This is a bit different and something of a guest blog! You have heard lots from me about the state policing is in right now – my two most used hashtags at the moment sum it up – #CrisisInPolicing and #PolicingInCollapse – but today I came across (third hand) an account from a serving officer who pointed out that even officers who had retired just a few years ago would not believe how bad things have become.
It is very powerful stuff and I immediately felt that it deserved a far wider audience. Having got the author’s agreement, I am just going to cut and paste it into this blog verbatim, with just a very few small amendments to aid clarity.
Although it is addressed to retired officers, I think EVERYONE should read it:
A Serving UK Police Officer writes:
“After reading some of the negative comments on here I think some (not all) retired cops don’t realise how bad things are. When I first joined it was even busier than it is now. We routinely rushed from job to job, nights and lates especially. We were not bothered at all, in fact my recollection is that it was mostly fun. We chased cars, we fought with criminals and locked them up, we dealt proportionally with incidents that didn’t require heavy handed intervention and we were resilient enough to say when things were not our responsibility. Yes we spent time dealing with s136 [Mental Health Act detentions], we created too many [Missing Person Reports], we did constant supervisions [of people at risk in custody or in hospital] and stood at scenes…but there were enough of us generally that we didn’t spend all our time doing stuff we hated.
“The numbers game was a disgrace but other than that, politics didn’t interfere with our daily routine. Being [a police officer] was worthwhile and it was fun. Importantly we were paid far more fairly for our work. Overtime rates were fair, we were not routinely given an annual pay decrease, we didn’t have rest days cancelled, we didn’t have to pay to park! Our pensions reflected the long term harm of working nights and balanced the overall “package” making the reward seem proportionate and giving us a sense of worth.
The police were never put on a pedestal like doctors, solicitors, etc. but we were perceived, and we believed ourselves, to be a profession. We knew what our job was supposed to be. Over a decade of deliberate, systematic, politically driven propaganda, coupled with a huge drop in pay, pension and working conditions have adversely affected officers sense of self worth. And then there’s the actual job…….
“The infrastructure of society has been massively eroded while the scrutiny everyone is put under has increased tenfold. More than ever the police have become the safety net or, more accurately, the gutter of society. Cops don’t chase villains, it’s too risky. They don’t fight with villains, there are too many people videoing them and public opinion is too easily swayed against them. They don’t arrest criminals, they speak to their solicitors and arrange a time that is convenient for both of them to come in. Custody has become a hospital ward. We spend most of our time dealing with mental health issues and everyone who is temporarily upset, drunk or drugged off their heads has mental health issues and so must be treated accordingly.
“We ring people up and ask if they are 100% happy with our service and we believe everything they say. Despite the fact that they were drunk when we dealt with them, despite the fact that they are 100% anti police, despite the fact that we can show that we didn’t do what they say we did…..they are right and we are wrong. The bosses will think the worst and re-write policy based on disinformation.
“There is no such thing as a quick or simple job, everything has to be recorded on some form or other, or written up in full. Every action has to be documented [so it can] be weighed up and evaluated [and] to allow slow time judgement of quick time decision making. [This is usually done by] senior managers who have spent most of their careers evading front line duties [and] whose decision making process is tainted by self interest and [who] increasingly regard front line officers as being slow witted, dull, unambitious, lazy and disinterested. Or else why would they stay front line police officers?
“The CPS are broken and our own support departments eroded to nothing. They have not got the time or resources to prep files, so we do everything for them. We write and re-write every file, we gather every bit of evidence, even when it’s not relevant or required. We only take people to court if the CPS feel that there is a 99% chance of conviction so we write a million files for no reason. The CPS conviction rate looks great, but the sad fact is, for all that work we put in, fewer criminals go to prison than ever before, and they get released earlier. They are not bailed they are [released under investigation]. They breach every order and we are powerless.
“We “crime” everything, even stuff that we know has not happened. We “crime” it, record it and then we do victim needs assessments, even when the victim does not have any needs (or is even a victim). We are always [officer in the case] of at least a dozen crimes, even at 24/7 response level and we need to make sure people are 100% happy with every crime we deal with and that they feel that we have provided a bespoke service. They have to be the centre of our world while we do it. Obviously we won’t get allocated any time to do this, as there are a million jobs on delay but we will be blamed if we make a mistake. When I say BLAMED, the blame culture is gone…..apparently. So obviously we won’t be shouted at. No we will be asked to write reports. We will be given negative [Professional Development Report] entries, we will be put on action plans and our workload will increase as a result. It will all be done really supportively….the bosses will supportively ensure we have even more paperwork to do, even though the problem is almost always that we are already drowning under a weight of unnecessary administration. The systemic problems are ignored because the easy option is to blame the cops.
“Vulnerability… there are a million ways to be classified as vulnerable and if you are classified as vulnerable you need an even quicker response. You need more time and resources spent on you, you need a better level of service all round. The problem is EVERYONE who has a reason to feel under pressure is vulnerable. Old, young, drink, drugs, mental health, poverty, race, gender, social isolation…I could go on but it gets worse. Other people [and] organisations can decide who is or isn’t vulnerable and, once they do, WE need to deal with it.
- Third party report with no evidence to underpin the vulnerability and no immediacy? No bother, we will get straight on it.
- Complex socio-economic problems which don’t really fall within the remit of the police but [which] have caused the person to feel depressed and now you have “Concerns for their safety” No problem, we will get straight on it.
- A person you have no regular contact with, and who you know very little about has not come in for an appointment about their alcohol or drug addiction? Of course we will [report] them missing and will allocate resources due to their “vulnerability” (we don’t have any resources but we will get straight on it).
“You might ask how on earth we deal with the real job of policing when we are dealing with all of these social problems. Easy. WE DON’T. We don’t stop search, we don’t proactively patrol, we seldom execute warrants or conduct any pre-planned jobs. We don’t patrol the same areas [regularly] so we don’t build up an intelligence picture and we don’t establish any [community] links, so we are isolated. Criminals are not scared of us, they know how strapped we are and they know how little support we have. Single crewed, hampered by having to account for everything we do (including a form for every time we have to put hands on a person), we are an easy target. As respect wanes, assaults on officers increase and public safety declines.
“The job has changed completely. We are not police: we are the overspill for the social services and the mental health profession. Our bosses are completely removed from us: they live in distant HQs – we don’t see them and they don’t see us. They are all embedded on Twitter, they love a blog and if there is a political agenda which looks promising in terms of their career aspirations they will be all over it on social media. [But] if we have a problem that needs to be addressed we are [dismissed as being] resistant to change, we are negative, we need to “buy in”. Training is done via NCALT [the police service eLearning platform] and it reflects what people who don’t understand our job think we need to know. Or what the organisation feels it needs to put out, to insulate itself from harm and leave the blame with us.
“The fastest way to progress is to get out of front line policing at the earliest opportunity and don’t ever come back. But with no experience of front line policing becoming the norm amongst senior management the gap between “them” and “us” grows wider every day. This obviously makes the problem worse. We now have a majority of Chief Inspectors and Superintendents who have never been 24/7 Sergeants or Inspectors. [Force Operations Managers in Control Rooms] who have never had a response supervision role (EVER!) [and] who rely on secondhand knowledge and who cut and paste from help screens [on the Command and Control IT systems]. [Their] initial thought is always “How can I keep my nose clean, climb the ladder or use this to my advantage?” [and] they will openly gamble with public and officer safety if they see it as the best option to avoid [them] having to make a contentious decision.
“Most of us see ourselves as being a different breed from the bosses. We don’t have a career, we have a job. There are very few lateral opportunities and a 30 year career is now a 35-40 year slog. We still do our best to provide a decent service for Mr and Mrs Anybody. We strive to keep the shite from harming the decent folk, but with one hand tied behind our backs. We support each other as best we can and try and keep the bosses off our backs. We make the best of the confusing, disjointed, crap policy 9?) they shovel at us.
“This might all appear to be negative and there are clearly issues, but to any retired cops who feel that the job isn’t what it was: you are spot on. But the lads and lasses wearing the uniform are every bit as committed as you were, they are just doing the job under much harsher conditions and with far less “top cover,” So maybe you can give them the benefit of the doubt. The worst thing is, we are not blind to it. You don’t need to tell us the level of service we provide is poor: we know how bad we are. It is something that, more than any pressure, causes stress anxiety and depression to be so commonplace as to be the norm. Nobody joins to do a bad job but sometimes the choice is taken out of your hands. Criticise away, it’s justified in most cases. But remember the pension you earned (and you did earn it) is being paid into by people who themselves will not benefit [to anything like] the same level, but [who] don’t begrudge you your fair share.
“Yes, “The job is f***ed, young-un!” but we didn’t f*** it. We just have to live with it.”
So there it is – a “warts and all”, “no holds barred” account of life on the frontline of UK response policing today. I’d like to say that I am horrified and astounded. But I am not. I hear similar tales from officers in forces around the country every single day.
The sad reality, as the officer’s account plainly demonstrates, is that after eight years of relentless cuts from Tory-led Governments, there IS a #CrisisInPolicing and, in many parts of many forces, we ARE seeing #PolicingInCollapse.
We were #NotCryingWolf.
This officer is #NotCryingWolf.
He or she is making a desperate plea for help.
I just hope someone in Government is listening. Or that someone in the Home Office or Downing Street sees this, prints it off and slips it into Theresa May. Sajid Javid and Nick Hurd’s red boxes…