90 days from today is Tue, 27 February 2024
20 June 2023
As Response Policing Week, 26 June – 02 July, approaches, we spoke with a serving Merseyside response officer and asked him to share his thoughts and experiences on twenty-three years as a cop, the last eleven in response policing.
Below Sam Wong talks about his role and the changes he has seen over the past eleven years.
I have been a police officer for nearly 23 years and all of those have been in uniform in a frontline policing role. I spent the first twelve years as a Neighbourhood Officer and the last eleven as a Response Officer. During these years I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in uniform and all the challenges that come with being in public in uniform day-in-day-out.
The role of a response officer has changed significantly since I started 11 years ago, in no small part as a result of austerity and the consequences of the policies that followed, but also due to the changes in society and the changing face of crime, but at its heart response policing will always be about being the first on scene to provide support to communities and catching the bad guys.
When I started out as a response officer, we used to deal with a crime from start to finish, meaning we were hands on at every stage of the process. This has changed dramatically and we now have different departments for each part of the evidence chain; we have a response department to deal with the initial response; a victim welfare department to look after the victim; a crime report department; a department responsible for statement taking; and an arrest department if available, followed by Investigations, level 1 or 2 depending on how serious the case is.
We’ve also got departments such as a crime demand unit to measure crime. For anything that can be done over the phone or there is Schedule response department to deal with anything that doesn’t require an immediate response but can be dealt with at an appointment.
All the above has threat, harm and risk assessment that must be considered. If the risks are high, then the incident usually remains with response for deployment.
I believe this model works well, but on the flip side, people say we are being de-skilled. There are parts of the evidence chain that we don’t do anymore or simply don’t have the time to do. Is this a good thing? I’m not sure, but as a response officer we are responding to jobs being the first on scene which often means we are the first police officer that the public meet whilst we provide that initial support for the victim, and this is the part of the job that I really enjoy.
Despite the many changes to our roles and responsibilities over the years, our team spirit is still present, and we do our best to look after each other where we can.
There are, of course, many aspects to response policing that are very challenging.
Firstly, there’s the shift pattern. Our shift pattern has continually been tweaked here and there for many years and I still don’t think we’ve got it right. We’ve voted for many options previously, but we are never going to find one that will suit everyone, so we work with what we’ve got and do our best, but it is difficult when it impacts our lives outside of policing.
Secondly there is staffing levels. For our block, it’s either feast or famine. There are so many student officers coming to the block, but they pass through soon enough as they move to different departments to experience other parts of policing, leaving us in famine again. I do believe it is important for student officers to gain as much experience as possible from across the broad spectrum of policing, but it certainly doesn’t help balance or provide any consistency to our staffing levels on response.
There are also the types of jobs that we are deployed to. I have just finished a set of weekend nights and most calls were concern for welfare, ill-mental health or to individuals who were suicidal. I understand we have a duty of care, and we need to attend some of the high-risk incidents where there is a threat to life, but I feel strongly that we are going to jobs because other services do not have the resources they need to help these people. We end up providing cover for other services and I think sometimes to the victim’s, or perhaps patient’s detriment – it’s not unreasonable to want the best care for someone and often the police aren’t the appropriate carers in these calls.
It’s refreshing to hear what Northumbria Police and The Metropolitan Police Forces have said recently about the unacceptable amount of time spent on mental health related incidents. I think more forces need to step forward and highlight the issues - a change is required not just to free up police to deal with issues the public expect them to be dealing with, but to also get the correct support to these vulnerable people.
I am also a Fed Rep and as one, I get a lot of complaints from response officers regarding police cars, uniform, overtime, and cancelled rest days. As usual, officers complain about not having enough cars, that cars are not a suitable match for the demands placed on them, and often I hear colleagues complain that they feel other departments get priority in uniform budget decisions.
What’s most noticeable is that cancelled rest days have become more frequent over recent years, which for response policing can become a real detriment to ability. Our Force Resourcing Unit have even taken to sending out blanket messages cancelling rest days for annual events that are well down the line. This is clearly affecting officers’ wellbeing and causing more and more stress related absences, which of course means more cancelled rest days as someone must pick up the slack; it’s become a vicious circle.
The pressures placed on response officers are increasing, but the average age of a response officer is becoming lower each year, which means that the experience we all want in a response police officer is not always there. Young officers are desperately needed and in an ideal world they could be paired with a much more experienced officer as they learn on the job.
Response policing is a role for young officers. I do believe it should be the core role for all officers joining the job. It is the role where students should be learning and gaining policing experience - learning to talk and interact with people from all walks of life and learning the confidence to liaise with different departments within the job.
I still enjoy the response role otherwise after eleven years I would have found a different role to fill; I am still excited by the role and the variety it provides and now I have added news skills with my role as a workplace fed rep. I think it’s important that colleagues see me as someone they feel at ease with and can speak to in confidence no matter the issue.
I believe that response policing is still the exciting job that most people join the job to do, and one that provides the most rewards. Our commanding officers always say that our policing style is fair, firm, friendly and flexible. To be a response officer these days, you certainly must be flexible.