The Police Who Cried Wolf

Amended title of the popular tale told to every child by parents and teachers alike and intended to warn them about the dangers of telling lies. It is one of Aesops fables and defined as giving a `false alarm` and even included in the Oxford English dictionary meaning to make false claims.

This was the allegation directed at the Police service and specifically the Police Federation by the then Home Secretary Theresa May at the annual Federation conference in May 2015. She pointed out that reported crime was falling and in a simple analogy explained that as there was less crime then obviously we needed less Police. She went on to inform the Police service that more cuts would follow in the next five years and that their `scaremongering` had to stop. Mrs May evidenced these supposed false claims by highlighting quotes attributed to the federation that the government cuts led to officers being demoralised and angry and that the public were being put in danger. All of this was allegedly scaremongering and the Police Federation were `crying wolf` and this had to stop, they were wrong, she was right and so was the government.

Two years later and we have just seen the latest crime figures showing serious crime is on the increase, violent crime increasing and traditional crime such as robbery and vehicle crime is also rising. There was a half-hearted attempt to explain this increase due to the fact the Police service are now more efficient at recording crime and the suggestion was the increase is partly due to better reporting and recording. This defies the true picture and as any serving officer will happily inform you, crime is on the increase, demand on policing is increasing and the number of Police officers is decreasing. Despite Mrs May now being the Prime Minister, there appears to be no change to the approach in funding and resourcing for the Police Service by her successor.

Policing now faces a crisis that has been a few years in coming due to the imposed budget cuts and resource cuts imposed predominantly by Theresa May as home secretary and continued under her leadership of the government. The dissenting voices were many but unhelpfully they were predominantly amongst the serving rank and file and former or retired officers including myself. I spoke many times on Sky News about the impact of the cuts and the risk to the public if police numbers continued to be reduced. Less crime means that less officers are needed was the government mantra and the imposed cuts were designed to reduce Police numbers. The real missing voice was from senior Police chiefs and chief constables who were noticeable in their silent acquiescence of the imposed cuts on their budgets and inevitably Police numbers. Their political masters had spoken and many ambitious and career driven Police chiefs nodded their heads, wagged their tails and kept their counsel whilst abdicating their sworn duty to public and colleagues alike.

The whole situation began to resemble a personal crusade by Theresa May against the Police Service and the Federation as she challenged various police tactics and insisted on reforms specifically around Stop and Search and Police bail. Various sections of the main stream media joined this negative rhetoric against Policing which was clearly being directed from a higher authority to justify these stringent cuts and attacks on Policing. Many continued to `cry wolf` and `scaremonger` as we warned that the fact crime was falling was proof that Policing had the required numbers and budgets to meet the increasing demand but on we went towards crisis.

Crisis – Crime starts to rise and violent and serious offences begin to steadily increase. Less officers available to deploy on the street so less visible deterrent, less chance of being caught and less chance of the offender being detected.

Crisis – Demand on Policing increases at the time officer numbers are decreasing which means more required from less and increased stress and strain on the thinning blue line. Mental health and well-being of officers starts to become an issue as they suffer under the strain of policing and many go sick increasing the demand on those left at work.

Crisis – Increasing numbers of officers decide to leave the service as pay and conditions become an issue with the Public sector restricted to 1% pay increases and private sector noticeably overtakes Police pay and conditions. Many leaving cite personal demoralisation and the lowest morale ever in policing as one reason for their decision to leave a job they joined as a vocation.

Inevitably and undeniably, the Police Service and the Police Federations warnings and concerns have been vindicated in recent weeks. Many officers are reporting sick with mental health and stress related illnesses, whilst scores of officers are leading a dash for the door and leaving a job that used to be a vocation but is now becoming a stepping stone to better pastures. The private sector has better pay and conditions with less stress and scrutiny and arguably better support from management. There has been a reasonable and justifiable claim by the Police pay negotiators for a 2.8% rise this year but any official decision has now been delayed until September. I am sure the recent report citing crime is on the rise, demand is increasing and police numbers at the lowest level since 1985, had nothing to do with that decision.

Speak to any serving officers and front-line response teams and they will tell you they are continually working with less numbers than they should have. The term minimum strength is still used but frequently across the UK, that figure is far too often not achieved by teams required to respond to the most urgent calls from the public. The risk to the public is clear and present, and the British Police service, renowned the world over, is now far less than effective in their primary objects of preventing crime and detecting offenders if crime is committed. The policies of the Home office under the command of Theresa May have created this `perfect storm` for crime and criminals and as you would expect from opportunists, they are taking complete advantage of visibly less Police on the streets.

This was not just crying wolf or scaremongering, just honest and experienced opinion from a group of people who joined a vocation not just for the pay and conditions but because they want to serve and protect the public. At some point, someone needs to accept responsibility for this ill-conceived and personal crusade against policing and reverse the decisions made. Invest in Policing with money and increased resources before the situation really goes beyond retrieval, although in some places it is perilously close to that now.

This crisis is your creation Mrs May and the solution lies within your grasp if you would only sit down, really listen and then act on the advice from actual police officers experienced in Policing.