14 February 2022
National Vice-Chair Ché Donald reacted to the most recent crime stats and argued that policing must urgently adopt the most appropriate integrated learning to better equip new officers for the realities of policing.
There’s a well-known saying in team sport that the league table never lies. I therefore get deeply frustrated when my police officer colleagues are lambasted each time the Home Office releases crime statistic tables.
While politicians judge these tables similarly to those in sport, the reality is they don’t adequately reflect the fantastic work done by colleagues in preventing many number of crimes, time spent with victims, or in assisting vulnerable people.
I’d be the first to admit not everything has been rosy in the world of policing, and that from the recent headlines claiming police are solving the lowest proportion of crimes on record it’s no wonder the public questions our role. However, these figures don’t provide any context about non-crime issues, such as helping individuals suffering from mental health crises, or following time consuming procedures like the new CPS Guidance, which now adds 3 hours (on average) to every file for court, taking officers off the streets and back into the office.
While there is undoubtedly much work to do in improving criminal justice outcomes for victims, every failing of the criminal justice system should not be placed solely at the door of individual police officers; however, slow justice is no justice and will certainly impact on victims and their confidence in reporting crime.
The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) membership consists of more than 130,000 dedicated professionals up to the rank of chief inspector. Their ‘rules of engagement’ are directly influenced by laws which the government introduces, procedures decided by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, and training developed by the College of Policing and individual forces.
As servants of the crown, police officers are personally accountable for their actions and directed to proactively focus on specific crimes. They perform their duties based on training, experience and common sense. Priorities are set via a mixture of government policies, local government mandates, and by independently motivated chief constables from 43 forces in England and Wales who are target driven and respond directly to local political pressure and the influence of Police and Crime Commissioners.
What is considered best practice in one force isn’t always repeated in another, and any streamlining of the number of forces to bring operational improvements is often fiercely opposed for outdated reasons.
The latest Police Uplift Programme statistics revealed there were 139,939 officers in England and Wales as of 31 December 2021 - an increase of 11,505 officers. Should the 20,000 target be achieved by March 2023, this would take us back to roughly where the numbers were in 2010. Since 2012 the population has grown by at least 4 million, and this demonstrates recruitment levels have not kept pace with an expanding population, which evidently puts the public at risk.
While this increase in officer numbers is desperately needed and something PFEW has lobbied the government for over for many years, the reckless cuts made during austerity have resulted in rising levels of crime. In addition, we are seeing this pressure disillusion colleagues with years of experience, driving them to leave the service due to pay and morale issues and the devastating impact of unfair and discriminatory pension changes.
A recent PFEW Leavers’ survey of more than 2,000 officers who resigned, revealed 59 per cent said the impact of the job on their psychological health had a major effect on their decision, while a quarter of all respondents said workload was a factor.
Almost a fifth said pension changes were an influential reason in their decision to leave, while 30 per cent said the erosion of basic pay in recent years was another contributing factor.
With so many experienced police officers leaving at the same time, many new recruits face inadequate training, and this poses a real risk to officer safety. There are simply not enough experienced line managers to cope with the influx of new recruits and the retention of officers of all ranks is imperative. Retention is as important as recruitment.
We desperately need a long-term strategy for recruitment backed by more sustainable funding, and the end to an unfair pay process where the hands of the pay review body are tied by government.
We require joined-up, strategic thinking between forces, more investment in wellbeing, and urgently need to ensure new recruits better reflect their communities.
This starts with giving the most appropriate integrated learning to better equip new officers for the realities of policing. Those long in post must also be better regarded and taken care of physically, psychologically and financially.
Finally, I would ask everyone to think back to the pressures on policing during the height of the pandemic, when even our biggest critics would agree that applying the multitude of new laws and regulations during lockdown was a completely thankless task. It really is no wonder that officers are feeling disrespected and under-valued by government.