CHIEF Constable Chris Sims has spoken of his honour at serving the West Midlands public as he prepares to step down after more than six years at the helm on Saturday (January 9).
In his final interview before retiring, Mr Sims reflects on guiding the force through turbulent financial times, overseeing a ground-breaking modernisation plan, and his optimism for the future of policing in the West Midlands.
Recent reports from the national police watchdog − Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) − have rated West Midlands Police as ‘outstanding’ in its preparation for policing to 2020 and beyond.
And Mr Sims firmly believes the force is on course to become the best in the country as he hands over the reins to his current deputy Dave Thompson.
“It’s been a huge privilege to lead the force through six challenging years,” said Mr Sims, who’s seen crime in the West Midlands fall by 16 per cent during his time as Chief Constable.
“There is a natural leadership cycle in big organisations and when I announced my decision to retire earlier this year I knew the time was right to move on − and for the force to benefit from a fresh impetus. I have every confidence West Midlands Police is on a path to being the finest police force in the country.”
Mr Sims’ tenure at the top was dominated by the financial challenges imposed on UK police forces in the Government’s 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review that required West Midlands Police to make cuts of around £130-million in five years.
His response was a wholesale efficiency and modernisation drive − including a private sector partnership with Accenture − that has been hailed by police watchdogs as a benchmark for effective policing in austere times.
The force was one of just five considered ‘outstanding’ by HMIC for delivering innovative modernisation measures while cutting crime and keeping a high profile in communities. It concluded the cuts had been achieved without hampering the force’s focus on preventative policing, disrupting organised crime, tightly managing known offenders, or meeting its emergency response times.
And earlier this year the 57-year-old − awarded the OBE in 2003 and Queen’s Police Medal in 2010 for “distinguished police service” − outlined a programme of work designed to change the face of policing in the West Midlands by 2020.
The WMP2020 plan features a raft of new technology projects including body-worn cameras for cops, police IT enabled smartphones so officers can work on the move and not anchored to stations, and new digital ways for the public to contact the force.
“I’ve been asked whether I feel short-changed by austerity and whether it’s inhibited my time as Chief Constable,” added Mr Sims.
“I don’t think it has: most decisions I made were not driven by savings but by a determination the force needed to be more agile and digitally capable when fighting and preventing crime.
“The funding cuts made it all more pressing, forcing our hand somewhat, and made some of the decisions harder. But we would have made a lot of the changes anyway, irrespective of the fiscal climate, in order to modernise and work more closely with partners and the public.”
Mr Sims cites West Midlands Police’s efforts to swiftly restore order to the streets following the 2011 riots as among his proudest moments − and ranks the investigation into race killer and mosque bomber Pavlo Lapshyn as another highlight.
Lapshyn was caught in 2013 following a painstaking enquiry that saw detectives trawl tens of thousands of hours of CCTV to piece together the Ukrainian student’s movements and link him to the three bomb blasts.
Mr Sims, added: “That investigation embodied all that is good about West Midlands Police: standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our diverse communities, fantastic detective work, and good old-fashioned neighbourhood policing with officers knocking on doors until they came across Lapshyn’s place of work.”
Mr Sims left Oxford University in 1980 with a degree in modern history before joining the Met Police in London. Having risen through the ranks he transferred to Staffordshire Police as a Superintendent in 1994 and was promoted to Assistant Chief Constable of West Midlands Police four years later.
In 2003 he became Deputy Chief Constable and, following a stint as Director of Policing Policy at the National Policing Improvement Agency, became Chief Constable of Staffordshire Police in 2007.
He returned to the West Midlands in June 2009 as Chief Constable.
He now plans a brief hiatus before aiming to return to policing in a senior leadership role in the New Year.
He added: “I will miss the people and being at the heart of the big issues that affect people’s lives in the West Midlands – and hopefully influencing in a positive way.
“I intend to recharge the batteries for a while because as Chief Constable you never really switch off; I’m looking forward to that but don’t want to be away from policing for too long.
“I’m delighted Dave Thompson is taking over the helm.
“The continuity, with him stepping up from Deputy Chief Constable, will undoubtedly make for a smooth transition. He is a man of vision and I have every confidence the force will go from strength to strength under his direction.”
Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson described Mr Sims as “an outstanding public servant” who has “devoted his life to protecting the security and safety of the public”.
He added: “Chris Sims has served the West Midlands with distinction and given over 30 years of devoted service as an officer. I wish him all the best for the future.”