Holyrood meets the new President of ACPOS, Patrick Shearer
Cast your mind back to those feverish days of early summer when it appeared that Scotland’s own Andy Murray had a genuine chance to win Wimbledon. Tickets to his semi-final clash with Andy Roddick were like gold dust.
Imagine then a work contact approaching you with the offer of a pair for yourself and your wife. The chance of a lifetime. You’d snap it up, of course. Unless you were the newlyminted President of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS), that is.
Quite accurately sensing that if he attended as a guest of a supplier of tens of millions of pounds worth of equipment to Scottish police forces, he could well “end up on the front page of the paper”, Patrick Shearer declined the tempting offer.
The incident provides an excellent illustration of the 53-year-old Dumfries and Galloway Chief Constable’s approach. There’s no suggestion that the offer from the supplier was in any way untoward but Shearer knew in many situations, the perception rather than the reality is what counts.
It is an insight he is bringing to his work with ACPOS. Asked what his key priorities over his two-year term will be, Shearer launches into the kind of management jargon heavy spiel that no doubt is required at the highest levels when running large organisations like police forces, but leaves the average punter on the street wondering whatever happened to just catching the bad guys.
“The way I see the role, it is very much about trying to add value to the individual efforts that chief constables can make in their own forces but also the value that can be achieved through the collective organisation of all forces.
“If you are going to add value, it is important that relationships are good within policing circles but also with key partners and stakeholders and but also to try and build and improve and maintain relationships so that we can then deliver on some of the real key challenges that are out there for us,” he says.
That’s all well and good but how does it translate to real action? Refreshingly, Shearer acknowledges this kind of industry speak does not chime with what most of us expect from our police. If we want revenue targets, we’ll go to an accountant or financial adviser, not a policeman.
“There is almost too much jargon,” he agrees.
“Do I think people think of policing as a business? No. And that is what we have got to be careful of. The outward-facing elements are: how do we tackle drugs, how do we tackle violence, how do we tackle domestic abuse, vulnerable people. Those are the important things and we’ve got to use day to day language around that.” He continues: “But behind that is almost how we structure ourselves as a business to make sure we deliver effectively in those areas. To make sure we are protecting the individual on the street, to make sure those who are vulnerable are protected by us. That’s the sort of language that people associate with policing.” In some areas though, the jargon is unavoidable. Shearer says one of the key priorities in his time as ACPOS President will be to focus on the benefits that improving and streamlining the IT systems used by the nation’s eight forces could bring.
He says: “It is more about all the back-end processes that have to be in place to allow us to deliver more successfully on our priorities. If we look at one common element for a lot of businesses, it is IT. You want to have better systems and applications to help address the bureaucratic burden we are challenged with every day. It will also make us a hell of a lot smarter and provide intelligence to help deal with opportunities that are there. We are trying to have a co-coordinated approach across Scottish forces.” But hang on, isn’t that kind of thing meant to be in the remit of the troubled Scottish Police Services Authority, the muchmaligned SPSA, which was set up by the previous Labour/Lib Dem administration with precisely the aim of taking management and improvement of back-office services off the hands of the individual forces in order to free them up to deal with boots-on-theground- type operational matters?
As one would expect from a senior policeman dealing with such a politicallysensitive area, Shearer treads very carefully: “SPSA help us in that process very significantly but you have got to have the business stating, ‘This is what we want and this is what our priorities are’ ourselves, working more closely together to specify what we want to focus on and the SPSA help us to deliver on the technical side. But there is an important relationship between the two organisations.” Asked about other key priorities for his two-year term, Shearer continues: “Another example would be where we are with the independent review of policing. One of the key areas we spoke about there was to apply a proper risk-assessment approach to some of the national issues – what the major risks are, how we mitigate them and therefore what we concentrate our resources on. But that needs everybody to work together on one approach.” Shearer is a native of the north-east and cut his teeth with Grampian Police, joining the force in 1983. He holds both an Arts and a Law degree from Aberdeen University and rose through the Grampian ranks – spending a substantial period with the CID – before being appointed Deputy Chief Constable of Grampian in 2005 then taking over as Chief Constable at Scotland’s smallest force in May 2007.
Shearer repeatedly refers to his time in the CID as a formative experience in his policing career and one gets the feeling that even though he has risen well into the world of offices rather than late night stakeouts, he retains much of the initiative and drive a good detective requires.
The recent Calman Commission report recommended a number of policing powers be devolved to Scotland, including the power for the Scottish Parliament to set a different legal blood alcohol level to that south of the border. While the Nationalist government has agitated for these kinds of powers to be immediately devolved, some within the Unionist parties have suggested that doing so would take such time and resources that a change would not be cost-effective at a time of shrinking government budgets.
Shearer though, in a statement that will most likely encourage Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, a man in need of cheering up if ever there was one, brings a can-do approach to the issue.
He says: “It is important to understand that it is not all about legislation. A parliament’s purpose is to create new laws and legislation and not everything can move forward that way and it doesn’t just change overnight if there is law introduced. That said, it also does provide you with great opportunities.
“You have to think about the practicalities about introducing a different alcohol level as regards driving under the influence. We have the border. Half of it is about publication and ensuring the communication is there. That on its own wouldn’t be a major issue and operating to a different technical issue wouldn’t be an issue. It is more about getting the message out there to the public.
“The alcohol and driving one isn’t such a major one as it could be in other areas of legislation. It is also important to have the opportunity to demonstrate how responsible you can be and it is good to have that opportunity and consider that legislation.
“But I’m not sure the roads policing one would be tremendously difficult. Yes, we are speaking in general terms. The other opportunity is how it could influence elsewhere, beyond Scotland and what we see elsewhere, particularly in the context of the UK.”