisation, that confidence is something that’s been lacking.
“It shouldn’t. There are officers and staff working in this area the equal of people I’ve worked with elsewhere in the country. That confidence is something I need to build as a Chief Constable.
“That might be as a result of hangovers from previous Chief Constables or senior leader – it might not be. But my plan is to build that self-confidence as a whole.”
Mr Lewis said he wanted to build a “self-confident and resilient organisation” in Cleveland with his own five-year plan drawn up for policing – and a focus on neighbourhood police teams.
Coun Matt Vickers, Conservative member for Hartburn, wanted to know how Mr Lewis would cope with the shift to Cleveland from Dyfed-Powys given it had “one of the lowest crime rates in the UK”.
But Mr Lewis said his patch had some of the highest levels of deprivation in Wales – like Cleveland – with pockets of deprivation which high numbers of opioid deaths.
He added: “I grew up in a steel town in South Wales and it’s an area and way of policing I am very familiar with.
“So given my experience as a police officer and growing up in those sorts of areas as well – I feel well qualified to work in an area like here – Cleveland looks very much like the place I’m from.
“It’s a post-industrial environment I am used to and yes, there is a familiarity with the style of policing.
“That’s what attracted me – the people are similar as well.
“I appreciate it’s on a bigger scale here in Cleveland and I wouldn’t have even applied for the job if I didn’t feel capable and able to do the work.”
Building trust in the force was another theme Mr Lewis brought up on the back of questions about troubles the force had faced in the past.
Mr Lewis told the panel he’d deal with any “legacy cases” at the force “expeditiously and fairly”.
But he believed the “9000 people” calling the force every day were more interested in what was happening to them.
“What I want Cleveland Police to be focussed on is the future,” he added.
“None of those 9,000 people are concerned with Cleveland’s past – they are entirely preoccupied with the problems in front of them.
“There are 9,000 opportunities every single day to increase public confidence in the way we go about our business.”
And he later stressed he believed there was “nothing fundamentally wrong with Cleveland Police” adding it was full of dedicated officers and staff.
Mr Lewis adds: “If I thought there was something wrong with Cleveland I would have run for the hills in Wales.”
Mr Lewis has been in policing for the past 19 years.
The Welshman revealed to the panel how both his grandfathers were coal miners and his father was an inspector.
Mr Lewis also denied there were any active investigations about him from his previous force on the back of question at the start of the meeting.
And a rumour raised by Coun Vickers that Mr Lewis was “being put up indefinitely at Rockliffe Park” was also squashed.
An announcement on whether Mr Lewis will get the Chief Constable job has to be made in the next five days.
It’s expected a decision will be made shortly.
Alex Metcalfe , Local Democracy Reporting Service