GMP's new chief constable bans officers having visible tattoos while on duty

GMP's new chief constable has vowed he will quit if it is not in a “demonstrably better place” within two years, while also immediately imposing a ban on officers displaying tattoos while on duty.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 2:42 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th May 2021, 2:44 pm

Straight-talking Stephen Watson made the bold statement in his first week in charge of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) which is effectively in “special measures” after a damning watchdog report revealed the force had failed to properly record 80,000 crimes.

Mr Watson, 52, has a reputation for turning around failing forces after he oversaw marked improvements in his last job as chief constable of South Yorkshire Police.

One policy he introduced at South Yorkshire will be carried over to GMP – the banning of officers having visible tattoos while on duty.

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Chief Constable Watson

He said: “I don’t think the public are ready for cops with tattoos on their faces, on their necks, all over their hands. So those things I’m afraid are incompatible with service in the force.

“If you have got tattoos all over your arms, well you are just going to be issued free of charge with a long-sleeved shirt and you have just got to cover it over.”

In an interview with the PA news agency on Thursday he also explained why he would not have a social media presence.

He said: “The public pay me to be a really good policeman, they do not pay me to be a wannabe celebrity and they really don’t give a toss whether I eat granola for my breakfast or not. And I don’t do virtue signalling.

“They (the public) don’t really care about me as an individual and I’m happy with the arrangement.”

Previous GMP chief constable Ian Hopkins stepped down in December after Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said he asked him to resign in the wake of the scathing report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

Mr Watson said: “The assurance I have given, and it’s not an easy ask but nonetheless it’s the least the public can expect, is that all crime reported to us will be faithfully recorded and will be properly investigated.

“We will investigate it to the satisfaction of the victim, and when they are vulnerable they will be safeguarded, and even when we cannot solve a problem or detect a crime the public should be left with the distinct impression that we have tried our very best in every case.”

He said that would also involve not screening out “minor crimes in the panoply of crime”.

Mr Watson said: “I think in those circumstances we miss the point frankly. It’s not about the category into which a crime falls, it is the impact of the crime on the victim.

“If you are somebody who has your car stolen but you need that to get to your weekly dialysis, that’s a big deal. If you are a workman whose job depends on the tools of your van, that’s a really big deal. And we ought to be reflective of the significance of these things.”

Overall, he said he wants to see GMP return to “doing the basics brilliantly” and in the short term fix the “lack of clarity about the strategic direction of the force”.

He said: “GMP is too good to be in the position that it is in. The difference between the GMP of today and the GMP that better reflects the aspirations and the quality of our people is leadership and if I can’t pull it off I’ve no business being here and somebody else needs to come and do it.

“But I am going to pull it off because I am surrounded by thousands of really good people who really want to make a difference.

“If within two years this force is not in a demonstrably better place I’ll have gone.”

The “old-fashioned qualities” are also important to father-of-two Mr Watson as he explained his tattoo policy.

He said: “The fact of the matter is I make no judgments about tattoos and people are permitted to do whatever they want, it’s a free country. However I do think it important that we have a uniform standard and that we have an appearance that is common.

“It’s part and parcel of being smart and professional. I also want people to polish their shoes, tie their hair back, I want them to keep themselves fit, I want them to be punctual and polite, and all of those old-fashioned qualities that are the hallmarks of a first-class police officer.”

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