Safety in numbers?
Recently I have participated in The Police Debate forum on Linkedin. This was set up to facilitate discussion surrounding proposed government changes* to policing in the UK.
Many of these proposals are as a direct result of our nation’s current austerity requirements. One important item, which often comes to the fore when value for money is discussed is the issue of Health & Safety, a matter often castigated as ‘an unnecessary administrative burden’.
I recently read a partly unrelated Health & Safety article (see below) about lone worker issues. I say only partly related however, with policing ‘costs’ to the forefront of management minds, one thing that always crops up is police crewing policies. By that I mean, whether or not police officers should be operating as individuals or in pairs.
In Andy’s article he quite rightly highlights how decisions are often made on cost alone. How they should actually be decided by means of a comprehensive risk assessment process and, how money saved now can actually incur much higher costs at a later date. Substantial costs resulting from the implications of litigation and/or enforcement action.
After serving for thirty years as a police officer, the latter part also as a workforce Safety Representative with the Police Federation, the subject of officer safety has always been important to me. I can also assure you that, if crewing policies are up for discussion between management and workforce, there is often heated debate and negotiation. That said, there is nothing in Health & Safety legislation that prevents lone working per se.
HSE guidance: “Employers need to investigate the potential hazards faced by lone workers and assess the risks involved both to the lone worker and to any person who may be affected by their work. Employers should ensure that measures are in place to control or avoid such risks”. (Get free HSE leaflet indg73)
In some ways its strange that crewing policy has become such an emotive subject. There was a time when policing was nearly always carried out individually. It is often still done that way today, even in higher risk places like the USA. Perhaps the TV portrayal of police officers always in pairs may have something to do with the expectation?
Although policing is a relatively risk high task, police in the UK usually face less frequent deadly threat (thankfully) than other parts of the world. There is however a general perception that carrying out the duties of a police officer is safer when it is done with a partner. I partly agree however, perhaps policing in pairs (as a norm) is actually an idealistic pipe dream? From a management point of view, routine and/or regular patrol in pairs is obviously not the most flexible or cost-effective use of resources i.e. response availability is automatically reduced by 50%.
Despite having served in one of the UK’s most rural forces (with a relativley small establishment), even I have experienced the death of three collegues whilst they were on patrol. In 1982 PC David Hague and Sgt David Winter (both single crewed) were shot and killed (in seperate incidents) by a lone gunman on the run. In 1992 I was the controler/dispatcher when Special Constable Glen Goodman was shot and killed and his crew partner PC Sandy Kelly also received near fatal gunshot wounds.
At that time routine patrol in pairs was an exception rather than a rule (with the exception of night shifts). Policing was carried out without the ‘tools’ of today i.e. ‘use of force’ training, ‘conflict rfesolution’ model training or indeed the issue of Body Armour / Stab Vests, CS/Pepper spray, ASP Batons, Rigid Cuffs and Tazer. Neither where there any Armed Response Vehicles on permanent patrol.
Even if you combined the above circumstances of then and now, if all the officers had been ‘double crewed’, were all fully trained and in possession of all the modern defence ‘tools’ (with the possible exception of Tazer), it is highly unlikely the final outcome would actually have been any different. Perhaps the above examples were ‘one offs’ and perhaps our society is a more violent place than it was however, double crewing policies are often applied due to risk aversion and not risk assessment.
Given that today’s police officer is generally better trained in self-defence and restraint techniques and, they are usually better equipped, it could be argued there is actually less requirement for working in pairs than there was twenty years ago? The answer to the argument must be decided by a comprehensive risk assessment, someone’s life may depend upon that process…
Officer safety may be a ‘numbers game’ however, risk values must be balanced against financial ones!
- At last, an end to this health and safety madness (telegraph.co.uk)
- David Cameron goes to war on ‘elf and safety’ (mirror.co.uk)
- David Cameron pledges to end Labour’s health and safety ‘neurosis’ (telegraph.co.uk)