Since 2010 when the Cameron-led coalition came to power Theresa May has overseen the draconian emasculation of the Police Service.
Formerly as Home Secretary, and latterly as Prime Minister Mrs May has presided over the culling of thousands of Police Officers from England and Wales. From about 143,734 in 2010 she has systematically reduced that number to 123,142 FTE officers according to a 2017 Government Briefing Paper.
A mind boggling reduction of 20,592, and even more have gone since. The figures for September 2017 are not yet available.
Remarkably the Police Services in Scotland and Northern Ireland remained more or less untouched. I can’t begin to think why that might have been. Was it the haranguing Mrs May received at the hands of the Police Federation of England and Wales at Conference, or did it go back further to the arrest of Damian Green and the search of his office and home?
I don’t know the answer to that, but both events could have been influential. Either way, it is concentrated solely on England and Wales.
Much has been made about the Front Line. “We will always protect the Front Line”. In March 2017 there were 105,571 Police Officers in Front Line roles. In March 2010 there were about 125,000 in Front Line roles. The government admits that the total figure had fallen by 14.4%.
So much for Protecting the Front Line eh.
The Home Office and HMIC both like to include in their fancy reports the number of Police Officers per 100,000 head of population. That figure varies wildly between 382 in the Metropolitan Police and in 140 Wiltshire with the average being 186. If this number is important enough to be published, it made me wonder. For each Police Force, how low can that number go before the level becomes unsafe? Somebody must have done that Risk Assessment surely? So I asked the question, of Police and Home Office. Nobody answered me. So I cannot reassure anybody that your coverage is adequate for your safety.
So, if those are cuts that we know about, where are the hidden ones?
Firstly, major incidents such as the Terrorist attacks in London and Manchester create a large number of re-rostered Rest Days that have to be taken off further down the line, or vast amounts of normal overtime created by extended tours of duty. The already depleted Front Line is further thinned out by officers taking the Rest Day that is owed them or their time off in lieu. End result, even fewer officers on the Front Line for X number of days.
Sickness. The severity of the cuts combined with a demonstrably increased workload has increased the stress suffered by officers trying to cope with their allocated workload. Junior Detectives seem particularly vulnerable, but not exclusively. The increasing number of knife-related murders (amongst others) also means that the Major Incident Teams are being stretched to their limits.
Injury. The reduced numbers on the Front Line have led to a truly alarming increase in really violent assaults. Some of them have suffered some really nasty injuries that have resulted in them being off sick for extended periods, again reducing the resilience of the Front Line.
Whilst not directly attributable, I am hearing some horror stories about Fleet sizes being reduced. I fully agree that fewer officers need fewer vehicles but reductions should be in proportion. A reduced fleet means fewer ‘spare’ vehicles for when vehicles break down (and they do) or are damaged by the ‘bad guys’ (and they are). Fewer vehicles on patrol means increased response times when an officer requires assistance and increased risk of injury and subsequent absence from duty. Even time spent in A&E or waiting to be seen by a Police doctor is time that the officer is not fulfilling his/her duties. A problem made worse by the cuts.
Police Stations. Over 600 Police Stations have been closed and sold off. Custody Suites have been ‘rationalised’ (reduced) and officers now spend more time driving to Custody Suites that may no longer be in their own local Policing area. Is that efficiency? Really?
Police Staff. Whilst their role is not even remotely identical to the officers, it is just as vital. They too have suffered cuts resulting in some of the associated problems listed above.
Crime is down (no it isn’t). Police Reform is working (really? It is? I have yet to see proof of that).
Now we find ourselves at a stage where some Forces are recruiting unpaid, unqualified ‘volunteers’ to conduct some rôles. Direct Entry Detectives are being used in some places, bypassing the traditional route involving Probation after Initial Training until 2 years service. Now one can enter the CID immediately following basic training in some Forces. A good idea? Hmmmm.
Police Officers were #CryingWolf. No they weren’t, the problems are here, and visible to anybody who knows where to look. They have even been noticed by a few Conservative MPs who forgot what the script was and complained about lack of access to ‘the Police’ when they felt they needed it.
In short, there is a #CrisisInPolicing and collectively these cuts and ‘reforms’ will take generations to put right. Work harder, work smarter is no longer applicable. It has been worn out. There are only so many opportunities to work smarter.
The time is long overdue for all members of the National Police Chiefs Council to speak out with one voice, and make it abundantly clear what can no longer be done under the cuts.