90 days from today is Sat, 15 February 2020
2 August 2019
Such is politics, a Prime Minister has been removed and another selected. The outgoing Prime Minister’s policing legacy is well documented. This unflattering period in office has brought a form of policing management not seen before - a lack of funding, the loss of 20,000 police officers, a significant increase in violent crime plus a lack of funding for other public services, all leading to the police service being in a perilously dangerous position. We are, as my Chief Constable stated 2 years ago, at a “Tipping Point” which raises genuine concerns about public safety.
I welcome the recently announced bright future pledge with its promised recruitment of “20,000 police officers”? I will be honest, I genuinely don’t know whether 20,000 is the right number – is it too high or is it too low? Before I can even start to consider this, I need to understand just one thing. “What is it you the public want the police to be?” At the moment we have been described as “Social Workers in Police Uniform”, with my response colleagues attending incidents, which other public services or support networks can’t attend, because they too have been severely cut. The demand and need to care for our most vulnerable is possibly at its highest point, but the support they need is not there.
The same can be said concerning actions to tackle the epidemic that is knife crime. We cannot do this alone, the support given to children and young adults by a variety of people, charities and public bodies has also been decimated. Their work, its need and most importantly its education role is required. Currently in their absence the police are called. We are now expected to be social workers, out-reach workers, youth workers, teachers and law enforcers. We cannot be all things to all people whilst retaining their trust, confidence and support.
I look at police officers and I see tired eyes, shoulders slumped forward, the weight of expectation on their backs from well-meaning members of the public and other public bodies, but also from being intrusively filmed by people placing their phones close to their faces and telling them ‘You can’t do that’ or worse filming officers as they are being assaulted. The pressure placed on our officers and police staff members has never been greater or so intrusive. We are and need to be accountable – we accept that, but on far too many occasions it is clear that the pendulum of blame has swung way too far, to the detriment of officers well-being, the welfare of their family and of their professional career. In Avon and Somerset, the near 40% increase in assaults on Police Officers and Police Staff during the past year is a real concern and totally unacceptable. The Federation are working with the force to resolve this, but it is never right that officers start their set of shifts and openly discuss who will get assaulted during the next few days. The pressure needs to be lifted, which is why I fully support the proposed increase of Police Officers locally and nationally.
When I met the former Home Secretary recently, I was at pains to tell him that I was surprised that the national detection rate of under 8% was so high! That hurts me and I feel embarrassed by this figure, especially when you consider that not many years ago this Constabulary had a detection rate over 30%! Officers want to be preventing crime, targeting criminals, protecting the public from harm, crime, terrorism and other extremist behaviour. We simply do not have the officers, financial capacity, technology or support to uphold the principals of policing.
There will not be a quick fix in policing, we can’t just pull trained police officers ‘out of a box’ and expect all to be great again. The police service cannot achieve greatness on its own, it needs the help, direction and support from a variety of sectors and organisations. Such is the damage left by the past government it will take at least five years, and considerable investment of public funds to re-build.
Prime Minister, many will now be demanding your time, but please do spend time with your new Home Secretary and her team, carefully considering what investment in policing can be made and properly funded – with roles, expectations, infrastructure, equipment, training, pay and most importantly the support from across Government, which has largely been missing since 2010.