The CopDoc Podcast: Aiming for Excellence in Leadership

The Big Wing Theory: A New Approach to Modern Policing: A Chat with Simon Byrne - Chief Constable for Police Service of Northern Ireland

August 08, 2023 Simon Byrne, PSNI Season 5 Episode 108
The CopDoc Podcast: Aiming for Excellence in Leadership
The Big Wing Theory: A New Approach to Modern Policing: A Chat with Simon Byrne - Chief Constable for Police Service of Northern Ireland
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

The CopDoc Podcast Season 5 - Episode 108
Ever wondered how the principles of a 70s Dutch football team could be applied to policing? Simon Byrne, former Merseyside Police Assistant Chief Constable and current Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland takes us through his unique strategy. Starting his career in London, Simon's policing methods soon became heavily influenced by the concepts of Larry Sherman and Jack Maple, leading to a significant reduction in crime rates. 

As he progressed to the role of Assistant Chief Constable, Simon took inspiration from the football field, applying tactics akin to the Dutch football team of the 1970s to implement a 'total war on crime.' Simon's 'Big Wing' theory, a twice-monthly mobilization of police focused on specific areas of crime, was instrumental in reducing crime rates by an impressive five percent. His journey led him to Northern Ireland where, instead of focusing solely on counter-terrorism efforts, Simon decided to invest in improving everyday policing efficiency. 

With a fresh approach towards police visibility and access, Simon shares his counter-cultural decision to go against the grain. As he embarked on his mission to modernize the organization by investing in technology, he also realized the importance of consensus-building and local policing. In his quest to create a learning organization, Simon Byrne has shed light on the significance of After Action Reviews and how he uses principles of big business to stay ahead in the policing game. This insightful episode, packed with Chief Byrne's lessons from his career, is an invaluable source for anyone interested in modern-day policing.

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If you'd like to arrange for facilitated training, or consulting, or talk about steps you might take to improve your leadership and help in your quest for promotion, contact Steve at stephen.morreale@gmail.com

Intro/Outro :

Welcome to The Cop Doc Podcast. This podcast explores police leadership issues and innovative ideas. The CopD oc shares thoughts and ideas as he talks with leaders in policing communities, academia and other government agencies. And now please join Dr Steve Morreale and industry thought leaders as they share their insights and experience on the cop doc podcast.

Steve Morreale:

Well, hello again everybody. This is Steve Morrealei. I'm coming to you today from South Carolina normally from Boston and we are crossing the pond. We're talking to the chief constable at Police Service of Northern Ireland, Simon Byrne. I want to say to you good morning, but over there it's good afternoon. Hello to you, Simon.

Simon Byrne:

Hello. Yes, it's late afternoon here, so good to speak to Steve.

Steve Morreale:

Thank you, and I'm imposing on the beginning of your weekend, so I apologize for that, but so glad you're. So you're speaking to us from headquarters in Belfast, correct?

Simon Byrne:

That's right. Yeah, we're police headquarters just outside the city center.

Steve Morreale:

Great. What I'd like to do is to have you explain to the listeners your history. You've got 40 plus years in policing in different places. And what's so unusual in the United States are people who move from country to country in essence. So talk about you starting at the Met and your trajectory to become a chief.

Simon Byrne:

Okay, well, I've been around policing over four decades so I don't know what sort of label that gives me, but I'll presume others all the side. But I joined the police service in London in 1982, straight from school, which wasn't on typical in those days. It would be highly unusual now. So I left home and pounded the beat on the streets of London in a place called Paddington, if you know, it's just outside the center. It was quite a rundown part of London. In the days I was there I worked in mostly in uniform. Was my work down there at a short period of time it's going to be called big crimes investigations. But if I'm honest it didn't really work out for me. I didn't. I didn't find there was enough to do. So I worked there. And then in 1985, I had to make a decision where, when you look at policing in the southeast of England even now, 40 years on, there's all sorts of challenges aside from the day job around commuting, cost to live in, cost to house, in education. So I decided I either stayed and built a career in London or I sort of obsticte nearer to my roots. So I did that and I joined Merseyside Police, again as a constable in 1985. So I walked a beat on the banks of the famous River Merseyside and then slowly progressed. I did over 20 years in Merseyside Police. So I guess really that's what you said. It was my formative years and I went right through the ranks from, if you like, start level as constable up to what we would call here assistant chief constable. So my time there I worked both in CID I was a detective sergeant. I then sort of went through the uniform ranks. I actually asked for promotions into uniform, which again was probably quite unusual, Went through the ranks there. I was the first police officer seconded to Liverpool City Council in some of the modernization of community safety that went on here in the late 90s. That was a fascinating experience where you learn how a city worked. And then those days we're funny enough we had quite strong links and sort of interest in what was going on in the States. It was the, I think from memory you had sort of the broken window stuff from people like George Kelling and then also the emergence of Jack Maples and crime fighters and all of that.

Steve Morreale:

Well, let me interrupt you for a moment, simon, because imagine what you already did you. And, by the way, we're talking to Simon Bern. He is the chief constable at PSNI in Northern Ireland. But what you just said is fascinating to me. My time in Ireland said sometimes you were years ahead of the United States and other times you were years behind. And so for you to say you're paying attention to what was going on in the States. Was that common I?

Simon Byrne:

think it's very easy to be quite an issue. I was remember there was a guy that you may have interviewed, I don't know. He's Sir Dennis O'Connor, who retired from policing and is working with another famous citizen of the States, larry Sherman, for whose oh yeah, he's in Cambridge.

Steve Morreale:

Yes, Larry.

Simon Byrne:

Yes, yes, yes. So he, I think you know be proved wrong. He's now in Cambridge with Larry.

Steve Morreale:

Yes, he is.

Simon Byrne:

At a different part of my life. I was one of the people that was working with, a guy at the time called Sir Norman Betterson who along with Sir Dennis we were one of the pioneers of what we call neighbourhood policing. And I remember being dispatched to go and see Sir Dennis, who was then the chief of Surrey, which is actually ironically where I was born, and we sort of struck up a professional relationship and I remember one day he'd come up back on a reciprocal visit to Merseyside to see what we were doing and he referenced me a book called Crime Fighters by Jack Maple. He said have you seen this? You need to read it. And lo and behold, I did. I found it sort of it's simplicity and I know sadly he's not with us anymore but I tell the simplicity of what he was talking about was very good. And effectively, when I was then promoted to I suppose what you see as executive level to assistant chief, I imported a lot of his ideas into how we then tackle crime in Merseyside. So in my first year as an assistant chief, crime fell by nearly 20% In Merseyside. It was the biggest single fall in its history. But we did it actually by adapting a lot of that thinking between you. Know, if you look at what Jack Maple has talked about in those days, about how, I think in your phrase, hand handlers and fair jumpers in New York were indicators of other things, and we applied the same thinking. So if you broke little rules, you're likely to broke big rules. And also we embraced the ideas which some people still think are, I suppose, are not sort of controversial, but certainly they attract a lot of inquiry. But the idea of Comstart we embraced. We call it crime fighters in Merseyside, but we do a similar data driven inquiry each month into what was going on in our hotspots and then we'd align tactics and people to address it. So we did learn a lot, I think, from the States and always kept our eyes open. It wasn't me personally, but I remember a colleague. I think there's been some stuff I saw in the press last week about the Boston Shot Spotter and I think the Mayor cut funding for that. But in its day Liverpool did have a problem with gang crime and shootings. So we were looking at not just ideas but technology from the States to see how we could borrow that thinking and adapt it to a British context. So yeah, I think I've always been. You used to phrase at the start say curious. I've always thought I'd be curious about what's going on elsewhere, because you can't have all the ideas yourself.

Steve Morreale:

Yeah, I like to hear that. So again, we're talking to Simon and Simon, some of the things you're saying are truly amazing. I presume that as an assistant chief, when you were bringing these ideas in, you were sort of a lone wolf like what the hell are you talking about? What's wrong with what we're doing now? Did you, did you meet resistance? How do you turn people to say why not just give it a try and we'll test it?

Simon Byrne:

As a pilot, yeah, well, that's a good point. I've just finished writing a chapter on another book that's coming out on police leadership later in the year, so I won't plug it yet because it's a charity book. But it made me reflect on some of my own thinking, because there's a phrase here about that you know the three ways to kill a good idea, so you know it won't work. We've already tried it and all that sort of stuff. So yeah, but yeah, but yeah, you know and you respect the views of people, are gone before you and this is how we do things around here. But you know, my approach was well. Actually, whilst context doesn't always travel and you see that a lot in some of the research around policing doesn't it Just because it did work in New York or Liverpool or London. It doesn't always lift it completely and move it, but we tried to adapt the principles and I always remember, sat in my office in Liverpool one day and I worked for he's now Lord Hogan, how he was Bernard Hogan, how was the chief of Merseyside, and he brought this thing in a philosophy which he had the town called total policing. So he based it on the sort of premise of the Dutch football team of the 1970s. He was a big football fan and this was about how things were adapt and interchangeable across a style of play and he thought you could adapt it to policing. So we introduced a total war on crime, a total care for victims and total professionalism. They were the three planks of his leadership and I can remember effectively I was given the sort of vanguard of the war on crime because I run the operational policing across the six council or unitary areas that make up Merseyside, so most of the uniform officers you'd see on the streets were not all, but most were under my command and I can remember sat in my office one day when he popped in one after a bit like this, a Friday and afternoon for a chat and I said it's interesting, isn't it? We ain't doing bad because we've got lots of tactics and no strategy. So normally when people do things, they see the way around, isn't it? You give your vision, you create a strategic framework and then you deliver. But we actually did it the way around. So we ran up this in terms of some of the things we did. Was this true story? This and some people have been in a similar position, maybe yourself, steve. I applied for the job of assistant chief and you were given a title for presentation the night before the interview by the. What was the police authority? Was the employer in those days? And it was what were you going to do as an assistant chief? To reduce file and crime. And I'm going home and thinking you know, how are you going to be different? How are you going to just stand out? I was kicking these ideas around and I didn't really feel like I was getting purchased in my own head and I thought if I can't convince myself, how am I going to convince an interviewer? And then suddenly I thought, well, hang on, merseyside is, as a part of England where there's a strong interest in football, strong footprint, and we would police football matches to at least twice, sometimes three times a week, and we'd not think twice about mobilizing hundreds of police officers to police a football match. So I thought, well, why don't you apply the same thing to violent crime and mobilize people to fight violence, rather than just leaving it to the routine? And then, as I suppose I overlaid that with when I'm not doing police in the light reading monetary history, so you may have heard of in the Battle of Britain it was towards the end of the Battle of Britain, but tactically then the RAF created something called Big Wing where they mobilized fighters as a big sort of flight of spitfires and hurricanes to tackle the income of German bombers rather than do piecemeal. And so I thought well, why don't we call this mobilization Big Wing? So I pitched for that, we eventually got the job and off we went. So Big Wing became twice a month we would sort of search police officers, I think, in the modern parlance against the theme. So it might be violent crime, licensed premises, it might be domestic abuse, so on and so forth, and that was. We did some research that showed eventually that when we would have a crackdown day you would get two or three days of crime reduction and then any typical month that would reduce your crime by about 5%. When you think about some of the other research you'll see about hot spot patrolling and preventative patrol you know it would chime with. That thing is really, if you think about it, 15 minutes presence in a place usually brings you three or four hours of crime reduction.

Steve Morreale:

I think yeah, it's about presence and fear of being caught or being arrested.

Simon Byrne:

We quickly got intelligence from prisons and the criminal community that they were on the back foot because they didn't quite know when we'd strike at scale next, and that was part of our USP in those days.

Steve Morreale:

So what you're saying too is that's your strategy. You know you had tactics, but you hit it strategically and I understand at least I'm going to assume you didn't go out to these license venues at two o'clock in the afternoon.

Simon Byrne:

You went at night when people were drinking and I went there and we were, you know we would, I suppose, a bit back to what we're saying before about Jack Maples. We were quite aggressive in vertical onwards of using every bit of legislation we could, either through police powers or partner powers, to address some of the most crime-prone places. So, for example, you could use the fire service power to shot, maybe, a licensed premises if the fire escapes were properly maintained or they didn't have the right things in the fire extinguisher. So if you knew you had a aid premises that was causing harm in the community, we did work together collaboratively to say, well, who's got the best means of doing something about it. And again I have to say that that work crime fell across the piece. Antisocial behavior that we call it here fell dramatically and actually the number of people we brought to justice went up. So in a sense everybody won. So it was a healthy period of innovation and we also covered it with a lot of training of people. So it wasn't just do as I say. You were trying to show people where you get ideas and encourage that innovation to keep one step ahead of the game.

Steve Morreale:

So we're talking to Simon Byrne. He is the Chief Constable.

Simon Byrne:

Someone called me that the other day, Commissioner.

Steve Morreale:

Commissioner, I have a friend and that's what we call each other. No, yeah, commissioner. Yes, we're talking to the chief constable of police service of Northern Ireland in Belfast today. It sounds to me, simon, like part of what we were doing, and certainly what we've attempted in the United States to do, is to focus on quality of life, crimes right to nip things in the bud, although there are plenty of critics out there to say, yes, but you're focusing on areas, that where there it's the poor and minority groups, but yet that's where the crime is and that's what you're trying to protect the people who are law abiding in those areas and those who are the rabble rousers to try to stop that from happening. Correct, yeah, well, there's two.

Simon Byrne:

I suppose there's two locales we're talking about. One is across. I mean, I've repeated this approach in particularly in London when I was there, which will probably come onto you. But you've either got places where there's lots of people which generate crime risk just by numbers of people around. So you've probably seen a following some of the stuff in US cities at the moment. So you've got crimes like phones being stolen, street robberies as you're coming out of underground stations, that sort of crime or crime that's largely caused by alcohol, so early hours of the morning, all that stuff. Or, as you quite rightly say, this is one of the terrible ironies, isn't it that where you will see police presence the most and that sometimes causes tension is in communities that tend to be sort of blighted by deprivation, low educational attainment, poor housing, etc. Because the risk of victimisation there actually goes up. So you have got a duty to be present to tackle drug dealing, to tackle some of the other ills there. And often, when you look at the broader history of policing over the last 30, 40 years and both the states and here sometimes policing style particularly whether it's stopping frisk in US, Ireland, so stop, search here does cause tensions with communities. If we don't do it well, then we don't explain why we're doing it and equally we don't get good results. So there were different motives but absolutely you know you go back to. You talked to broken windows before but I would say unequivocally, I could see firsthand how that approach worked and we did sort of transform the tranquility of places in some quite difficult locations. But we turned it round by moving out, burn out cars, dealing with graffiti and vandalism quickly, and to do that it wasn't just a policing purpose. You had to have good relationships with both the community itself because they're often the sort of the sum of information about who's peddling drugs in a locality but also the people you work with, whether it's a housing provider, the people that fix the street lights, the people that remove rubbish from the roads, all that sort of things. It was very much a joint endeavor.

Steve Morreale:

Yeah. So partnerships become very, very, very important. They do, yeah, they come real, yeah. So, simon, one of the, I'm going to fast forward because here you are sitting in Belfast. What the hell are you doing in Belfast? How did that happen? How did that happen?

Simon Byrne:

Well, you know, my predecessor announced his retirement four years ago. A couple of people are new in policing. I said, have you seen there's a job here? Initially I thought, well, I'd only been here once in my life. It came here 20 years ago. Some people watching the podcast may have heard of the pattern reforms and at the time, you know, I actually thought about the curiosity. I went with my old boss to come and see something here because the police service here was the first place in the UK to define a code of ethics and we came over to look at a code of ethics which is, like you know, the standards and framework for behaviour police officers. And then, two decades later, this job comes up and eventually I came over and suddenly the more I looked at it the more interesting it seemed to be. Bit like before. I sort of went for the interview and they appointed me and I don't know whether something about going for jobs, but again, it's a true story that I was in a hotel here the night before the interview and I hadn't been giving a presentation title the same way. But you could work out that from various conversations and the way the interview pack had been put together that the employer was concerned about the visibility of local policing. And I woke up.

Steve Morreale:

generally I was sober, I have to say well, that's a smart way to go into an interview like this.

Simon Byrne:

That's a good start, but I did remember looking at the clock beside your bed. It was the early hours of the morning. I had this image of a seesaw in my head and I got up and scribbled it down and thought, right, that's it. That's my pitch, because I saw here if you look at the history here, obviously Unig service in UK context were fully armed, which is not the comparator. Obviously we were the police service that went through the troubles. So we lost over 300 colleagues killed, a thousand injured, many more carrying mental scars. So there was very much a sense here what the organisation had gone through before the pan reforms. We'd had two decades of reform. But when you got to where I started, it seemed to me I was, if you like, jumping on the train where the destination had been deal with terrorism, deal with organised crime, deal with big events. But actually what the public were telling you, yeah, we get all that, but we actually wanted to answer the phone quickly, we wanted to be more present and visible on the streets and we wanted to show up and do really good neighbourhood policing. So that was my pitch was effectively to rebalance the seesaw. You can't neglect those big issues like tackling terrorism. But actually what the public also wanted to see what was day to day policing routinely done well, and we've done four years of doing that and I think the evidence shows in some of our sort of scissors and approval ratings that we're achieving that, notwithstanding some pretty drastic budget cuts that we're currently going through.

Steve Morreale:

Yeah, and we suffer that in the United States and so many as much as people in politics want a police presence, they don't always seem to want to spend the money for it. There's other places for money, so we suffer with that. But let's talk about your entry into the police service of Northern Ireland, and what I'm curious about, simon, is you walk in. You're an outsider who the? Hell is this guy coming in here, and what does he know about what's going on in Northern Ireland? And so you're beginning I'm assuming, I'm making an assumption and, by the way, we're talking to Simon Byrne, the chief constable at the police service of Northern Ireland today. You must make the rounds, you must have meetings, you must be sitting, you're doing some listening. I'm sure you didn't walk in. I'm assuming you didn't walk in and say this is the way we're going to do it. I presume you are in an exploratory trip for the first little bit. Tell us about that. How did you engage your command staff and engage the players, in other words, your officers and also the community? Talk about your approach.

Simon Byrne:

Well, I suppose there's two bits because actually, once I went to the interview, I was appointed very quickly and actually, although we talk about listening, I think it was my third or fourth day here I had to make what some would say would be a counter-cultural decision to stop us doing something. Had we done it, I think the prevailing view would have been we could have seen serious disorder here. I held out against the tactical options that were given to me all around. Removal of a bonfire, which takes place across the country here around the 11th of July each year, goes back to part of Unionist history here and there was a prevailing view about we should support the council in removing it and I said no. So that was, I suppose, a bit of a shock to the organization, but we got through that.

Steve Morreale:

So let me understand so you were saying, no, let it happen, we'll just control it.

Simon Byrne:

Yes, my fear was because of what we understood at the time. Had we done so, it would risk trigger further violence across the country. And it was ironically because, if you've followed the news from here, we were two weeks away from hosting the Open Golf Championship, which economically was a big draw for tourism, particularly from the States to be quite insured. So the last thing you wanted was images of violence on the television screens two weeks before people making choices that they jump on a plane and come to Northern Ireland. So I was balancing the two risks and we got through that. But you're quite like, more generally, I think there was an eagerness from people to hear what you were going to say. You know that was like well, what is your view? And I remember a bit like this, talking to a respected regional journalist one afternoon and I was setting my stall out and I came here genuinely not thinking. In many places where I'd worked at a senior level before, I guess, looking back, my job was to fix things, and sometimes at pace, because of problems we were dealing with. I didn't think we were coming in here to an organization that was failing and certainly the headline data didn't point to that. I set my stall out here and she just stopped me in my tracks because she turned around and said you're a reformer then, aren't you? I never saw what I was talking about as reform. I just know it was evolution. But it made me think. And you're right, I think there was an. In fairness, you see this sometimes in policing and there's an old colleague of mine, a guy called Professor Ken Pease. He's one of Britain's most eminent criminologists criminologists and. I remember him publishing something a few years ago called Killing the Cubs, and it was an article about a sort of behavior, certainly in this country, where you get a new boss and their first thing to do is throw out all the work of the previous boss so they can put their stamp on things, and it's literally drawn from the idea of when a new line takes over the pride. So I was conscious I wanted to respect the attitudes and the achievements of the past, but equally you knew you weren't hard to stand still. So I did do a lot of listening. I invested a lot of time actually out on the beat, on the front line, with people all over the country Obviously big, diverse political setup here so you were invested in meeting people from the political community. You also had to get out and look at people like faith leaders, some of the broad sports and social groups. So gradually over the first few months I was able to listen and then I started to crystallize it in a pitch to grow neighborhood policing. That was, if you like, my USP. We were going to double the number of police officers to address this lack of visibility, this lack of attention to low level crime across the country and also I defined I call it my ambitions, which might seem a bit egocentric it's not meant to be but I put my stall out and I committed to 10 or so things that internally I was going to do and I know from feedback I've had at the time no one actually believed I would. But one of the key ones here was change the operational uniform. I'm here in my sort of shirt and tie today, but officers on the streets would wear clothes like this. But it doesn't work in a hot climate in a police car with heavy body armor and a firearm. And we changed the operational uniform within 18 months to someone who was formal, lightweight, durable versus tall. So it gave you sort of the ability to say I've committed to do this, I've delivered. It sort of build trust. And similarly that was what we saw in the community and it hasn't been without pitfalls. There've been some occasions where I've been heavily criticized for what I've done, and often what I've done, looking back, was probably driven by ignorance, because there is a rich history here and a lot of sub-politics that can walk into problems if you're not careful.

Steve Morreale:

So clearly, and one of the questions I ask a lot of guests is the missteps that you've made and what you learn with it. But and you just spoke of one I want to ask this question. It is an unusual term that I'm hearing you say you set your stall. Tell me what the hell that means.

Simon Byrne:

Well, just internally set your stall. Probably I don't have as a colloquial phrase here.

Steve Morreale:

No, no, I like it, I like it Tell us.

Simon Byrne:

Well, I suppose it goes back to the old market days of a trader would put on show what they're going to sell you. I agree, that was the phrase. So you know I developed a plan here around three key pillars. So it was grow the organization to 7,500 police officers, because that was a figure buried in the pattern report where he said 20 years ago we needed that number of people to police a peaceful environment here. I also committed to building a digital police service because, as you've seen guests across the globe, technology has changed rapidly but I didn't think we were keeping pace as an organization. So you wanted to invest in equipment for frontline people. And also it was about modernize the estate, because if you come here, I'm a tenant because the buildings here are owned by another body called the policing board, but I sort of, if you like, rent a 200 year old building and then a skill in which is falling into the sand. I also rent nearly 200 porter cabins, temporary buildings which are a legacy of the troubles, and most of our estate is still highly fortified to protect us against attack. Sadly, that was the sort of the need of the time in the 70s and 80s in particular. But the public don't want to see that anymore. So it was a commitment to try and refresh and modernize these states. So, a it looked less austere and B it produced a better environment for the people that have to work in it. So they were the three, the big things we set out to do four years ago.

Steve Morreale:

If someone was to say so how did you do? How are you doing? Where are you on that rail? Are you moving forward?

Simon Byrne:

The term scorecard, isn't it? Well, in a general sense we're a high performing organization so we turn up to emergency calls quickly. We tend to get there under 10 minutes across the country If people some of you will have been to Northern Ireland. But effectively we're not dissimilar in many senses to many counties in England in the sense that we've got urban centers but a lot of it's very rural, so that creates problems of getting there quickly when you've got big geographies to cover. So our attendance and our call-handing is good. Our crime levels are the lowest in the UK per thousand populations. We were actually, we would say, the safest part of the UK, which may be against the narrative that people expect here when you go back to images of the troubles and violence and really horrific crimes. But also in terms of comparisons, certainly with other places in England and Wales. We solve more crime by about two thirds than colleagues in England and Wales. So what we achieve for the public I'm really proud of In terms of the big promises. Well, seven and a half thousand officers, that's not gone so well. So we got that to 7,000 within two years. But we touched upon before the budget cuts. We've gone here. We are being drastically pruned in terms of the amount of money that we're given by the local government. So our number of officers will drop to below 6,000 by probably then the next year, which creates its own problems. Sure, it does. In terms of digital policing, I think we've made-.

Steve Morreale:

Can I stop you for one moment? We'll go to digital in a minute, but I want to talk about recruiting. Are you okay with?

Simon Byrne:

recruiting. No, we stopped. So you go back to if you're a student of pattern. He set out on his team this desire to make the organization more representative. So in its day the issue that was addressed was bring more Catholic officers into the organization, and there was issues there. There's still of interest to people now in policing. We'll call it 50-50 recruitment, where you recruited into a pool and then for every Protestant officer you recruited a Catholic one and it quickly changed the composition of the workforce. So within 10 years it changed from just under 10% to over 30% of the workforce was more Catholic background. What it didn't address was people from other. The global world has changed people from other backgrounds, beliefs, and also never really addressed them were women in the organization directly. So we've had to over time do work to change that.

Steve Morreale:

But also you know that in the United States, what we have done is we've created the Department of Justice and others have created this 30 by 30.

Simon Byrne:

I've seen that yes 30% women by 2030.

Steve Morreale:

And it is beginning to grow, and then organizations sign on, so I just bring that to your attention. It sounds like you already know.

Simon Byrne:

I don't know if it's been on your show yet, but there's no book. Seven Ways to Fix Policing.

Steve Morreale:

Which is Well, that's Kathy O'Toole, yes, O'Toole, yeah, yeah.

Simon Byrne:

Well, obviously Chico wrote that. Well, one of the people that wrote the pattern reports, yeah, I know. I know they imported a lot of ideas from him into that book, which is sat in my home now, so I read it avidly. But you're right, we wanted to change the composition of the workforce and went through that. But clearly the risk of not recruiting, it also risks that you're not going to attract people in the medium term that share your thinking in terms of being more representative and progressive. But in the middle, digital policing has gone quite well. The vision there was to equip frontline people with the sort of technology you'd have in your pocket now. So, whether it was a phone device that connected to four systems, or business systems, or a durable laptop because you know, things in policing get broken rapidly- yes, they do. And again there's I don't know it's exactly groundbreaking, but serendipity. I suppose was early 2020. We had some spare money and I remember saying to people that ran the budget well, why don't we bring forward our plans to bring laptops into the organization of various types? So yeah, we can do that and we bought a few thousand Wow Are those all the data terminals.

Steve Morreale:

They're in the cars.

Simon Byrne:

Well, initially we didn't fix them into the cars, we'd more fix them to the people. Yes, there are many years and it's probably a bit of a tricky one, because obviously COVID was an awful time for all sorts of reasons, but we were hit like anywhere else. But we survived operationally because, lo and behold, we have thousands of laptops which enabled us to collapse the organization within a matter of days. Have we not had them? I do wonder how we'd have kept operating with them. I mean, so I can remember going to our like our big IT warehouse where there was almost a production line of people opening boxes, loading up software and then giving them out and people. You'll have other contributors on your podcast talking about program management and big change programs and behavioral change to get people to adapt how they work. But it happened here within weeks because of COVID and we now still reap the benefits of hybrid working for the people that can do that. Obviously, the people that can't are the offices in a 24-7 patrol response vehicle, but a lot of back office services. Even our call handling we distributed across the country, so non-urgent calls were answered from people's homes, if there were safeguards about calls not being overheard and all that sort of thing. So we actually got through that unique time pretty well and service levels didn't drop. So that was a bounce. But now every frontline officer will have access immediate access to information and to data two ways and we've got further plans over the next couple of months to sort of introduce things like talk to type and other ideas about.

Steve Morreale:

Oh yeah, ai is changing an awful lot and, Simon, what I'm hearing from you too and I want to ask this question as resistant as police departments are called that we are against change. I think we're so nimble in a lot of ways and I think COVID helped the question I have for you as an organization and you are a national organization do some of the things you change? Did they take hold? For example, you just said that sometimes just responsiveness from the police department is acceptable to the public. In other words, if I call you, you can't send somebody, but you call and take my report. I'm satisfied with that. Can I report certain crimes that are passed online? Yes, exactly. Okay, so that's something that you began in the digital changes, so talk about that Well.

Simon Byrne:

Personally, our standards of service here I think, in fairness to people who do a great job are high. So you'll get a good triage in a call center compared to my experience in England and Wales, and I'm not sort of having to go at one or the other, but we will still deploy people in quite a preventative sense. So you'll get an officer who will attend a crime in your home, but if needs be, we will send a forensic officer and we will also follow up with specialist crime prevention advice. You don't always see that in other parts of the UK. So I think, as a citizen, you do actually get a good service from us. We're having to adapt, so a bit like the way banking is changed or other online services as we shrink, one of the things we've got to look at is what more can you do, either online or desktop, over the phone or by live chat and social media? So we are looking at be a few weeks, I think, if it all comes to fruition, we're unveiling what we're calling our digital police station, so improving this. This is an offer about how you contact us, because, as you know yourself, I mean you can sit at home on an app right around the clock these days and order anything from a takeaway meal to a new car. Why can't you do the same with policing? So we're trying to bring that same experience to people.

Steve Morreale:

I didn't mean to cut you off, but I liken it to the change in the medical world that now you can talk to a doctor or a nurse practitioner Telemedicine why not telepolicing, yeah?

Simon Byrne:

exactly, and sometimes, as you know, you've got to go because you need to apprehend offenders or you need to preserve evidence. But if in other cases crime has happened and all that's gone well, you can probably well do it as effectively and more conveniently to the person suffered the crime if you're there at a time to suit them rather than us. So it is something we're actively looking at.

Steve Morreale:

That's amazing. I'm so glad to hear that we're talking to Simon Byrne. He is the chief constable at the police service of Northern Ireland and he is in headquarters at Belfast today. Simon, one of the things I'm hearing thank you for sharing and taking time out of your busy, busy schedule I'm hearing the modernization of policing. It used to be the Royal Ulster Constabulary, now it's the police service of Northern Ireland. You've made changes over 20 years. You've been there for four years. Can you take us into a meeting today, this week, as staff meeting, command staff meeting, and tell me how you are dealing with crime but, more importantly, about the moving in the modernization of PSNI? What are the questions that come? Do you lead by questions?

Simon Byrne:

Well sometimes, but you also lead by consensus. So you can either go down the word of my way or the by way Sometimes maybe I would say in a crisis, but you have to be directive and some people actually welcome that style of leadership. Just tell me what to do and I'll go and do it. I would prefer to operate in a way where, as you said earlier, you do maybe do your job to pitch ideas, not all the time, but to listen, to test them, to say people can challenge you thinking because you don't want group thinking. I reflect back when we have had problems in my time here. Many times it's because of group think and no one's been saying hang on a minute, have you thought of how that will look from this perspective? So it is about building consensus. It is about sticking to the plan. So quite early on, when I came here, we developed a framework for the future which we call Horizon 2025, which we're refreshing at the moment and we set out we didn't have very much of a strategic focus here. To be quite truthful, there wasn't. It sounds a bit boring in business life, but we didn't have many strategies that were set out a direction around people finance, digital fleet crime fighting. So we built that. So we've now got the architecture to help us make decisions. We've agreed principles by which we make decisions. So it is about a style of leadership that's collaborative and about listening, but also about developing people as well. So I think a legacy of a good leader is can you leave people behind you that you've brought on through the system, that you've maybe shared some of your own reflections and learnings, but, you see, people thrive in your time.

Steve Morreale:

And what I find in talking to so many people across the world is that you realize, when you're in a position like you are, in essence your job is to move the organization forward, but again to leave people who can carry on the legacy beyond you. So it's no longer about Simon or Steve, it's about the people around you in developing.

Simon Byrne:

You're absolutely right. I mean, I've said for years in the senior roles that I've had that leadership should be more than about the culture, personality, so that when I do leave here, someone doesn't take all the signs down and all the emblems of Simon and change the whole lot and go completely in direction.

Intro/Outro :

There will never do.

Simon Byrne:

There'll be things where fresh thinking will say why we're still doing that. But broadly, I think one of the things that we've cemented here actually is the fact that local policing whichever label you're put on it, be it community policing, neighbourhood policing is the bedrock of how we want to operate here, because any part of the country here there was almost an insatiable request for police visibility and police access, which has got to be a really good thing given some of the history here where we've seen some really difficult times. But that basic truth of seeing an officer walking on the beat or we just invested in the e-bikes here because it's hilly On a bike, it goes down really well, it creates that conversation point just can open doors literally to information about what's going on in local.

Steve Morreale:

Sure, you're not shrouded in a metal machine. You're right there.

Simon Byrne:

No, you're not going past 50 miles an hour, the lights flashing and everything. You are part of that community and it does go down well.

Steve Morreale:

Yeah, that's terrific. So let's talk a little bit about and we're winding down because I know you've got to jump off at some point soon, but talk about training and what you have done in terms of training. It's not a problem, but the concern that I always have is the knee-jerk reaction to many politicians and no offense to the politicians is let's just get them training. And the poor people who are doing the job is why need to be a subject matter expert on this and this and this and this and this? And the reason you're not doing it right is because of training. But training becomes important. Talk about your view of training and what's going on there.

Simon Byrne:

Well, firstly, you make some great points to you because I suppose summarizing listen to what you're saying. There's one of these circular debates in policing, isn't it? Are we generalists or specialists? If you were the front line officer at nine o'clock tonight, how organization of you are you supposed to know everything, or is it okay, you just know that bit? So I think that's the first question to resolve, which I don't think anywhere, in my personal view, in police, enough seeing people entirely get right, because policing I think of you know we talked to the start of the podcast of walking the beat in Paddington 40 years ago policing was far more binary. You know, you were there to enforce the law. Literally it was patrol and arrest or patrol and report for prosecution. So all the sophistication you're getting out wasn't there. So we're asking our frontline people to make far more nuanced decisions against a whole range of information. So we ask a lot of them, but I think there's some. There's some elements of training for me, if you're trying to describe it in a sense, because you've got formal training to do stuff you need to do if you're like occupationally well, to keep you safe. So protect yourself here is carry and be able to far as far on drive safely, you know, at speed and all that sort of stuff. So you've got that side of training which is occupation relevant. Then you've got training to quickly for specialist issues. But what we try to do here we're not finished yet, but I think in this part of the world we could benefit from stronger links with academia. We touched briefly before on, you know, evidence based policing. I think there's probably more we could do here. We have a police college or police academy, call it what you will. I think it's outlook has been traditional and we've just hired a new head of organizational development here. So I've been saying to her that I want to create, if you like, faculties, a bit like a university would have. So you'd have an operational faculty where you do your practical tactical training, a naval faculty, a crime faculty you can see how it goes. But also I think sometimes there's the formal stuff. You get a course, you get accreditation for things, which is important terms of standards, similarity of tactics and also to be able to defend things when things go wrong. But I also believe strongly in coaching and I go further than that. I go back to my early experiences in emergency time. We talked about crime fighting and bringing crime down there. But people see sometimes CompSTAT as being quite an aggressive way of managing your business. You know how to account for why were there two robberies on that block or in that?

Steve Morreale:

estate. Now, why haven't you solved them yet? Great, great, great. All that stuff.

Simon Byrne:

But I think data and insight is a start, but actually when you do it well, you actually sort of slowly showing people the questions you should be asking. So it's not like just because I know why, don't you know, but you're trying to say if you put the constituent elements of a crime you talked something briefly before about risk, but crime prevention thing will tell you you need a motivated offender, sort of a vulnerable victim and something they want. So the tradeoff between on the situational triangle, so it's always a tradeoff. So you're trying to educate people and then, certainly in places I've worked in the past, you've also complimented by an inspection regime that would do that in more depth. But again, some people find that I'm being caught out and being found out. I prefer to look at it and know we're slowly teaching you the questions to ask and you touched upon before about how you make things enduring, and I think it's by doing stuff like that. It does go beyond just because the certain boss says you start to educate your middle rank people. This is how you make sure you're dealing with turning around forensic the yield quickly or you're reducing violence and somebody's home by these tactics, and I think so. Training is more about the formality. It's also about coaching, it's also about good briefing and then the measurement regime. That goes over the top of it to me.

Steve Morreale:

That's interesting. We're talking to Simon Bern and he is the head honcho at Police Service of Northern Ireland. I'm very, very gratified to have you here. I think about the value of reflection. You know how do you do. What could you have done better? Something? We don't do an awful lot at the United States. However, I think what you're suggesting is it's better off for the training that is not so tactical, where we develop better critical thinking skills and develop better judgment.

Simon Byrne:

Yeah, I think obviously sometimes time eludes you when you're trying to make decisions at haste in a dynamic situation. But even in my experience here I can remember sitting and I wasn't running it technically but you run the where where split-second decisions about, y ou know, been deploying quite potentially harmful tactics to reduce disorder. Yes, that's not a decision taken lightly, but you haven't got long to make your mind up about the rights and wrongs of doing it. So you will have your tactical sort of rationale. You have the legal constituency that you know. Is it lawful to do it? Does it reflect one of the important parts of policing here, which we're very much an organization that tries to reflect a human rights approach so we can sit in the European sense or the art of all sort of framework that go with. Is it really necessary, is it legal, is it proportional, all those things. But also, I do think, when you've got more space about encouraging debrief, learning, reflective practice and some honesty and you've touched on me before there are occasions here where certainly personally, I've got things wrong, I've said the wrong thing and I think part of surviving that, if you will, is about being able to be honest with people. I did get it wrong. Show some humility, yeah.

Steve Morreale:

I admit it, and then I'm learning from it.

Simon Byrne:

Yes, get back on the horse, as you were, and keep going, but do it. Yeah, I get that now I won't be there again, but actually the bigger mission is over here, so can we get back with the business? Yeah, I think that's great.

Steve Morreale:

So a couple of questions just to wind down. First of all, when I use the term warrior versus guardian, yeah, where should the police service of Northern Island be?

Simon Byrne:

Well, that's a very real debate in the States, isn't it? Yes, is it? Warrior cops and guardians and high and low policing and all that stuff? I think inevitably it's a bit of both. I prefer to be more on the guardians base because you can probably tell by some of my conversations today that if you equate guardianship with visible, local, caring policing, I think the more you can do of that stops you having to be the warrior. But inevitably policing sometimes is about conflict, and sometimes very violent conflict, either between people which you've got to stop, or actually towards the police yourself. So you need to equip people with the skills, the training and the equipment to deal with harm. But also, I think, the enduring bit of policing, when you get back to the whole question about why do we even exist and why do we need to equip that and legitimacy and state power from and all that bigger thinking about purpose. I think if I was back to my seesaw, if I could choose, I'd be a third warrior, two thirds guardian or something in that range.

Steve Morreale:

That's a great way to describe it. Thank you for that. After action reviews are they important?

Simon Byrne:

Yes, they are because A nothing goes over the ghost of plan, isn't it that old phrase of no pansevis, contact, all that stuff? So I think it's, for example, here every summer it is busy for us in terms of some of the traditional things that we police here, but at the end of every summer we debrief how we've done to say, well, actually those things worked in terms of style, tactics, command, but those things we could do better. So we do try and encourage that reflective learning and we will be launching here our evidence-based policing approach in a few weeks as well, which is something we haven't sort of signed.

Steve Morreale:

Well, and I see that Bruce O'Brien I don't know if you know of him, but he's an assistant chief from down at New Zealand and he ran that, but he's now in England. So, yeah, he may be somebody to chat with, but it sounds to me like what you're trying to do is create a learning organization, which is amazing.

Simon Byrne:

Yes, yes, I think it's important because it's how I mean, how you keep things fresh, isn't it? I mean I just sometimes it fascinates me how, when you come out of policing, how businesses survive, but you don't survive by just signing up to the status quo, do you? And if you're looking for fresh ideas and you're constantly reviewing where you're out because the market around you is moving so quickly. So, whilst there's a huge debate for another podcast about the privatization of policing and all that security agenda, why don't we apply some of the thinking of big business to how we're going to police? Because you know we enjoy monopoly here largely, but if you don't stay ahead of the game, I think our commodity isn't necessarily an iPhone, but our commodity is trust, and if you don't stay ahead of it, that's when you're just losing the trust of the public, which derives consent and cooperation. So I think it's really important.

Steve Morreale:

Well, for the formal part of the podcast. That is the great way to end, but I have one more question. One more question. If Simon had the opportunity to talk to somebody famous here or no longer here, whose brain would you like to pick?

Simon Byrne:

John Lennon.

Steve Morreale:

No, you're telling me about that. Is that the Liverpool in you?

Simon Byrne:

Well, it's partly the Liverpool in me, I suppose, well I didn't really discover the Beatles till I was in the late teens. I just think I mean it's obviously somebody that died in the States and in tragic circumstances, but I just thought he was. He was always somebody that was a complex character and I suppose you know, when you listen to some of the things that you now understand about the man in a modern sense, there may have been questions about some of the things he did. He was also, to me, a very honest person. He was reflective himself when you looked at some of his stuff and he expressed his reflection and his feelings and his songs and I, you know I still quote them here. You know sort of I think the one for policing is. Nobody told me there'd be days like these, which was a song I think released after he died, but it seems to define a lot of what we do.

Steve Morreale:

Yeah, that's great. And to hear your accent and to hear I can hear John Lennon coming out of you a little bit. So maybe a little bit, it may be a little bit. So we have been so lucky to talk to the big shot at Police Service of Northern Ireland, Simon Byrne. Thank you so much for joining us.

Simon Byrne:

Okay, well, thank you, steve. It's been great to share some of those things and reflections and, who knows, we may appear again in a little while.

Steve Morreale:

You never know, I would love a second opportunity. So that's it. Another episode of The CopDoc Podcast is in the can. We've been talking across the pond Police Service of Northern Ireland with Simon Byrne, who is the Chief Constable. Thank you for everything and we look forward to other episodes in the future. Thanks for listening.

Intro/Outro :

Thanks for listening to The CopDoc Podcast with Dr Steve Morreale. Steve is a retired law enforcement practitioner and manager, turned academic and scholar from Worcester University. Please tune into The CopDoc Podcast for regular episodes of interviews with thought leaders in policing.

Police Leadership and Innovations in Conversation
Implementing Innovative Policing Strategies
Chief Constable's Journey in Northern Ireland
Approach and Achievements in Policing
Modernizing Policing and Leadership Training
The Importance of After Action Reviews

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