It may be too late to pull the UK Police service back from the precipice that it has been careering towards like a runaway train over the last few years. The irony is that many experienced and irreplaceable officers are leaving the police service for a variety of new careers including some on the rail network. What has caused so many dedicated and committed Police officers to abandon their chosen vocation and choose a new job?
If you read and accept the rhetoric largely promoted by some in the media, but inevitably with a government hand on the keyboard, then you already know many of the answers. Police officers have been scaremongering and crying wolf for years, they are ungrateful and demanding, resistant to change or innovative ideas and are largely ungovernable, uncontrollable and unaccountable. That is far from my experience of the outstanding members of the thinning blue line who have continuously given above and beyond with little or no recognition or acknowledgement from those they protect.
The recent widely reported drop in morale isn’t just about pay, conditions or pensions although they all have a part to play. It is the continual belittling of the role and work carried out by Police officers that seems to fit the current negative long game being played out by those in government to justify their imposed resource and budget cuts. We keep hearing that it isn’t about `numbers` from a merry go round of conservative politicians, keen to support their current leaders drive to bring the Police service to heel like some badly-behaved spaniel. Try telling that a handful of officers tasked with policing a busy market town on nights over a weekend and do not be fooled into thinking the situation is any better in the larger municipal forces. Take London, in the so called busier boroughs, who can brief and deploy over 20 officers at the start of a shift, they are quickly running out of available units within an hour or two of commencing duty. Crime scenes need securing, prisoners at hospital need guarding and mental health related calls are increasing as officers frequently fill the gaps that the NHS are unable to meet. If it isn’t about numbers then how do they explain increasing demand and a lack of available officers to meet those calls for assistance. The other great lie is around `we have protected police budgets once again` which fails to acknowledge that if you continually cut something back over successive years then you are only protecting your own savage cuts and not the real budget that is needed to meet current demand. More from less seems to be the mantra from our current government yet supposedly, we are told it isn’t about numbers for policing yet we have seen the threats to society and the public are increasing from various sources.
This continual demand for more, together with a genuine reduction in actual pay and pensions all combines to make seasoned and experienced officers question their commitment to a job that is no longer viewed as a true vocation. In truth, that is probably one of the intentions of government to make policing a short- term career which you try at the start of your working life or maybe towards the end or after gaining significant experience elsewhere. These ideas have been hidden under graduate entry schemes and direct entry schemes which are both contributing to causing some disaffection amongst experienced officers, as they see the opportunity for promotion reduced by these `instant` senior officers or promotion promises made to highly educated applicants. I have some support for a recruitment scheme for graduate entrants as I believe Policing needs to attract the best candidates for the job. The difficulty these individuals will face is after accruing a significant debt gaining a degree in a largely irrelevant subject for policing, they then start with a salary under £30,000 in London and early £20,000 outside the capital. That student loan will take some time paying off if you choose policing as a long-term career but maybe you can do it for just a few years before moving onto something that pays a lot more…….like driving a train!
I am not sure if those in government are blind to the crisis in policing, deliberately choose not to act on it or are just oblivious to the irreparable damage their policies have done to UK policing. It is a sad state for our democratic society when those who run towards danger posed by a terrorist attack, run into burning buildings to save lives and those who provide medical aid are the ones who are now paid significantly less than many other professions. The crisis in policing is replicated across many other public services including the fire service, health service and prison service. Successive years of budget cuts under the austerity measures umbrella have reduced all these services to breaking point. It is only the dedication, commitment and sheer determination to make their jobs work and provide the services to the public that have sustained them.
The crisis train has left the station but it has yet to arrive at its destination and that can be decided by those in power if they have the foresight to change their approach to all these services. It really is about numbers and for policing the numbers in their budgets need to be increased to provide the increased protection and sustain the style of policing the public require and demand. Policing numbers need to be increased to provide sufficient officers available to respond to those emergency calls, work on community teams and to investigate the concerns and reports of suspicious behaviour by those believed to be planning acts of terror.
Our public services are collectively in crisis and in danger of collapse unless someone is brave enough to acknowledge the austerity measures have now gone too far. We need significant investment in fire services, health services, prison services and policing before one or all of them suffer a catastrophic failure and the people most at risk will be the public, not the politicians who perpetuated these unworkable cuts.
I have no confidence that Mrs May will ever acknowledge the damage her policies have done to policing. It seems that `sorry` really is the hardest word for her and it may take a change at the very top to halt this crisis express or divert it towards a better place. Until then those working in our public services but specifically in policing, will still try to make the job work despite the lack of numbers, lack of appropriate pay and conditions and lack of tangible government support. Actions speak louder than words………….time is now for action in policing.