You shall never speak of this

Minimum Cover /   June 29, 2015 at 8:36 PM 1,160 views

The revelations published by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism at the weekend are old news to many of us within our individual forces, but this latest article brings the problems caused by rapidly diminishing officer numbers on a national level into sharp focus. In recent years there has been a huge shift from crime fighting to customer service with our investigations being externally assessed and victims being asked to rate their experiences. Policing has to evolve, I understand that, but we have the ability to mould that evolution and at the moment it’s getting way out of shape. The new-world bosses want us to be completely transparent in our day-to-day work – keeping in regular contact with our ‘customers’ and being open and honest about the progression of their complaints. This is all in the name of increasing satisfaction and public confidence and on the whole it appears to be having a positive effect. There is, however, a degree of hypocrisy running through this modern ethic. We are pushed to be more open than ever before when it is seen as beneficial to the image of the force, but as soon as the same honesty has the potential for damaging the finish on the rose-tinted spectacles it becomes taboo-like in its status. “You shall never speak of this” booms the omnipotent voice from the third floor… I have had several emails from bosses expressing this very same sentiment. It really grates that the authors of these messages are not the ones that have to make a phone call or knock on a door every shift to attempt to explain why someones problem (and to them it’s an important one) is not going to get any action until later that day, or longer. How do you explain the lack of officers without letting people know that there is a lack of officers. We end up tarting the information up with corporate mascara and – whilst not lying outright – we bend the words to imply what is not true. “The officer that was attending your incident has ended up getting tied up on other enquiries at the moment” – “I have a pre-arranged meeting with another victim that I cannot get out of” – “I am investigating your complaint, and will be in touch soon to let you know what is going on” All these are actually just another way of saying, “We now only have 9 of the team of 15 that used to deal with incidents on this area a couple of years ago. We barely have enough officers to deal with the most serious stuff that is being reported at the moment. Unfortunately we will only be able to get to you when people stop calling 999 for a couple of hours.” All the time we are fire-fighting the immediate and priority calls we are just not getting to the bulk of the work in a reasonable time – i.e. in the time our victims would consider reasonable. It’s not uncommon, in recent years, for a serious domestic or an intruder alarm to be waiting over an hour for an officer to become free. In turn, the need to play catch-up at the station whenever there is a moment of calm means the time it takes to get to the big stuff is getting longer too. Response times in my area have increased by up to 300% over the last four years due to centralisation, streamlining and reductions in officer numbers. Although some of those at the top of the food-chain would like us to vomit up some corporate explanation, it’s just not possible to explain why it took you 25 minutes to get to Geoff’s house when he reports an intruder in his kitchen – especially when he got a five-minute response to something far less serious a couple of years ago. How many times have you heard the radio operator calling up the Sergeant to let them know that there are x amount of outstanding jobs and no one to go. To increase the confidence of the public, you need to increase the effectiveness of the response, and be honest with those that turn to us for help. The only way to do this is to get more officers on the streets, not less. If we cannot do that then we need to start being honest with people from the outset – potentially letting them know that their crime will not be dealt with by the attendance of an officer, but will be processed over the phone. We need to stop taking on the work of Social Services, Mental Health Teams and, most commonly, parents. We need to focus on tackling the criminals. Hitting them hard and hitting them relentlessly. If we take one habitual offender off the streets, that will prevent a significant number of future crimes, which will free up more time to hunt down the next…and the next. We just need to grow some balls and concentrate on our primary role. Eventually, things will come to this. I have no doubt. Unfortunately for some, by the time the white hanky gets waved in some SMT offices, it might be too late… Courtesy of Minimum Cover

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