Heroes to Villains

Like many, my thoughts are with all those affected by the terrible event on Wednesday 22nd March 2017 when a cowardly and selfish man killed four people and injured many others. Some of those injured may never fully recover and the lives of many will have changed forever by the actions of one individual.

As ever, the Police service were at the forefront of the incident and ran towards the danger whilst moving others away and shielding some from the attack. Standing between society and this type of evil cost one Police officer his life and three others were victims on Westminster Bridge when they were run over after attending a commendation ceremony. The conduct and actions of the officers at the Palace of Westminster and on Westminster Bridge, were rightly recognised and reported as being heroic and representative of Policing in the UK. They upheld the finest traditions of the service and the swiftness and professionalism of the response was acknowledged and praised almost across the board.

There was genuine shock and horror amongst most of society and the outpouring of gratitude and thanks to the thin blue line was extremely welcoming and needed. I spoke with many officers working there after the attack and they were all genuinely moved by the show of Public support but also devastated by the loss of one of their own.

Public Perception

The danger is that people may start to really believe what they see and read in the press, some of these reports quickly become the accepted account of what happened regardless of whether there are any facts contained in the story. These stories or reports are frequently opinion based and may contain conjecture from many who have an issue with policing. The public reaction this week shows that the majority do support their Police and are grateful for the work that is done. They understand the sacrifices being made, the long hours being worked and the fact that it remains a very dangerous profession with the unexpected or occasionally terrifying incident likely to require Police to step forward and deal.

Police reaction        

This continual negativity has an understandable effect on the Police service and there are very few weeks go past without some form of critical report. Within a day of Wednesdays attack there were already debates and discussions around the extraction of the Prime Minister from the Palace of Westminster and whether her Police security team had made mistakes. The overall issue of security and why Police officers at the entry gates were not armed was questioned and was this another Police error? There were also questions about why the acting Commissioner was not speaking to the press and why he had left the scene of the attack. He was reportedly a `significant` witness and had been present as the attack at the gates of Westminster took place. In the last day, more footage has emerged and questions raised about a gate being left unguarded whilst officers ran to the aid of their dying colleague. It took just one day for the critics to resurface and start minutely examining every action by Police during the attack.

Assessment

Mobile phone footage taken by people hiding in offices whilst being protected by Police, emerged from a couple of sources with their commentary highlighting the `errors` identified by these instant security experts. If you wanted to be hyper critical, and knowing the Police service and those involved I know they will be, there are a couple of points that could have been better. The car for the Prime Minister could have had the driver ready and waiting but again, it looked like the back-up car was ready to go hence the slight movement in that direction first. In any event throughout that evacuation, she was under control and safe with her team around her ready to confront any attack from any direction. These officers are from the same department as the protection officers that moved forward and dealt with the attacker so quickly and effectively.

The question about easy access for the attacker through the gates was also raised. There used to be a fixed armed post on the entry gates but my understanding now is that it was removed a couple of years ago, due to cuts in the Police resources. It was also felt by many working at the Palace of Westminster that it was not the image they wanted to portray and having a gun toting Police officer on the entry gate looked oppressive. That is why the officers on that gate were unarmed and not because of a policing error but from a change in policy, influenced no doubt by the views from Westminster. There will no doubt be an intensive review of security and probably a return to the armed post that seemed to be effective in previous years.

The acting Commissioner was a significant witness but he is also a very important figurehead and his presence in the midst of a crime scene would have been more of a hindrance than a help. His protection team did the right thing to remove him as quickly as they did.

Lastly, the issue of the unattended gates and remember one of the officers posted to those gates was now lying fatally injured in the courtyard with his colleagues ensuring the threat had been dealt with. They would also have been assessing any further threat whilst rushing to provide emergency first aid to the officer and the suspect who had been shot. In situations like these you must prioritise and they would have been aware of the gates and ready to deal if another attack took place. Their priority was now emergency first aid whilst assessing any further threats which would have included the gates being open. An armed response vehicle was on scene within seconds and would also have been able to deal should the open gate pose an additional threat. It was closed just over a minute later and at no time escalated as a potential threat.

I could write so much more on every single aspect but it is indicative of the agenda by some in this country to look for criticism in policing at literally every opportunity. The Met seemed to go from heroes to villains in some peoples` eyes overnight and I imagine the possibility of further criticism of the Police and security services has not vanished as we learn more about the attacker and his life. No doubt, someone somewhere should have read and assessed him as being capable of this action and predicted this would take place.

My real concern is the lack of balance in some reporting and the effect this continual `police bashing` has on the public and the very officers tasked to protect society. To me, Police officers are heroes every day in dealing with everything society demands of them. The villains are those who have the luxury of being able to criticise without ever having to face the situations Police officers deal with. If you see a Police officer over the next few days go up and thank them for their work, I know it will make a difference to their day and restore their faith in the public.

The Three P`s – Perilous Precipice of Policing

When I first joined the Police we were warned about the three P`s. They were highly likely to get us in trouble and we should be very careful and cautious in dealing with them. They were Prisoners, Property and Prostitutes and although I doubt current front line officers have much to do with the last one, the first two are still areas of concern for most Police officers.

Today, the HMIC have published their own report highlighting `areas of concern` for Policing and identified 13 forces who require improvement and one that was assessed as inadequate, out of a total of 43 Police forces. The media and possibly the government will use this as a negative to indicate failings in policing and the `perilous` state it is in. There are clearly improvements to be made and some failings that need to be addressed but out of 43 forces 29 were found to be good or outstanding. If that was my childs` school report I would be very happy but maybe that’s taking a positive approach as opposed to looking for the negative and yet another opportunity to attack policing. Two thirds of Police forces are good or outstanding and that’s on the back of the most stringent budget and resource cuts ever seen in Policing. Police forces are also being judged against their performance in times when they had more officers and money to fight crime and deal with victims. It is true to say though, that Policing is indeed in a perilous state and facing its own precipice.

Perilous

Let’s look at the new three P`s & the perilous state of policing. I would agree that overall the situation could be described as perilous when you look at the cuts in budgets and resources and the increased threat that will bring to society. The public are being put at greater risk than ever before because we have less Police officers available to protect them or answer their emergency calls. Policing has become a reactive service where the officers spend the majority of every working day, going from call to call and just reporting incidents. There is little time to investigate or empathise with your victims or offer them what we may view as a reasonable service.  The Police are fast becoming firefighting crime fighters with little or no time available to either prevent or detect crime and that inevitably means crime will rise and suspects will escape or evade detection.

The lack of experienced or properly trained and equipped detectives, means detection is likely to fall and persons suspected of offences may not be identified or traced. Speak to any serving detective and they will explain their current case load is higher than it has ever been and it is increasing daily. They spend every day trying to keep on top of ongoing investigations and updating victims and witnesses which often means several lengthy and separate phone calls or visits. The number of working days are steadily increasing with court trials on allocated rest days and the hours increase with the work load as there are not enough hours in the day to meet the demand. It is no surprise that some aspects of investigation or detection are overlooked or opportunities missed. Officers are being pushed into detective roles and some are even being invited to be detectives straight from initial training with virtually no policing experience.

Precipice    

We are on the edge here and something needs to be done to protect our Police service before it becomes too late to save it. It used to be a vocation and a job for life for most who joined but there does appear to be an agenda to implement shorter contracts and direct entry schemes. The phrase that was used to describe many Police officers was `job pissed` which effectively meant they loved what they did despite the challenges. I am not sure that is the case these days and it is mainly due to the frequent criticism from government and by default some sections of the media, and the lack of support from senior police leaders.

There are too many experienced and previously dedicated officers ready and willing to leave policing for what they view as a better life. The precipice that policing stands on is becoming just another job, something you do for a few years until something better comes along. Society deserves the Police service it wants and by all the comments today, it wants a professional and dedicated Police service. That is exactly what most officers want when they join policing, to be able to dedicate themselves and protect the public and prevent and detect crime. To do this they will need sufficient funding and sufficient resources to meet the increasing demands being placed on Policing.

 

 

Policing       

What can be done then to pull our world recognised and renowned Police service back from this perilous precipice it seems to find itself on? Is it just more money and more officers?

That would go some way to redressing the balance which has now gone beyond the reasonable and required austerity cuts that the Police service accepted and implemented. The cuts have led to many policing services being outsourced to private companies and that has not always led to an improvement in the service received. There are still improvements to be made and best practices that can be identified across the 43 Police forces and then shared. Remember, you cannot apply the same policing principles in a rural county force as you can in a force that Polices an inner-city area. Procurement for uniforms, vehicles and IT equipment could probably be improved with costs saved and some merging of specialist units between some county forces could prove beneficial.

Policing can do some more but there is very little if any `fat` left to trim if we are still to have a Police service that functions as we want it too.

The bottom line is that something needs to be done and I welcome the `red flag` example used by the HMIC and their report. Police chiefs and politicians need to have a healthy and honest debate about the real costs of policing and decide where it sits in the importance of a service to society. In my view health and then safety of the public are the two key issues and the essential role of a government. The HMIC report is not all doom and gloom and there are many positives contained in it when you consider what has been achieved by policing in the face of such dramatic cuts and increasing demands in recent years. Do not judge current policing on what was achieved 5 or 10 years ago, the world has changed and government and society has forced changes onto your Police service. What do you actually want from the Police? Is that reasonable and achievable with the resources and demands they have? Some harsh truths need to be communicated and the reality of policing in the current financial climate needs to be acknowledged by those in charge of the finances and then by society.

 

The time for political point scoring has gone as has implementing new austerity measures just to achieve a personal career ambition as some police leaders and others appear to have done. We deserve a better funded and resourced Police service and one that has the capability to meet the demands that society places on it.