AS THE largest urban area outside of London and with a diverse population of more than 2.8 million people, policing the West Midlands is no small task.
In the wake of five years of budget cuts, a shrunken police force, and an ever-ageing and diversifying population, former Deputy Chief Constable Dave Thompson has taken over at the helm of West Midlands Police (WMP) following the retirement of Chief Constable Chris Sims.
Speaking to Observer news editor, Lauren Clarke, Mr Thompson outlined what he hopes to achieve as the new Chief – the challenges facing Solihull and how he hopes to restore trust in the force.
“If we get to the end of my time as Chief Constable as a more trusted organisation, and one that’s seen as fairer, I’d be very happy,” Mr Thompson explained.
Having served as Deputy Chief Constable for five years, Manchester-born Thompson is no stranger to the challenges facing Solihull and its surrounding areas.
From organised crime in the north of the borough, to concerns of anti-social behaviour in the more rural wards, Mr Thompson pledged the force would work alongside the local authority to provide a ‘holistic approach’ to managing neighbourhood policing.
He added: “Solihull has the most diverse range of types of neighbourhoods in the West Midlands – so how we change our policing strategies to serve each of those communities is really important.”
Despite receiving an ‘outstanding’ rating from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) for its full-scale efficiency and modernisation drive, Mr Thompson said the force still has key areas which require improvement – starting with inspiring faith and confidence in the force among ethnic minorities.
“As an older force, which is policing an increasingly diverse and younger, we are not representative of the community we serve,” he said.
“But we are in the financial position now to begin recruitment – which of course involves trying to ensure we recruit the best people, but also a diverse range of people.
“In particular we haven’t seen a lot of success in recruiting black British people, so must double our efforts in this area.”
Anticipating recruiting 450 people over an 18 month period, Mr Thompson said this still would not enable the force to reflect the 30 per cent Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) background of the communities it serves.
He explained: “We have to ensure our working relationship with the community is very close, so individuals feel that while we may not reflect them, we do have a strong understanding of their cultures and problems.”
The father of two teenage daughters also recognised the need for West Midlands Police to continue to embrace the digital age.
With a thriving online presence – including more than 214,000 Twitter followers – WMP is one of the most active forces in the world when it comes to social media.
But he wants to take this one step further – creating greater digital links with the public.
“In a new digital age we need to have a modern relationship with the public,” Mr Thompson said,
“But the way the public currently deals with the police is still quite traditional – most people using a phone.
“But with the explosion of social media, I want the public to be able to report crime, find out what is going on, and to update us on situations more easily.”
As part of the force’s ongoing WMP2020 programme, Mr Thompson said savings made in response to Government cuts to WMP would be reinvested to build a new online crime reporting service and would enable greater proactive policing throughout the borough.
Despite just taking over the job, Mr Thompson is already looking to the future and the positive legacy he hopes to leave behind when he hangs up the Chief Constable badge.
“I would like to feel that the work we have done around organised crime has reduced the serious threat is has poses.
“I’d like to feel the work we do around terrorism and the types of offences we are investigating in relation to extremism has reduced its footprint.
“I’d like to think the hard work we do means we become ever-better at protecting the diverse range of people we work to serve.”