A week or so ago I was asked to consider two questions
1. What do I think is wrong with the Police Service today
2. What do I think needs to change for the future
As you can probably imagine this is a question which has wracked my brain ever since. Some might think that the first question is easy to answer. Those within the Police Service will surely have a very clear idea of what is wrong with the job and I know I have my own opinions many of which have lead to my impending resignation. When it comes to those with no connection to or idea of the Police Service except for what the usually biased and political agenda lead press feed the public then they too will have their own opinions about everything that is wrong with Policing and those who serve the public.
The second question is a little tougher to answer. The Police Service is forever changing. In the last decade it has changed so much from what I originally signed up to. Society has changed. The UK population has changed. The UK economy has plummeted. Crime has changed. Governments, legislation, laws and policies have all changed. It is a service which never settles long enough for Police Officers to get comfortable, confident or 100 efficient at their job. The Winsor Report has seen the biggest ever changes being implemented to the Police Service of England and Wales since the day Sir Robert Peel dreamed up the idea. To think of even more changes is a daunting and nauseating task and having spent many hours over the last week or so I have concluded that the answer to both questions is very subjective and very much a matter of opinion.
These are my thoughts and ideas based on personal experience and from speaking to Police Officers of various ranks since I was asked the question. I am sure there will be plenty of fuel for debate, difference of opinion and perhaps even an argument but that just shows how black and white the Police Service is not and can not be. There is always lots of grey when it comes to Policing.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE POLICE SERVICE AND WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE?
I think that the first issue to address given the many recent press stories is the matter of honesty, integrity and accountability. In one word and the one most people are familiar with CORRUPTION. If you are gullible (or lazy) enough to believe what the national press put in front of you without at least looking into the matter a little further and simply taking their word then you would not be criticised for believing that every Police Officer from top to bottom in England and Wales are corrupt. Stories of corruption dating back to the 80’s and 90’s are being used now by the media as if that is a true portrait of policing today. Revelations about the appalling actions of the Police Officers involved in the Hillsborough tragedy and the lies and cover ups allegedly used in the Stephen Lawrence murder have been used recently in a fashion that portrays the Police of TODAY as corrupt and involved in the same activity and cover up. Yes granted there have been a couple more recent stories of Police Officers telling porky pies in order to try and knock a certain bike riding minister who thinks he too is above the law and the rules off of his pedestal, but even in this sensationalised story there was only ONE Police Officer found to be telling lies and acting in a corrupt manner (well two if you include the leaking of the log to the press as corrupt). It is true that within the Police there are a few idiots who do nothing to help matters in the way in which they behave as individuals. There is no space within the Police Service for corrupt Officers and all honest and decent Officers despise them and should do all they can to ensure they do not continue to bring our reputation into question. I am not going to insult your intelligence or have you think that I am naïve enough to believe that just because only one officer is publically exposed as corrupt that no others.
In recent years we have seen past and present Police Officers arrested and sent to prison for crimes from drink driving to child sex offences. We have had allegations of crime stat manipulation. We have had a Police Officer lie to try and get a politician in trouble. We have had Police Officers leak things to the press for personal gain (something which is technically corrupt but which also strangely causes people in the press and anti Police bloggers to accuse an officer of being corrupt for NOT leaking!). Police Officers and the service as a whole are doing much more today to see that acts of corruption, deception and lies are revealed to the public and that this kind of activity is no longer a problem within the Police. They are still a long way off being 100% free of dishonesty and I would have to question whether it is even possible to have a dishonesty free police service when it is made up of every walk of society? Whilst it is always going to be unacceptable to have corruption present in the Police Service it is necessary to remember that even if we have 100 Police Officers exposed as corrupt then that is still a very small minority and this does not reflect the Police Service as a whole. 100 corrupt cops would be around 0.077% if my maths is correct. We need to continue to oust these vermin from within and discourage them from joining in the first place but at the same time we MUST inform and educate the public properly so they can see a true picture of the situation and not be blinded by inflammatory biased media designed to easy the way for Government changes to the way Policing is conducted. And my final word to all serving Officers would be to THINK before you speak or act. Do not bring yourself and your Police family into disrepute.
The next thing which I touched on a little above is the recording of crime and statistics. A man who I admire a lot, PC James Patrick, put his backside on the line and stuck his head above the parapet in 2012 by exposing the manipulation of crime stats within his force. What followed amongst the panic and fear from his senior officers was a targeted attack on James and attempts at criminal and internal disciplinary punishments. He became a whistleblower and exposed the fact that the Police Service effectively lie to the public about crimes and also manipulate the way crimes are recorded. James has gained a lot of support from a lot of people, especially other Police Officers like myself and he has laid the way for others to be more honest about the dishonesty within their own forces when it comes to this topic.
Most recently high ranking Officers have come clean and admitted that crime recording and stats are “fiddled” and that they always have been since as far back as the 80’s. Certainly since I joined in early 00’s they have been manipulated and influenced by senior management in order to give the impression that crime rates are falling. Crimes such as Burglary Dwelling have been altered to a criminal damage and theft. Robbery has been altered to an assault and a theft. Alleged sex offences have not been recorded immediately until a CID officer has had chance to speak to the victim “just incase there is not a crime or they change their mind about reporting it”. In my own force we are currently not allowed to record a crime for burglary without first running it past a DS or DI. I have recently seen a blatant attempt burglary where a suspect(s) has smashed a full length patio door but not gained entry due to the alarm sounding, reclassified as a criminal damage. However, when fingerprints were found and matched to a suspect it was re-classified back to a burglary prior to arrest!
It is obvious why the political ranks want to lie about the crime rate in their force area and show residents and the Government that crime is falling but if that involves dishonesty at any point then that is wrong and this process MUST stop NOW! We saw news reports recently that said a full and thorough check of crime stats for England and Wales has not been conducted in over 5 years and despite Cameron and Co crying out to all who would listen that crime has dropped, it is fully expected that crime will rapidly rise when the stats are checked properly. It baffles me why, at a time when the Government are cutting the thin blue line wafer thin and stretching us to breaking point under the belief that crime is still falling so we must be coping, why any chief would continue to manipulate the stats or allow his force to do so. Surely it is at this time when we want to show the Government and the public that we are struggling to keep the ship afloat. That we are overstretched and overworked and at this rate it will only be a matter of time before we can not continue to protect the public to the same high standard. I am also intrigued where this order has come from and who began this dishonest practice.
Something else which is wrong with the Police Service but which is currently improving slowly is the management of finances and budgets. Having bobbies with no or little financial training or knowledge be in charge of a departmental or divisional budget is madness and something which has gotten us into financial difficulty in the first place. Police Forces around the UK are still over spending, wasting money, not bartering or bargain hunting by shopping around and are spending in the wrong places. My force for example decided in these financially difficult times to spend thousands of pounds on flat screen TVs for front help desks which they then closed and also corridors within the station. These TVs show images of our divisional Senior Management Teams with a little bio about them. Prior to the TVs they made do with printed pictures, so why the expensive upgrade? They have offices sat vacant and gathering dust whilst paying rent to partner agencies for officers to use their space. They changed uniform to a much lower quality and ill fitting alternative which rips and tears so easily Officers are forever requesting new uniform. We are being kitted out with in car laptops which have atrocious connectivity and we have expensive personal handheld devices on the way. We have had endless new IT systems and subsequent fixes and upgrades when they fail. Our vehicles seem to shrink each year and are simply not practical for the job of a patrol officer. However, in order to save cash they have removed all kettles, all fridges, all canteen and kitchen equipment, all vending machines, all coffee machines, all water fountains and all Televisions in the staff “canteen”. Money for training has been slashed. Special payments for being trained in a specialist skill such as CBRN have been or are being scrapped. Essential specialist teams and units are being disbanded whilst pathetic teams designed to look at how the force can improve or how they can save money (often staffed by a DI, Insp, Sgt and a few civilian staff) are being formed. We waste money printing hundreds of thousands of leaflets and then paying Police Officers and PCSO’s to hand deliver them to each house in the division which takes weeks. The financial management within the Police is a mess and is in desperate need of a shake up. Officers can see this mismanagement of money happening all around them whilst SMT are telling them “We still need to save so many millions of pounds and the only way we think we can do that is by losing more staff and Officers”. What a great way to boost morale eh?
Which leads me onto the next problem. Rock bottom morale. Never in the history of the Police Service can I imagine the morale of the lowest ranks being lower. Police Officers are dropping left right and centre with stress and depression. So many desperately want to resign but are scared to do so due to their pensions and having no training or trade which they could use in the “real world”. Since handing in my resignation I have not had one single person suggest I was making a mistake, question why or try and talk me out of it. Every single person from PC to Supt rank has said they envy me and wish they could do the same. On my team alone we have only 3 PCs including myself. I leave on the 13th February. One has a job interview for the AA in a few weeks and the 3rd is desperate to find an escape route. The fun, the camaraderie, the bonding and feeling of a family which once used to ooze from every Officer is now non-existant thanks to endless cuts, attacks from the Government and media, excessive pressure from the top ranks and the enforcement of things such as permanent single crewing and staggered meal breaks (if you can manage to get one). Only 6-7 years ago you would go to briefing at the start of your shift and see at least 15 Officers ready to go out and patrol and respond to calls. Now you’re talking about half that number and all of them have huge workloads and piles of paperwork to get through whilst at the same time supposedly responding to calls and patrolling the streets. You used to be crewed up with a partner, somebody you could trust to watch your back if you found yourself in a tricky situation or outnumbered etc. Somebody to offload and debrief with after horrific jobs such as rapes, murders, RTCs, child sex offences etc. Somebody to share wisdom and advice at jobs which you may not be too familiar with. Somebody, dare I say it, to have a laugh with at work. It built friendships, relationships, a family unit and a great team. Now the only time you see a colleague is in the changing room at the start and end of your shift or when you’re in need of backup. Instead of that strong team bond it is breeding contempt amongst colleagues and people are falling out with each other over who has done more than the rest, who is and isn’t perceived to be pulling their weight. People are at each other’s throats and some are even stooping so low that they are trying to set each other up to fail or make mistakes to get them into trouble. Even the old banter and micky taking which used to exist and built character amongst friends is now labelled as bullying. Simply asking the team probationer to make the brews is considered wrong for god sake. It used to be a right of passage. A way to earn your colleagues and “families” trust and support. Now, you’re considered a bully and the new generation of Police Officer with the lack of the “old lags” to keep everybody in shape, are all to quick to run to Sir and tell tales. Morale, team work, bonding and that once abundant closeness are all now on the endangered list. It disgusted me to read today that the Chief and Commissioner of West Yorkshire Police have rejected requests to form an action plan to help boost morale! I spoke to a couple of WYP officers who stated that there are big changes happening across the force and nowhere on the list of priorities to consider during these changes does welfare and morale of staff feature. The ACPO levels are being told by the Officers on the ground, the Police Federation and experts on stress and depression that something MUST be done but it appears this is so low down on their list of priorities that they will not wake up to reality until the wheel comes off.
For Police Officers of any rank it is a very big risk to speak out or whistle blow. I touched on it earlier when I spoke of James Patrick. Last time I spoke of the risks of Whistle blowing for Police Officers I seemed to have stirred some trolls who climbed up from under their bridges to tell me what a fool I was and that compared to the likes of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange there is no risk at all for Police Officers to speak out. Well obviously that is true. I am not a complete idiot thank you very much. Exposing matters of national security or high power corruption around the world is of course far more risky than speaking about the mismanagement and corruption within the Police. BUT, there is still great personal risk to the Officer involved and a huge moral battle to be had internally whilst deciding whether to blow the whistle or not. For a person with a job which would not think twice about trying to send you to prison in the worst case scenario for breaching laws only specific to Police Officers or who would sack you, take away your financial security and your pension leaving you with a potential personal and family dilemma, the decision to speak out is pretty damn tough. Especially when you now consider how far and how aggressively the force would pursue you if you dared. The chiefs have tried their damndest to instil a fear into the hearts of every serving Officer to prevent them from speaking out to the press or writing about it themselves. They try to encourage you to deal with it internally and speak to a member of senior management so as to keep it from the public eyes and ears. Officers are regularly reminded about the risks of bringing the force into disrepute in warning emails and briefing items from PSD using language like “We would hate for anybody to put their career at risk”. Sadly it seems at times that the Police Service want you to be honest and act with integrity… unless it is about internal matters, in which case shut up.
Much more needs to be done, as is being done with other public sectors, to encourage individuals to come forward and speak out against mismanagement, deception and corruption. There is no suitable internal system which Officers feel confident and safe in using in order to raise these issues without fear of reprisal and until more is done to encourage and support whistle blowing within the Police we are going to see Officers either being complicit in the actions or risking their careers, financial security, family life and even their liberty in order to expose the truth.
The one thing which has become blindingly obvious over the last 3-4 years with the implementation of the Winsor Report etc and something which the Government have taken full advantage of is the distinct lack of support, representation and legs to stand on the Police possess. It is illegal for Police Officers to strike or even plan on doing so. An agreement made in the 80’s was that the Government would honour an annual payrise for the Police in return for them giving up the right to strike and the right to join/form a union. Things went swimmingly until the current band of thieves running the country decided that actually, they are not going to pay the Police an annual payrise and so broke the deal. Many thought “Ah well if you have broken the deal then we want our industrial rights back” but it seemed the Government had planned ahead and so just re-wrote the legislation making it perfectly fine for them to change their mind and do what they wish with our pay and conditions BUT it is still illegal for the Police to strike or form a union. This infuriated everybody. Most said they would never strike anyway as it goes against every moral fibre but having the RIGHT to do so should they decided is a different matter. The Police called upon the only group in existence designed to represent their needs and welfare. The Police Federation of England and Wales.
Now I am not taking ANYTHING away from the Fed, which is made up of Police Officers of various ranks. They do work as hard as possible to provide rank and file Police Officers with various services. However, when it comes to standing up against the Government and fighting against their propositions they have proven to be a bit hopeless. Not for lack of trying I might add. I know numerous Fed Reps and they work their fingers to the bone and stress themselves out to the max striving to make a difference and struggling to combat all the negative press out there. BUT.
The big problem is that the Federation is made up of serving Police Officers. They are perfect for internal matters but when it comes to fighting decisions and policies made by Government or the highest ranks they are restricted by the same rules and laws as every Officer. They cant be expected to put their career at risk “for the cause”. The Government and the press like to portray and label the Federation as the Police Services union but they are far from it. Unions have power. With all the respect in the world, the Federation really do not. The Home Secretary made her stance on the Federation blatantly clear when rules which stated the Fed had to be consulted prior to changes were scrapped and now it is simply a matter of courtesy if she decides to let them know. So long as the Police are forbidden from forming or joining a union and so long as the Federation are made up of serving Officers then the truth is, Officers are on their own. Nobody to speak out for them and address the many myths and press rumours. Nobody to stand up to the Chiefs. Nobody to truly defend them. What is needed is a group, not a union of course, made up of ex-Officers and Police supporters who can work with and for the Officers and the Fed from the outside, free from policy and Police specific laws whilst the Federation concentrate on providing the superb services they already do on internal matters.
These are just a few of the issues I believe exist in the Police Service of England and Wales. Whilst I have been writing this I have become aware that actually all of these things can be put down to one problem. The management.
I am talking about the political ranks. Chiefs, Commissioners and Ministers. The ultimate policy creators and decision makers. These are the people responsible for all of these things except for individual officer corruption. These people are the ones responsible for the culture of fear preventing people feeling they can speak out. These are the people who decide to fiddle figures and manipulate crime recording. These are the people in charge of the budget and finances and these are the people responsible for destroying the morale of the ranks below them. Their poor management and decision making results in lack of public confidence and satisfaction and it is the hard working men and women who are the public face of Policing who take the brunt of the dissatisfaction. There is a common phrase in the Police Service which sums this up; –
“Shit rolls down hill”
In other words, the bad decisions made at the top roll all the way down to the bottom where Police Officer who want nothing more than to serve the public and get on with the job in hand face criticism, abuse and negativity. People need to realise that those “Police” they actually see are often just as frustrated as they are and that they have to follow the orders of those at the top or face up to the fact, as I have done, that it is time to call it a day and move on.
To summerise, the problem with the Police today lies at the highest levels and it is at this level where change needs to be made and where a lot of money can be saved.
The contents of this blog are mostly my own opinion and ideas. However, I have also linked in with other Officers of various ranks both serving and retired/resigned and so their words and opinions are also contained within.