Shadowing Martin Tiplady, Metropolitan Police HR director: On the beat

Tiplady begins his rounds in Southwark Police Station, where he meets chief superintendent Wayne Chance. A Met veteran of 22 years, but with just five months’ experience as borough commander in Southwark, Chance is obviously delighted to have the chance to share his thoughts.

Chance is responsible for more than 1,400 staff, 930 of them officers. He regards Southwark as the best borough in the Met – its central location means that many officers see it as a university of policing, where they will come to get a good grounding in the basics.

While this is flattering, it also has a downside – officers who find their feet at Southwark, and then decide to become detectives, tend to head elsewhere for specialist experience. Few of them come back, leaving the borough with inexperienced detectives. As the day goes on, it becomes increasingly apparent that career progression is of huge importance to Met staff – it comes up at every level of meeting Tiplady attends.

The Met is transforming its HR function, at the expense of 330 HR jobs. The launch is running what Tiplady calls “a low level of months” late, and he is keen to hear how the boroughs feel about the changes. Chance says that his employees’ only real worry is the potential impact on the workload of front-line supervisors, and he doesn’t anticipate any concerns from the ground floor level. As for the HR transformation, it should save an estimated £15m a year, but Tiplady can’t say at the moment whether the money saved will be reinvested in front-line policing.

This one-to-one chat in Chance’s office is followed by a meeting with Southwark’s senior management team, few of whom Tiplady has met before. He is keen to get their honest views, and starts by asking what the HR team should be concerned about. The worry about the detective brain drain resurfaces. Tiplady acknowledges the problem, but says that there is “no one panacea”, and points out that there is a national shortage of detectives – the situation is by no means unique to the Met.

Like Chance, the senior management team members are nervous about the upcoming HR transformation, with chief inspector Carron Schusler concerned that centralisation will cause more paperwork and a worst-case scenario of staff being taken off the streets to deal with it. But Tiplady is unfazed by the forceful questioning, and talks the team through what his department will do to facilitate the cultural change needed if the transformation is to succeed. He deals calmly with concerns over maternity pay, feedback given following applications for promotion, and staffing levels. He’s running late, so the meeting comes to an abrupt but good-natured end, with Schusler telling Tiplady that she looks forward to seeing him in two years’ time, to tell him that he was right about the HR transformation.

After a quick visit to Southwark’s HR department – Wayne Chance asked Tiplady to thank the team for their recent efforts – we make our way to Walworth Police Station. We visit the uncharacteristically quiet custody suite before heading to the canteen (speciality: Vindaloo-filled jacket potatoes) – oddly for an HR professional, Tiplady also has overall responsibility for catering at the Met – for the final meeting of the afternoon, with theSafer Neighbourhoods Team.

Tiplady sits down at a table with a group of police officers and police community support officers (PCSOs), all of whom have questions prepared for him. Their issues range from ill-maintained equipment to the single-patrol policy (where officers patrol alone) and the perceived politicisation of the Met.

Cop Gear: Police driving school

The Metropolitan Police puts 2,500 drivers a year through their paces at the police driving school in Hendon, north London. Personnel Today sub-editor Nadia Williams steps away from her computer for a day to join them.

Tearing through country lanes at 120 miles per hour in hot (simulated) pursuit of the ‘criminal’ ahead, we watch our subject pulling away. Siren blaring and adrenaline racing, my natural instinct is to screech ahead and block him in. To my frustration, my instructor, PC Craig Denham, does the exact opposite, easing off the vehicle altogether as we head onto the dual carriageway.

Far from letting the baddie escape, however, he is “flushing” him towards officers further along the road, who can then slow the vehicle down in a more controlled manner, perhaps with a road block, or by using ‘stingers’ to puncture his tyres and bring him to a halt.

Back at base in Hendon, my instincts fare no better on the skidpan, where my frantic attempts to stop spinning round in circles and avoid hitting the wall fail.Counter-intuitively, as my instructor explains, you are actually supposed to steer “into” the skid, not away from it, to stay in control. As my efforts show, re-programming students’ thinking is one of the biggest challenges Met driving instructors face.

All students are trained in ‘live’ road conditions within the London area, giving them the most realistic training available. The 20 courses equip student drivers with the knowledge and skills required for effective operational deployment in one of the busiest cities in the world, and the ability to handle such high-octane situations safely and calmly – unlike me. You will be relieved to know I didn’t pass.

The key interrogator is a young police officer called Miles. His notebook has several pages of questions. He knows that this may be his only chance to grill his HR director, and he clearly intends for Tiplady to make the most of it. He wants to know why his radio doesn’t always work when he’s on patrol. He’s concerned that the training policy means that identikit officers are being churned out. And he’s frustrated that there aren’t enough computers to go round. His colleagues are equally blunt in their line of questioning.

Tiplady answers everything thrown at him, taking down names and arranging to look into specific complaints. He enjoys the enthusiasm of this group, and understandably so – for whatever their concerns, they are all obviously dedicated to the Met and the part they play within it.

Given the scale of the organisation, and the number of individuals involved, it’s inevitable that the Met at times appears beleaguered. In the past year alone, it has had to face accusations of front-line job cuts, institutional racism, police brutality during the G20 protests, and several officers apparently earning more than £100,000 in overtime pay. But Tiplady, after almost eight years in the job, seems to relish the HR challenges – particularly the opportunity to find out what makes his people tick.

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