I have re-posted this from my other blog, due to its political nature. Apologies to those of you who have been sent it twice. Pete.
I have been around for a while. Long enough to have seen policing go through various incarnations. Police have been trusted, then unpopular, then hated, then reviled, and gone full circle to being popular once again. I have had, and still do have, relatives in the job, and my last period of employment prior to retiring, was as a civilian employee of the Metropolitan Police. To a fair degree, I speak from both contact, and experience.
Almost everything we understood about the Police has changed. We used to think we could rely on them for immediate assistance, if something terrible was to befall us. This is no longer guaranteed. Police stations are closing in their hundreds, and others have adopted the same opening hours as local gift shops. Officers on the street, always a reassuring presence, are being replaced by Community Support Officers. Well-intentioned they might be, but they do not have the same powers, the level of acceptance, or enjoy the traditional respect afforded to the old ‘Beat Bobby’.
In most areas, the Police have become another arm of bureaucracy. With civilian overseers, one hand tied behind their back by PACE, CCTV, and a system where everything is weighted in favour of the offender. Answering to Council Committees, Review Boards, and Government Investigative Panels, they have had the ability to do the job almost surgically removed. Funding cuts have been targeted at the wrong end of policing too. Patrols, immediate response, and attendance at burglaries, deceptions, and even less serious robberies, have all been shelved. At the same time, money is spent on Civilian Crime Commissioners, new management structures, helicopters, armed units, and increased computerisation. Self-reporting via the Internet, crime numbers given for insurance claim forms, and non-emergency advice numbers, all represent the new style of policing emerging in the UK. Try explaining this to an old pensioner, duped out of their life savings by a doorstep conman, or a young single mum, who has lost everything when her handbag was snatched.
It may well be that the crimes are just not possible to solve. Bringing someone to the Courts for the offence, does not return the valuables, or allay the fears at night. That is hardly the point. People need to see someone, to feel that they matter, and that someone in authority is concerned about them. They hope to stop these things happening to others, and justifiably believe that they have a right to some kind of investigation, however basic. It is worth noting that they also contribute to policing by paying Council Tax, so if there is to be no resolution for the crimes they have suffered as victims, then why should they be expected to carry on paying?
The sad fact is, that the Police are alienating the very sections of society that traditionally supported them, at the times when they were least popular. Corrupt detectives, bribed by gangsters, heavy-handed officers, attacking pickets or rioters, even cases of tragic deaths in custody, none of this mattered to most people, the so-called ‘silent majority’. They accepted these things as the necessary evils of policing, and decided that there were acceptable levels of collateral damage to be expected, to ensure reliable protection. It is those same people who are now marginalised, let down and betrayed by the system they upheld. They now install extra security locks, home CCTV systems, and keep baseball bats next to their beds. It has dawned on them, that the heyday of ‘good’ policing is over, and they have to take back responsibility for their own safety.
This is not the fault of individual officers, far from it. Given the opportunity, I suspect that they would like nothing more than the chance to chase down a robber, grab a burglar in the act, or take on a group of anti-social vandals. Unfortunately, they are joining a Police Service very different from the one they saw on TV as youngsters. The CPS decide not to prosecute offenders caught red-handed, even admitting their crimes, as they decide that the process is too expensive, or too consuming of Police resources. Forget the victim, forget the efforts of the Officers, they will just have to accept it, no repercussions allowed. Political correctness, and the rights of the criminal have become the creed of today’s Justice System. Light sentences, because of overcrowded prisons, Community Service, and Electronic Tagging, have replaced many custodial punishments, often for very serious crimes. This has left the criminal with a distinct advantage, for the first time that I can ever recall.
Given all this, is it any wonder that Police Officers are now rejecting the system, and using it to their own ends? Recent cases of officers claiming huge amounts for minor injuries incurred during working hours, have been widely publicised. There is a lot more happening though. Serving officers are selling information to the newspapers, and other media. This is not just for the money, as the sums involved bear no relation to the salaries and pensions of some of the senior officers involved. No, this is also driven by frustration, bitterness, and anger. In other cases, officers from ethnic minorities have joined various forces, only to almost immediately claim racial prejudice against them, and sue for huge sums. The very motives for joining the job are changing, as it is becoming perceived as a ‘cash cow’. To avoid more bad publicity, and fearing the playing of the so-called ‘race card’, these police authorities pay huge sums, to make the problem go away. Even those officers not considering legal action, in one form or another, are bombarded by images of a society consumed by litigation, usually successful. Their plans become a fail safe; ‘if X happens, I can always sue’, is a seed planted in their minds.
Other police officers are looking to get away from traditional policing on the streets. Why get into fights, chases, and riot situations, when they can transfer to the increasing number of office jobs, free of the rigours of shift work? They no longer need to worry about wrongful arrest, deaths in custody, being sued by criminals, or dealing with the gripes of victims. They can sit at a computer all day, pumping out intelligence briefings, crime figures, overtime cost calculations, and advising staff of Court appearances. They might even be assigned to a Crime Reduction Unit, where they can inform homeowners how not to call the Police anymore. Despite numerous reports and Inquiries, telling police forces to get officers back on the street, away from administration roles, and to better interact with the public, it is just not happening. At any given time, there are probably less than 40% of police officers employed, actually out on the streets policing. There may well be a need for the roles behind the scenes, but that should be secondary, and not at the cost of public disgust in the system.
Dixon of Dock Green will be turning in his grave.