The Local Policing Model, the Metropolitan Police Service’s new way of doing everything, is in place across most of London now and, more or less exactly as many people predicted (including me, here: http://wp.me/p2T48h-y), it is failing. Unfortunately, all of the fine ideas and clever acronyms and gloriously proliferated layers of management and supervision are balanced on the shoulders of not even nearly enough officers actually doing the work that matters: answering calls and investigating crimes. Response teams can be relied upon to run out of units within an hour or two of the start of a late turn (the busiest shifts), because the system is not built with any tolerance to cope with a single major incident, or even a moderately warm Saturday. Call handling target times are being missed, and morale has fallen off a cliff.
Already, senior management types are fiddling with the system. Plans such as having a few night duty officers come in early to cover the handover periods are, I’m told, in the offing, but this will not deal with the real problem. The handover period is not the issue; the whole shift is the issue. There are not enough police officers available to deal with the amount of work that is there to be done. No amount of card-shuffling is going to alter that fact. Quite aside from which, what are these non-core officers going to be driving? A couple of those spare cars we keep hanging around the nick? Yeah, right. If it’s there and it’s even nearly roadworthy, it’s already being used.
Now, I have not had my head under a rock for the past five years. I, like everyone else in the service, am acutely aware that we are not likely to get our ranks swelled any time soon. So we have to find another way of solving this problem. It seems a matter of simple mathematics to me that, if there is too much work for the number of people doing it, and you can’t increase the number of people doing it, you have to reduce the amount of work being done. In this case, the only pragmatic way of doing that is by reversing the seemingly irresistible blossoming of our remit. Most of the time it is perfectly possible to determine at the call-handling stage what is likely to require a police presence and what is not. Unfortunately, the culture recently has been one of “send a unit, just in case”. This seems like logic, looked at only on a case-by-case basis. It always seems preferable to send a unit than not to, in case it kicks off. But the cumulative effect of all of these individual decisions is the drip-drip-drip of mission creep, and it swamps the service. Officers spend so much of their time dealing with every argument, landlord-tenant dispute, civil dispute and neighbourly-bout-of-mutual-toy-hurling that genuine victims of genuine crimes too often get lost in the shuffle.
We do not help ourselves, either, by taking it upon ourselves to be the “service of last resort” for every other public service. In the odd whimsical moment, I toy with the idea of sending an outstanding call – let’s say a domestic – across to the London Ambulance Service, and saying “We have no units to deal at present, can you please attend this call, assess the scene, and let us know if we need to send a unit, and then wait there for our arrival?” Just to see what they’d say. I suspect I would be answered with a richly deserved invitation to jog on. And yet when the reverse happens, we routinely go. Send a unit, just in case. A man’s fallen over in the street? A ten-year old child won’t stop throwing things around the house? The landlord won’t fix the washing machine? Send a unit, just in case. It has to stop. Budget cuts are affecting everyone. But we allow the staffing problems of our partner agencies to become our staffing problems, because we do not seem to employ anyone with the courage to say “No, that is not a police matter, we barely have enough people to do our own work, we cannot do yours for you,” and we certainly do not employ anyone with the courage to say “We are not here to sort out all your problems for you, I’m sure your landlord is perfectly horrid but it is absolutely none of our business.”
If we could manage this, as a pleasant bonus, we might even find morale improving. I, like many others in this job, did not become a police officer because I woke up one morning with a burning desire to be a cross between a social worker, a relationship counsellor, an Approved Mental Health Professional and a paramedic. Police officers, at heart, want to deal with crime. An honest, public conversation needs to be had at the highest levels, on the subject of what we are entitled to expect from our police services, given the resources that we intend to devote to them. A refocusing of police resources back towards what Peel had in mind might give the police enough time to do their core business properly, and might even reinvigorate a tired, cynical workforce. The alternative, our current course of playing financial Jenga with the police, married to the culture of “send a unit, just in case”, leaves us sleepwalking towards disaster.
Ademan Deloya’s blog can be found at http://ademandeloya.wordpress.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at @AdemanDeloya