Blog: The reality of detective policing - not some TV drama
03 May 2018
Karen Stephens, PFEW Detectives lead, discusses the challenges faced by investigators as she continues to champion our ‘Detectives in Crisis’ campaign.
What is it about detectives that fascinates people? Take a look at the TV schedule for any week and it is almost guaranteed to feature at least one crime drama – from moody Scandinavian thrillers to the less conventional take of shows such as Channel Four’s “No Offence”.
Having been a detective for almost 17 years and a police officer for more than 26, I think the reality of the job is somewhat removed from our on-screen representations.
But I have to say when I joined the police young officers could only aspire to become a detective. If you were good enough, and lucky enough, one day you might make it to the mysterious mostly male world which existed behind a door marked CID – a door you still had to knock on to be granted entry if you were in uniform!
Over the years the mystique and the misogyny has diminished thankfully.
And as the kudos reduced the workload increased.
Today detectives are facing unprecedented demands. They have case files full of some of the most serious offences – all of which have witnesses and victims who need assistance and support.
As part of my role as the Detectives Lead for the Police Federation I have been heavily involved in our “Detectives In Crisis” campaign the aim is to highlight the ever increasing pressure faced by investigators.
This month I have been out speaking to some detectives. Each one has their own story, their own pressures and their own observations about the job.
But I keep hearing the same words and phrases over and over again: “pressure”, “undervalued”, “stress”, “struggling”, “frustrated” and most worrying of all that word “crisis”.
But still they carry on because they want to help people and secure justice for their victims – some of whom are our society’s most vulnerable. And despite everything, most still absolutely love their jobs.
And this isn’t a case of officers whinging or exaggerating. In the recent HMICFRS PEEL Police Effectiveness report the Government’s own police inspectors noted that there is a 17 per cent shortfall in the number of detectives needed with inexperienced unqualified officers being used to “plug the gaps”.
You have to ask what happened to the role of detective which was once considered one of the most prestigious you could hope to have?
Well it’s quite simple. If you keep cutting officer numbers there will be fewer officers. And those fewer officers are now facing increasing levels of violent crime – the latest police recorded crime figures showing huge increases in robbery and knife crime – and we have all seen the horrifying situation on the streets of London over the past few months.
Now when people think of police they think of the uniform, high-vis jackets and fast cars with blues and twos. But when the initial response to an incident has ended and the uniform team have moved on to the next emergency, it is the detectives who painstakingly piece the evidence together, interview the suspects, liaise with the CPS, build the case file, provide adequate disclosure, make sure the witnesses turn up at court, and support the victim through the process. And that’s on top of all the other demands on their time.
The dream job has turned into a nightmare for some with 80 percent of officers who responded to our survey saying that their work has negatively affected their mental health.
I am committed to ensure that the voice of detectives is heard and the reality of the pressures they face is recognised.
This is real life – not some TV detective drama.