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.
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.
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.
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.