At All Costs
Over the last few days the issue of what cuts to police budgets might mean has finally gained some traction in the media.
First we had Merseyside CC Sir Jon Murphy speaking plainly and honestly about what the re-structure of the force would look like:
“We will not deliver as good as service as we have done before. In some instances it will take us longer to get there. In some cases we won’t turn up. That’s an inevitable consequence of having less people to do more work.”
Meanwhile, in the West Midlands, 2500 staff face the daunting prospect of redundancy as they try to make the savings required of them in the Spending Review. CC Chris Sims said “This is certainly not what I would have wanted but we have already had to make £126m worth of cuts and face the prospect of saving a further £120m over the next five years”
CC Sara Thornton, president of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, speaking on the BBC, said that it “could be” that an officer might not attend to investigate a burglary. She said that crime is changing and the police needed to reform radically in order to survive the budget cuts.
In all of these three cases the Chief Constables have talked about how shrinking finances will force the police to concentrate on the areas where there is the highest risk of harm. All have said that with reduced numbers they will not be able to do everything they did before and that difficult choices would need to be made. All have talked about there needing to be new ways of approaching policing and all have talked of the need for other agencies to do more of the things they probably should have been doing in the first place.
This is a marked change of narrative from the Chiefs. Gone is what I termed the “relentless optimism” of what were previously badged as “new and exciting opportunities” presented by financial cuts. This, though late, is a welcome and far more realistic view of the future.
The Federation have been trying for a couple of years to promote the cuts have consequences message and now that members of the NPCC have started to echo that (but with a slightly different message) it seems to have gained some traction in the media.
The media response has been interesting. When the Fed tried this tack they were accused of crying wolf. The Home Secretary herself used the term and with great confidence challenged the Fed at conference to demonstrate where these consequences were – because no one was seeing them.
The response from the media now the Chiefs are speaking out is to accuse them of abandoning the public and putting their officers first. Sara Thornton’s comments about burglary attendance in particular have been seized upon and twisted. She didn’t say that police wouldn’t investigate burglary – she said that it might be investigated in a different way. For example – the person who is most likely to gain evidence at a burglary scene is a Crime Scene Examiner. At the moment a police officer is sent who will generally look at the scene and not touch anything. They might take a short statement of loss from the victim and offer what reassurance and advice they can, conduct some house to house enquiries and then await CSI. Why not just send CSI? Surely they could do the same as well as conducting a forensic examination of the scene? One person sent instead of two? Just a thought.
The main problem with the response from the media and the politicians is that it is clear that they still have absolutely no idea what the police actually do. In their mind it would seem that there are more than enough officers to deal with things and that we should be able to deal with everything that is asked of us.
What has really irked me this week, however, is the accusation that the police are lazy and inept. CC Thornton has made the point twice in a week, once in her speech and once on television, that unless the police reform to cope with demand then it will break the staff. There is simply too much work to do for those who will be left behind after the job losses.
The Daily Telegraph responded to this with an editorial which almost caused me to gnaw through the knuckle of my right index finger. I was incensed when I read it.
The editorial started by saying that “Chief Constables must remember their duty to reassure victims of crime.” The heading was “police must not ignore burglary victims.”
The paragraph which really got me was this one
“Another of her comments is also highly revealing: “I don’t think it’s possible to carry on doing what we’ve always done, as we will just fail the public but also cause unacceptable stress among our officers and staff.” For while the comfort and happiness of police officers is important, it is not the reason that police forces exist. That reason is to uphold the law and protect the populace, both from crime and the fears, anxiety and distress that crime causes.”
I think we all know the reason why the police exist the point being made is that it is going to be impossible to do that if you push the staff you have to breaking point.
Much is said across the various Twitter feeds of local Police Federation about how close to the edge the staff are. How overworked and overloaded they are. How tired and exhausted they have become.
Another news article this week outlined the fact that since the cuts started the police overtime budget has gone through the roof. This was an utterly foreseeable consequence. The work still needs to be done and if there aren’t enough people to do it then you have to pay those who are left to work longer to complete it.
What the article didn’t say is that, actually, it is getting harder and harder to find people who WANT to do the overtime any more. Everyone is so tired that they just aren’t interested.
The cynical and most likely response to this problem is to change the pay conditions, buy out overtime so it isn’t paid any more and then order people to stay on. Change rest days at the drop of a hat, cancel leave and alter working hours at short notice. What other organisation would tolerate that?
The problem is that the press particularly seem to see the police as a special case. An occupation where, once you have joined, you are effectively public property and anything and everything you do is to be scrutinised.
This is actually true – police are, after all, crown servants who are paid for from the public purse. But there is a difference between legitimate scrutiny and expecting someone to work until they drop just because their salary comes from the precept.
I saw a tweet this week which really summed this up. I can’t remember who sent it but it was another one of those “is this a good use of police time?” jibes and it showed three uniformed officers (at least one was a PCSO) walking out of a Nando’s restaurant carrying food.
The author of the tweet has simply jumped to the conclusion that this is an unacceptable situation and how dare three officers get something to eat, in public, at the same time.
It’s funny how no-one asks that of any other occupation in the world.
Walk around any town or city in the UK at lunchtime and you will see small groups of co-workers wandering in and out of cafés or food outlets without a care in the world. If they are lucky they might be able to stroll out to a park and take in some sunshine whilst they eat together. All very civilised.
Apparently, for police, this is different.
Let me tell you about my lunch break. I don’t get one. Not very often anyway. Yes, I am paid for the full total of hours I am on duty but within that time should be 45 minutes of uninterrupted rest so that I can get something to eat and take a break.
Where I work I am the only person in the room, in fact the only person in the force, who is allocated to perform the job I do. I have no deputy and there is no back up. If someone has to make a decision on an initial firearms response that is my job and my job alone. I have many other responsibilities which are unique and constant so my lunch break – if I get one – is likely to be five minutes away from my screens to bolt something down my neck before returning. Often I eat at my desk. Often I don’t eat at all.
Police refreshment breaks are allowed subject to the exigencies of duty. They are not a right as they might be for anyone else in the world of work.
Don’t get me wrong – it has been like this for ever and it doesn’t actually bother me. What bothers me is the constant criticism which is thrown at police officers who dare to be seen eating or buying food in public.
You may or may not be aware of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
At the bottom of the illustration are those things which are necessary for a human being to function. At the top are the things we aspire to achieve. If you don’t have things at the bottom – you can’t move up the triangle.
Unsurprisingly – food and water are on the bottom. Two essential requirements to sustain human life.
What authors of tweets such as the one above are saying is that it actually matters where a police officer buys their lunch and that it actually matters how many of them do it at the same time.
I could get sanctimonious and offer defences such as “they could have spent the last 6 hours at a crime scene guard” or “perhaps they have just been to a harrowing incident” but what is the point. It is overly defensive and the fact is that the author has jumped to the conclusion that three officers buying something to eat is a frivolous use of tax payers money.
I am lucky to sit in a position at work where I can “see” the whole force. I can see the whole board. Let me assure you that everyone is working flat out.
From the people who don’t stop taking calls from the moment they sit down to the moment they leave (remember I talked about the three staff who took over 700 calls in 8 hours a few weeks back), to the colleagues who spend all day dispatching officers and dealing with radio traffic. To the officers who go from job to job to job without break for their entire tour of duty. To the staff who deal with the administrative side of what these jobs create – the crime reports, the allocation, the filing.
To the team’s working in CID who are now coping with more work than I think has ever been the case previously. To the CSI’s who attend the crime scenes and gather evidence. To the slimmed down traffic departments who now cover vast areas in smaller numbers. To all those people who work across the organisation keeping the wheels on.
Everyone is busy – everyone is flat out.
You can only improve the performance of any organisation in one of two ways.
You either increase capacity or you reduce demand.
Are the police getting more resources and thereby increasing capacity? No.
Is demand reducing? No.
The next round of cuts will actually DECREASE capacity further and so, if the police are to stand any chance at all they need to reduce demand. This is why reform is necessary.
But where Sara Thornton is right and the Telegraph is wrong is that officer and staff welfare is not a choice. It is not a choice between keeping the staff safe and healthy and answering the demand of the public – the two things are symbiotic.
If your staff are broken because they have been hammered beyond capacity by the workload then they cannot offer any kind of public service. They will become ill and go sick and capacity will reduce further. This will increase the demand on those left behind and so this will continue until they break as well.
Police officers are tough people but they are not machines.
The demand from the public cannot be met at all costs to the welfare of the staff no matter how much the tax payers pay. It is false economy.
We’ve heard a lot of this adage lately – we’ve also considered whether actually it isn’t a one way street at the moment. But, with apologies to Sir Robert Peel, I think it needs something adding to it at the moment:
The police are the public and the public are the police.
The public are human and the police are human too.
Tags: budget cuts, crying wolf, Hierarchy of Needs, increase capacity, Maslow, National Police Chiefs' Council, Police, Police Federation, Police reform, Public sector, Red Button Project, reduce demand, resilience, Welfare