I have read the campaign manifestos of a number of prospective and shortlisted Police and Crime Commissioner candidates over the last few days and they have served only to increase my apprehension over what this new role will bring to Policing.
They are full of cheap talk about community engagement, safer neighbourhoods, preventing and reducing crime and all the other tag lines we see on the bonnets of our Police vehicles. None, however, appear to address the pivotal issue of how they can possibly hope to achieve these idealistic goals when Policing is being devoured from all sides by the political parties that have approved their candidacy.
The elections in November of this year will bring about, as Nick Herbert put it in November, a new age in Policing, with Chief Officers being directly accountable to politicians and strategic direction being moulded by political desires.
Policing is not about politics. It is about providing an emergency service and getting the baddies off the streets as fast as possible for as long as possible. We cannot start working to a political agenda or being governed by profit and loss accounts – if we lose sight of our role we lose the ability to do it effectively.
Difficult choices have been made by Police forces across England and Wales in light of the recent Winsor 1 reforms. Police officer numbers are at a 10 year low and recruitment is still running at a trickle for those already in the service and wishing to convert from other roles to that of Police Officer. Winsor 2 attacks those that will remain with further financial punishment for injury on duty, not working long night shifts, the potential redundancy (still without the availability of industrial rights) and to top it off we now have the proposed pension reforms to look forward to over the next few years!How much more can the government possibly throw at an already battered and bruised Police service!
I am keen to see how PCC’s will respond to the inevitable calls from their electorate for more officers. That is the only way to facilitate a consistent reduction in crime. Already our ‘customers’ are receiving a reduced level of service due to a global lack of resources. Just this week I have heard of a scenario where three a significant part of one county simply ran out of officers. Eight hundred and sixty-five square miles had no police presence for nearly two hours – which is a lifetime if you need help urgently. I am sure this is not an isolated case…
Crime pays no attention to resilience. The calls keep coming in. Police officers simply stop arriving. People will get hurt and offenders will go free…this is unforgivable.
The PCCs need to realise that political aspiration and strategies for continued popularity and public support do not run parallel with the requirements for effective Policing. There is more long-term benefit in taking down one drug dealer than taking ten minor crime complaints. This will not sit well with those that judge Policing on how often they see an officer in their village and whether they can simply speak to one if they want to.
Even the PCSO’s that were employed to provide a more approachable and available public face to Policing are struggling to fulfil their role as more and more of their time is spent plugging the resource gaps that stretch like chasms through our towns and cities.
Today I asked the PCC Candidate for Lancashire, Sam Chapman, how he planned to protect and support the officers in his county that he would rely on to achieve his aims. His response was that he would ‘build their relationships with many ordinary citizens’ and that ‘people don’t protest the loss of what they don’t know they have’. I would refer Sam to another age-old adage: You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone - and it’s a lot harder to get it back again later!
The problems we already have are likely to be magnified by the implementation of wider non-warranted roles. Effectiveness will continue to gush out through the holes in modern Policing like water through a sieve. Custody teams, investigators and other core roles will potentially be performed by private sector workers driven by profit not results. It may be true that a G4S investigator will be £10,000 cheaper than an experienced DC but only a fool would judge the benefit on those terms.
I fear for Policing…and fear that there is already little that can be done to save it from a dreadful fate.
Thousands of my colleagues will be showing the strength of their feelings on the 10th May in London. I will be there too. No doubt the march will attract significant media interest, but I predict that prospective PCC candidates will be remarkably thin on the ground, paradoxically distancing themselves from those who they wish to govern and choosing their personal political safety over public support for those that they will rely on to achieve their goals.
This will no doubt become a common theme in the years to come…