On 4 March 2012, Ian Blair wrote anarticle in the Guardian describing police officer numbers as a “political shibboleth” and suggesting that excessive focus on the number of serving police officers acts as a “straitjacket” to police forces, preventing them from modernising. Since then, I have noticed a marked trend in Guardian comment pieces, demonstrated for example by Martin Kettle on 31 January (Theresa May has simply got on with the job of police reform), to accept as read that police officer numbers are a red herring and that there is no need for increased recruitment.

I am a police officer. I work in a busy CID in London. Some officers on my unit are investigating 26-28 crimes. There have been times when officers have had approaching 40. I am officer on the case for five separate incidents of GBH. These are not my only crimes; they are simply the most serious. Despite their importance, I am constantly distracted from being able to provide the victims with a proper service because the workload is so crushingly high. No police officer I know would ever argue that the people of our borough are being provided with a high quality service or with any adequate level of investigation into their crimes. Since 1 January, over 3,000 crimes have been reported in our borough. There are 30 officers in my unit, each with an average of 15-20 serious crimes to investigate. We work 40 hours a week. Bearing in mind that we might want to stop to eat or nip to the toilet, that works out at about two hours per week per crime. Even the most minor of harassments or thefts requires at least two hours’ work, and one GBH alone can take up a whole week in its early stages, with many hours more as the case develops and goes to court.

I love my job, but sometimes I wake up in the mornings and cry at the thought of going in to that pressure cooker. The knowledge that I have a list of actions the length of my arm, and that I will come in to more new crimes, prisoners, critical incidents, missing persons and more drives me to despair. On a weekend, there are three or four officers to cover the whole borough, to deal with all the most serious incidents. That can range from a high-risk gang-related attempted murder to a missing 12-year-old, all to be dealt with on one morning. By three or four people.

My colleagues and I have fantasies of just walking away, of never having to live through this stress, this horror, ever again. It impacts on our family lives, our social lives, it turns us into heavy drinkers. It makes us hate the public because, by becoming victims of crime every single hour of every single day they increase our workload to such astronomical levels that all we can do is battle to close crimes as quickly as possible. Not solve them, close them, so that they don’t take up any more of our precious time.

As things are now, no one benefits. Victims get poor service, crimes are not solved, offenders go free, and police officers’ mental and physical health suffers from the pressure that is applied to us. Until such point as the deep-seated societal problems of poverty and inequality are solved and the conditions that cause our high crime rate are changed, we need more police officers, so that the load can be spread out a little bit further. It angers me that this paper pumps out articles advocating a position that, in practice, makes my life, my colleagues’ lives, and the lives of our victims, encroach upon the unbearable.
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