Policing but not as we know it…
Every day the media and newspapers bang on about public dissatisfaction with the police service. However, this disappointment is not confined to those external to the service.
Evidence of this can be seen in the myriad of serving police officers who have resorted to the blog world. Officers who’s concerns and frustration have either not been allowed by the police hierarchy because ‘they are never wrong’ or, have simply fallen on deaf ears because, those ears are ‘the only ones who have good ideas’.
The original Policeman’s Blog by PC David Copperfield led the way in highlighting many of the problems that blight the service. Issues that go a long way towards preventing the public getting the service they expect (and deserve) from the police in Britain. I say Britain however, I should really refer to England & Wales as the Scottish and Northern Ireland police service are managed and governed slightly differently. The former still appears to have many traditional values (thankfully) and the latter is still a little too young to make informed comment on.
The subsequent popularity of David’s blog actually did a lot to highlight problematic issues in the police service and lift them into the public domain. Some of this popularity rubbed off on subsequent bloggers like PC Bloggs 21st Century Officer and the Police Inspector Blog, books about the problems followed. I even had a go myself with Ashfordly Police Station however, despite the factual but sometimes ironic and/or sarcastic commentary, some elements of the audience started to miss the point. An element of the readership started to view the bloggers as lazy moaning incumbents of a highly paid profession with all the associated public office ‘perks’. A view probably perpetuated by an element of spin, generated by those who seek to undermine the service and/or get policing on the cheap!
Yes cops get a reasonable salary and yes there is some security in the profession (unlike many jobs and careers today) however, these have consistently been whittled away over recent years. Another popular misconception is that of the ‘handsome’ pension paid to police officers. Unlike the military this is not free; every officer contributes a large proportion of their monthly pay to the final benefit. Any perceived job and financial security are offset by the increased levels of danger and associated unsociable hours aspect of the profession. The conditions of service are now very similar to those experienced prior to the late 1970s. This was the point when forces were finding it very difficult to keep officers and there was a major review of pay and conditions of service. So if you’re one of those people who think it’s a highly paid easy job, why don’t you have a go? I digress.
The original principles of policing (developed by Sir Robert Peel) offered the notion that the police should reflect the society it serves (see earlier post British Policing). The historic tradition that ‘the police are the public and the public are the police’ ergo; the perceived shortcomings of today’s police service must actually mirror the shortcomings of society. One of the most prevalent traits that I refer to here is self.
By self I mean; self-importance, self-centred and often self-indulgent; for many politicians (and high ranking police officers) it would seem that the individual is all. Unfortunately this disagreeable characteristic can be seen on a daily basis within our society so, why should the police service be any different? One of the attributes that used to earn the police some respect was that; society used to look upon the police service as a vocation and not just a job.
Unfortunately and especially during the current financial climate, Chief Constables (who answer to politicians) are not interested in the employment of experienced and ‘time served’ officers. After all, they can afford two brand new inexperienced officers for the price of an aging subversive one. An older officer who actually knows a bit about the job but may well challenge the ‘initiatives’ and ‘targets’ set by some fresh faced Superintendent. Would you want to manage someone who knows more about the job than you do?
Whilst pondering the issues and mooching around the internet for information (or answers), I happened across the following. In many ways this piece goes a long way towards providing some of reasons behind the current situation…
Top cops are still fiddling the crime figures – as usual, the latest crime figures (September to November 2009), are pure fantasy, but at least Chief Officers will get their 15-20% bonuses. The article supported by facts, and constructed in a far more eloquent manner than I could manage, explains how the politicians and senior officers ‘cook the books’ for their own benefit.
Crime (or the fear of crime) is currently a hot topic, one that causes concern for a large proportion of the public. It is also a topic that any political party ignores at its peril. Politicians (and Chief Constables) therefore want to at least appear to be tough on crime. Politicians, irrespective of which side of the house they sit, will therefore pull out all the stops to secure our votes. It makes sense don’t you think?
Policing today is more about initiatives, targets, PR and spin and of course plenty of stats book cooking (as above). Just talk to any police officer today who has more than ten years service and you will find them despondent and only too able to confirm some or all of the above. Can such a large proportion of the workforce really all be lazy, idle moaning incompetents?
Recently my local force managed no less than seven separate headlines about the great work they are doing in the area. The people behind the force PR machine really do deserve a commendation for getting their blitz of feel good stories published (D&S Times 13th Nov). The coverage suggests the force is actually on top of its game. If only it was all true!
- “Police hail summer crackdown on crime” (p3)
- “Working together to beat crime” (p5)
- “Police spread message on tackling crime” (p10)
- “Extra patrols aim to combat rise in two-in-one burglaries” (p14)
- “More PCSOs join county policing team (p18)
- “They’re going to clean up this town” (p19)
These types of newspaper headlines (taken at face value) are part of the media spin and all about promoting the virtues of some short term fix. Many of the issues affecting our communities are long-term problems; high levels of anti-social behaviour is just one such example. These issues require a more robust and sustained approach, piecemeal operations and initiatives will not deliver the results the public deserve. Short-term activities usually borrow staff from limited resources in other areas, thereby reducing that thin blue line even further.
Now I have no wish to detract from the hard work being carried out by staff at ground level. However, officers are already buckling under the weight of the latest government target or local commander’s pet initiative. Initiatives which are often developed to get someone noticed or provide an addition to a CV, as opposed to actually solving a problem.
Factors such as these are also the root cause of:
- Why communities often don’t actually see the “high visibility policing” the headlines crow about
- Why as complainants the public often don’t get the response they expect
- Why criminals (and those engaged in anti social behaviour) often hold little or no fear of the police actually disrupting their activities.
ITN looked past all the police PR spin recently and exercised a bit of investigative journalism on the topic of Anti Social Behaviour. The series of reports highlighted many of the failures in dealing with this important and emotive blight on society. Seeing the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire squirm during interview was not only a pleasure, it also added to the strength to the argument that; many of the senior officers have no idea (or don’t care) about what is really happening at street level.
Breaking news 210110: BBC report crime fell by 8% in the last 12 months – Well done Gordon, you must be so proud that public funds spent on Home Office & ACPO book cooking courses appears to be money well spent !