Theresa May: There is still time to change your Police Federation speech

Chris Hobbs /   June 29, 2015 at 8:40 PM 3,420 views

Dear Home Secretary,

In a short while you will be addressing the Police Federation conference. This is an event which, after last year, will be followed with great interest by the entire British police service. You will, I suspect, at some stage faintly praise the work of the rapidly diminishing number of officers and perhaps, as you have so often done in the past, link that praise with your oft repeated assertion that crime is down.

Every officer will, however, remember your ‘brave’ speech last year when you listed just about every police transgression over previous decades including one that occurred before some serving officers were even born. You included amongst the transgressions, ‘fiddling’ crime figures yet minutes later included reduced crime figures as one of your achievements.

Officers hope that your speech will be rather more conciliatory on this occasion and perhaps you might even address the question of low police morale. Do you remember this subject Home Secretary? When you appeared on the pre-election BBC News Channel programme with the other party home affairs spokespersons, Andrew Neil posed a question in relation to morale on three occasions and each time you failed to answer.

You may of course dispute there is a police morale problem but independent surveys together with those of individual police forces show that this is a major issue. Even the Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey, admitted morale is, and I quote, ‘not good.’ We await your proposals to boost morale with interest.

Crime figures are a bone of contention and you will remember the damning comments of the Public Administration Select Committee in their final report. It may well be that certain categories of crime are reducing thanks in part to ‘target hardening’ and indeed the efforts of police. Yet those specialist units such as burglary, robbery and gang squads that helped bring about this reduction to which you so frequently refer are now being disbanded due to the cutbacks that you are imposing.

You will have already been told by your officials that crime is beginning to creep upwards and before long statements alluding to the fact that crime isn’t actually rising but is being ‘recorded accurately’ or more people are having the ‘confidence to report it,’ will lose all credibility with the British public.

You will only be too well aware that the 315,000 shoplifting offences reported to police are only a tenth of the real total which in itself drives the proverbial coach and horses through any overall crime figures. You will have been told that youth workers heavily involved in dealing with street gangs state that most youth crime remains ‘below the radar’ with their being a thriving cottage industry in the treatment of non-threatening gun and knife wounds.

You also know that cyber crime is set to explode in the near future and that most, at this moment in time, remains unreported. I could go on in respect of crime figures but I’ll conclude by saying that many law abiding victims of crime will not report those of a less serious simply because they do not wish to trouble their ‘overworked’ police. This fact will of course distort the figures but are unlikely to mask the inexorable rise.

Note the phrase “their police”, in the previous paragraph Home Secretary. Yet of course with the closure of every police station and the disappearance of safer neighbourhood teams, you are divorcing police from the community it serves. Already police are withdrawing from community events and festivals and the inevitable result will be that the public will soon only encounter police when ‘something bad happens’ such as being a victim of crime, being arrested or reported or being rebuked for a traffic offence.

Cynics may say that that there is even resentment amongst politicians in that approval ratings for those such as yourself are in the abject teens, while despite the constant denigration from politicians and the media, the police approval ratings remain constant at around 66%.

Part of this denigration from yourself has been your persistent flagellation of police in respect of stop and search. I wonder Home Secretary if anyone has ever suggested to you, that the motivation of police in conducting stop and search isn’t to racially harass black youths but it’s actually to keep them safe in areas of social deprivation where there is poor schooling, inferior housing and a lack of job opportunities.

It is within these areas that gangs flourish and where crime is at its highest. You can blame the police for many things Home Secretary but the fact that these areas exist at all are down to successive inept governments not the police. The police, as is so often the case, provide the sticking plasters for government ineptitude and of course now for government cuts.

You are now, Home Secretary, about to use your House of Commons majority to push through additional controversial surveillance powers in order to increase the intelligence flow which you hope will assist in countering the terrorist threat. Yet, if you are looking to increase this intelligence flow, why on earth are you destroying that invaluable source of intelligence known as community policing which is more crucial than ever given the current terrorist threat?

Of course the fight against terrorism is depleting police resources as are the historic allegations of sexual abuse and indeed the multitude of current sexual offences. As resources diminish, those left in CID offices and other investigative departments are struggling to cope with increased case loads which can only result in matters falling through cracks and increased complaints against individual officers.

During the home affairs debate with Andrew Neil you stated that front line policing has been “protected”, which has led officers to question whether you were deliberately misleading the public or had no idea of exactly what constitutes front line policing.

Dogs, police horses have been drastically cut while helicopter coverage has been criticised by the ‘front line’ since the inception of the National Police Air Service (NPAS). Further proposed cuts will leave large areas of the UK without crucial helicopter cover to the detriment of the ‘protected’ front line. You must have heard that 50 control room staff in the Cumbria force are being made redundant and are being replaced by serving police officers. Amazingly the ‘spin’ is that sitting in a control room still constitutes officers ‘being on the front line.’

You may remember the tragic death of PC Neil Doyle just before Christmas, allegedly because he was recognised when off duty as a police officer. It was noted with some disgust on social media that there was not even the most simple expression of regret from yourself or the Home Office. The unexpected death of community officer PC Andy Hocking attracted a 6,000 strong memorial walk in Falmouth such was the esteem in which he was held yet again we saw an absence of regret from yourselves. Could this have been because his exemplary style of community policing is heading for oblivion as further cuts are imposed?

Prime Minister David Cameron’s failure to observe the tradition of thanking police in his Witney post election speech was noted as was his failure to thank officers who protected his Downing Street home from violent activists just two days after the election.

It is of course not just police who are suffering and I am sure you will agree that the situation at our borders has a huge impact on policing. Yet your creation of the UK Border Force is in turmoil. ‘Customs trained’ border force officers are still taken away from detection duties to inspect passports. Cocaine seizures at airports are 75% down; the street price for cocaine has crashed by 20% as specialist UKBF customs detections units are being dissolved. What does that tell you Home Secretary?

Airport queues still determine, despite your denials, whether non-EU arrivals whose intentions may cause concern, are further examined by UKBF officer and, after a recruiting drive, further cutbacks in personnel are planned by the Home Office.

As the trickle of British jihadists leaving the UK became a flood you failed to provide additional police or border force resources to strengthen non-existent departure controls. You could have funded the deployment of UK police officers to Turkish airports to assist the Turkish authorities in identifying jihadists but you failed to do so thus compromising our national security. Little wonder that the three schoolgirl jihadi brides felt that they could travel directly to Turkey without taking the precaution of travelling via another airport hub. As you will have been told more than 300 jihadists are now back in the UK thanks to lax border controls and now pose a major threat.

And of course the numerous flaws in UK border controls were exposed by a truly independent inspector of immigration and borders, John Vine. Over the past twelve months his frequently damning reports were redacted and withheld from publication for months. This looked like the ‘burying of bad news’ and if you remember Home Secretary you were rebuked for this by the Home Affairs Select Committee shortly before the election. John Vine of course resigned in December.

Little wonder that police and UK Border officers share the dubious distinction of suffering from unprecedented low morale. Assaults on police are increasing perhaps due to increased ‘single crewing’ and the fact that back up is often further away as the thin blue line become thinner. Stress related sickness in relation to both police and UKBF officers has increased markedly and yet of course there are further cutbacks to come. You have thus far refused to deny that the ultimate ‘reform’ of the police is the reduction of numbers to a mere 80,000 officers.

However you select those crime statistics which purport to show that all in the garden is lovely, the simple fact is that you are responsible for making a pigs ear out of a silk purse at a time when the UK is facing a twin threat from both terrorism and serious public disorder. You seem to forget that almost 80% of calls to police are not crime related but are calls for help which are duly given with bravery, compassion and kindness.

The meltdown symptoms are beginning to appear and will turn into a terminal disease within the duration of this parliament. For that Home Secretary, you will not be forgiven and your place in history will be assured for all the wrong reasons.

There is however still time to change your speech.


Chris Hobbs

(Metropolitan Police 1978 to 2011)

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