Monthly Archives: August 2010

Bye Bye Bill…

A PCSO on duty with two police constables. Not...

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It appears that financial constraints and a lack of public support have engineered the demise of a once popular TV drama. Is this indicative of what is happening to the real life Old Bill*?

After 27 years, ITV‘s long-running police drama The Bill comes to an end tonight. But did it teach us anything about pounding the beat? (BBC News Magazine)

Reading the above article, you will find it wasn’t just members of the public who once found the show compelling viewing. Many police officers also found enjoyment in a show that presented a factual vision of policing (for a change)… Another important factor was its ability to show the public that police officers are just normal people!

Personally I usually found the procedures were factual and processes were legally correct, at least in relation to the policing of London, (a fact often confirmed by my wife who is an ex Metropolitan Police Officer). What usually frustrated me about the show was; the danger of providing the viewing public with false expectations of actual police response to a problem or incident.

I’m aware lots of cops running around with loads of blue lights and sirens makes for better drama and viewing figures however, it was often unrealistic. I would like to think the Metropolitan Police are still able to respond in that manner, although in real terms I doubt it. I suspect what you saw on the TV was probably a bit of poetic licence, a picture that is simply a public pipe dream in a more provincial force. 

Another factor which also frustrated me (confirmed again by the wife) was; the availability and proficiency of back office support functions to the officers. Ones that eased the administrative and bureaucratic burden on the patrolling police officer. Although this could also be thanks to the writers, given that siting for hours doing reports etc wouldn’t make for good TV viewing.

That said, my wife has always had the ability to make me jealous about the difference in procedures between London and Yorkshire. She would often explain (boast) with pride how; she could arrest someone, submit an Incident Report Book (IRB) and be back on the streets in no time at all. Never to see the case again, unless there was a not guilty plea and she was subsequently required to give evidence at court. Even then (thirty years ao) all the paperwork was handled by case preparation teams and court presentation officers.

How is it that this type of support structure is not a nation wide phenomenon today? Given the actual increase in police officer numbers (and an even greater increase in police staff) over the last thirty years, shouldn’t the public be seeing an impact on the streets? Shouldn’t response officers have been freed from archaic and bureaucratic procedures? With officer patrol time experiencing an all time low due the negative impact of paperwork and administration, is it any wonder that people are asking… Where are all the police officers?

Public expectations of the police are at an all time high (probably because of TV shows like The Bill) where as conversely, their actual levels of satisfaction are often totally opposite. This is a concern… It is a worry because, despite all the government and senior police officer manipulation of statistics, the public aren’t actually seeing what they are told they’re getting. 

For several years now, the rank and file of the police service have tried to highlight the issues. Every time they do, they are either shot down in flames and accused of being idle and lazy by politicians and the media or, their leaders at ACPO produce self-serving reports of rhetoric and political spin with a view to negating those claims.

At the moment there are several public/private political and police forums examining the problems in British policing today. The new government has indicated finally a desire to actually do something about those problems, once and for all. To take action based upon public and police requirements, as opposed to political ones… That makes a refreshing change!

After the last episode of The Bill, Sun Hill police station will be closed down… Lets hope, whilst we’re awaiting promised reform,  the same fate doesn’t befall any more of the real police stations across the country!

*Although the term ‘Old Bill’ is believed to be a historic descriptive term for the police used by Londoner’s for years, it appears the usage may be as recent as the 1950’s and certainly post WWII.

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