Blog: Storm in a teacup

28 February 2018

PFEW Chair Calum Macleod

PFEW Chair Calum Macleod

PFEW Chairman Calum Macleod asks why tabloids have such a problem with police officers engaging with members of the public.

A few days ago I read a story in one of the tabloids the crux of which was a member of the public had taken a sneaky photo of two officers from Greater Manchester Police having a cup of coffee while on duty.

In a commendable manner, their inspector - Phil Spurgeon - had taken to Twitter to defend his officers who he could not praise highly enough, putting the would-be whinger firmly back in his place.

Now this is nothing new, we have seen many stories focused on the outrage supposedly emanating from the general public who, the media would have us believe, are only happy to see officers when they are dashing to their aid on blues and twos.

But I have to ask - why did this shift in perception occur? When did it become a bad thing to see officers out and about, accessible and engaging with the communities they serve?

Not wanting to sound like my dad, but in the past people knew their local bobby - by sight and often name. They were a fixture, a constant presence in their neighbourhoods - they caught criminals, chastised naughty children, garnered respect and knew everything that was happening on their patch.

They did their rounds and they walked their beats. They knew their community and their community knew them.

Now I'm not peering through my rose-tinted glasses or pining for the halcyon days of yesteryear. I am stating facts.

The landscape of policing has changed and we have been forced to adapt. Less money equals fewer cops. Believe me I am more than familiar with that equation!

But we must seriously consider the effect at the sharp end - on our streets, in our communities. Since 2010 the number of police officers in the UK has reduced by 21,000 with 80 per cent of those being lost from the front line.

Neighbourhood policing has been stripped back to the bare bones. Officers on foot patrol with the time to visit, chat, develop relationships and - heaven forbid - stop for a coffee, are as rare as hen's teeth.

Yes savings have been made - but at what cost?

We need to be out gathering information and that is why local knowledge and a familiar trusted presence in the community is priceless.

The value of intelligence cannot be underestimated - it is our organisational lifeblood - it has saved lives and continues to help prevent and solve thousands of crimes every single day.

If we as police officers are not on our ground, talking and listening then who is?

So I say let's end this ridiculous condemnation of the coffee cops. They are our eyes and ears and we need to protect them, and just as Inspector Spurgeon said, "give them the support they need, even if that's just saying hi."