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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A Question of Trust

Let’s start with a little game…

Which of these is the odd one out?

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Give up?

Okay, the answer is the computer. Police officers are generally trusted to use the other five things.

Batons, CS, fast cars, tasers, even guns. All capable of causing pain. Some even capable of causing serious injury or death. All capable of hitting the headlines through their use, influencing public opinion or affecting the reputation of the police service. All requiring those who use them to be professional and accountable for their actions at all times.
And there’s nothing wrong with that is there? It is right that police officers are held accountable for their actions, especially if this involves the use of force or coercion. Our police service is founded on the principle of policing by consent – therefore the public must be able to trust us to carry out our duties and it rightly follows that we must be able to justify our actions.

So, what’s the difference with the computer then? Actually, it is there to represent social media – a phenomenon that has been around for much less time than fast(ish) police cars and firearms units. It also carries the potential to cause harm and impact on public confidence or the reputation of the police service. Used well, it can be a fantastic tool for genuine public engagement – feedback I have received goes along the lines that people like to see the human side of police officers. Guess what, we listen to music, go to the pub and do ‘normal’ stuff, just like you.

At the other end of the police social media spectrum lies the awkward, mechanical broadcasting associated with some corporate accounts. You can only be told so many times not to give your bank account details to complete strangers before you switch off, or read about how crime has decreased ‘compared to last year’ (statistically meaningless, but that’s another blog post). However, there is no doubt that, used well, social media is a brilliant medium for reaching out to people who might not otherwise come into contact with the police.

But there’s an underlying trust issue.

Unlike the confidence invested in the officers who routinely carry metal bars and noxious chemicals (i.e. batons and CS), there often seems to be a degree of organisational nervousness around police use of social media. Draconian social media policies seek to restrict and control the use of social media – I even know of electronic monitoring software that can be covertly deployed to ‘watch’ accounts. At the root of this fear seems to be the assumption that officers will do something stupid or illegal if left alone with their keyboards.
Personally, I have no problem with a computer programme checking whether I put naughty words like ‘****’ or ‘****’ on Twitter, as long as it is all done ethically and transparently. Any officer who puts words like that (or even ‘****’) all over their Facebook page deserves to be pulled up, as it is unprofessional and reflects poorly on the entire police service.

What I find hard to reconcile however, is the disparity between the institutional hunger for tighter control of social media versus the widely-accepted position that other conduct is simply subject to the Standards of Professional Behaviour. Guess what, nothing about social media use is exempt from the SOPB so if I call you a ‘****’ in the street it’s no different to me doing it on my Twitter account. Why the latter therefore seems to require an additional layer of regulations, I have no idea.

Yes, there are risks around the misuse of social media, but the police is an organisation that deals with risk all the time. There are risks associated with driving police cars at speed, hitting someone with that metal bar, or having to pull the trigger of your MP5 to save someone’s life. We are well-versed at managing these sorts of risks, but perhaps not so good at investing a bit of trust in PC Bloggs who just wants to communicate with the people who live on his patch. The key is in proportionality.

My view is that police use of social media should be encouraged, with officers simply expected to remain professional and accountable, in the same way as when they speak to a member of the public via any other medium. This can be achieved by simply adhering to the requirements of the Standards of Professional Behaviour. Restrictive policies do not supersede these requirements, plus they have the adverse effects of constraining innovation and damaging trust, internally and externally.

As Professor Russell Hardin says, “The gains from trust outweigh the savings from mistrust”.

Maintaining ‘trust and confidence’ begins at home.

“We need to cut the bureaucracy and get back to fighting crime. So we’ve taken an axe to police red tape, saving up to 4.5 million police hours a year and getting the equivalent of an extra 2,100 officers back onto the streets. We need to give the police the freedom to use their judgement. So we’ve scrapped all police targets and given them a single objective – to cut crime “ Theresa May, Speech (9th October 2012)

 

​The brave new world of Police and Crime Commissioners is finally upon us. As the honeymoon period of glossy “getting to know you” photographs and hand-shaking tours of outlying stations and towns comes to an end, these new political beasts are starting to publish their draft Police and Crime plans for the years ahead. For those of you not in the know, these documents set out the plans for the Police and Crime Commissioners, their strategies and visions, which will be translated by the Police into reality.

​You will note from the Home Secretary, and latterly confirmed by the new policing minister, Mr Green MP, that the focus of the home office is to produce a Police that is focussed on cutting crime. To this end, they want the Police to be able to cut the bureaucracy that is in place. Much of this bureaucratic activity can trace its roots to the last administration, who had fallen in love with “performance targets”. The endless search for audit, and the associated micro-management that accompanies this style of management creates absurd behaviours. Often these behaviours are manifested in some sub-optimal outcomes for the public. In more drastic cases, they appear as corruption and criminality.

 

​I bring this up, because in looking at some of the draft plans as they emerge blinking into the sunlight of public scrutiny, I see once again a couple of old themes re-emerging. One is the drive for detections, which has been widely commented on, but I will re-evaluate here – and the other is the wider bureaucracy of targets, and the perverse culture and behaviours that they encourage.

 

​I, among many of my peers, can recall the dark days of “grip” in “performance management”. In my experience, it went something like this:

 

A target was set – in this case for detections – by the Chief Officer Group.

The target was communicated to the Chief Superintendent, who got a cash bonus if the target was met.

The Chief Superintendent would have a stern word with the Ops Superintendent to ensure that the target was met.

The Superintendent would hold regular briefings with the Chief Inspector and ask for a daily update on how the detections were looking for that period. PDRs may have been mentioned.

The Chief Inspector would call the Inspectors on the hour, to make sure that the detections were looking on target for that day. Sanctions would be implied.

The Inspectors would call the Sergeants every half hour, and demand progress reports on the detections, and threaten sanctions.

Sergeants would call Constables frequently, and direct their activity on a micro-management basis.

 
         Discretion was eroded. A generation of young people were criminalised. Absurd cases made the tabloids. Trust and confidence in the police was eroded on a case by case basis – even though the detections target was being met. While the detections target – presumably imposed to increase the amount of crimes brought to justice – was satisfied, the consequences were all to frequently unjust. For more details, see the Inspector Gadget blog.

​But there’s more! The relentless drive for detections brings even worse perverse outcomes to the table. This target led culture inevitably leads to situations where behaviours are corrupted. There are some well documented cases to remind ourselves of here. One such example was PC Dominic DeSouza, who had “criminalised” innocent people and was guilty of a “pervasive abuse of power”. As a constable, he tricked innocent members of the public into accepting cautions which weren’t ethical. This was in the guise of increasing his “performance”. As the judge sagely commented, the supervisors hadn’t enjoyed their “finest hour”, and the whole case bought focus onto “exposing the shortcomings” of target-driven policing. He wasn’t the only cop to have done this. Where targets exist, “gaming”, or cheating, or fiddling the figures, or “good housekeeping” flourishes.

 

​Well, of course this can’t happen in the wider Police. Can it? Of course it can. Couple the humble target with its closest living cousin, the League Table, and you’ve got a recipe for utter disaster. Now, as well as scrambling to reach an arbitrary figure devised to measure a specific, context absent output – which as we have discussed can be completely divorced from any notion of justice – we have added pressure of competing against other police forces. This lends itself to the adoption of shady practices, in order to keep up with the Jones next door. One of the more widely discussed, and researched examples comes from the practice of “Taking into Consideration”. In theory, this allows criminals the opportunity to admit to offences they have committed, and have them heard before a court, with little or no extra sentence. They can also have them admitted to while in prison, and have them “weighed off”, clearing up the crime detection statistics for the police, and having no consequence for the criminal. They may also get a day out of prison and a ride around the countryside with the officers while they admit to the many crimes they say they have committed.

 

​Officers even take specific roles within teams specialising in producing these “taken into consideration” crimes. Divisions look forward to the “results” that these teams bring in for them, which inflates their “performance” and helps reach the intended target. That these TIC’s may often be suspect doesn’t seem to matter to the wider organisation or the senior ranks, as long as detections are being obtained, and “crimes being detected” can be reported as high. Never mind if this is what the victim wants, (and how many are told that their crimes are detected as TIC’s, and all that entails, I wonder?), or that significant amounts of experienced, skilled detectives are being diverted from investigating live, proveable crimes – or even, better yet, to managing prolific offenders and preventing crime in the first place – to satisfy this arbitrary target. The scope for corruption in this practice is vast. TIC’s may not be produced by the offer of an inducement, but virtually every detective in the land must be au-fait with the practices of taking prisoners from their prison, taking them on a nice ride around and buying them dinner, or cigarettes, or allowing strictly forbidden visits to friends and family while in the custody of the police.

 

​Consider this: if you were a prolific and chaotic offender with a prodigious heroin habit, could you recall the last 150 shed burglaries that your committed with enough detail to satisfy a court if the case came to trial?

 

​Information from Radio 4’s “Law in Action” program in 2010 showed that TIC’s related to 35% of all Burglary Detections. Is that giving the public a true reflection of the detections that police produce? These targets produce every day corruption within the police. Recent publicised events include the plying of a 17 year old with cider in order to produce TIC’s, or the arrest of several detectives from Kent suspected of irregularities when providing TIC’s. Make no mistake, TIC’s are trouble. The rub is that if every force does this, and we are compared in league tables, those that do not engage in this practice find their “performance” lower than their peers due to their more ethical practices.

 

​There is a persuasive body of academic research that notes that “performance management” of targets, and particularly with “detections” targets produces perverse outcomes for the public.

 

​I would urge PCC’s to do some background reading on this matter. In the first instance, the rather marvellous Systems Thinking advocate, Inspector Simon Guilfoyle, who says, rather tongue in cheek,

 

“The failure to understand that all public sector numerical targets are a) completely arbitrary and b) scientifically impossible to establish in the first place, is the first mistake of those who promote their application. You wouldn’t set a target for the amount of hours the sun shines in a day would you? Why not – what’s the difference? “

 

​Other academics, such as DeBruujin, note that

 

“Performance measurement is aimed at making public organisations perform and account for their results. The result might be that the system forms a layer of rock in the organisation between management and professionals. It deprives directors of insight into the activities performed at the bottom level of the organisation. What is treacherous, however, is that the system suggests that they have a detailed insight into them. The

quality of managerial interventions suffers from it.” (2007)

 

​You, therefore, as a newly appointed PCC, might conclude that you can alter the structure of your police force to make sure that this kind of blindness to the perverse behaviours your newly minted targets will conjure don’t occur. After all, it looks as if the top leaders of the organisation – those which you will naturally speak to most – have integrity and are merely frustrated by the disconnect which your performance measurement will bring them. However, ignorance isn’t a defence, and – in good conscience it’s my duty to tell you that the senior officers know exactly the kind of things that will be occurring in order to satisfy your targets. They know because they had to do it in order to get promoted  in the first place.

 

​I urge PCCs to read a thesis from Rodger Patrick, entitled  “A study of changing police behaviour in England and Wales during the era of New Public Management.”. It is a very handy catch all for discussing all the issues of  detections targets, but this section in particular may cause them some discomfort. It explains that while the perverse outcomes are happening, their senior managers are going to know what’s going on.  

 

“The complaints from the junior ranks, subsequently championed by the Police Federation, indicated that a significant number were uncomfortable with ‘gaming’ behaviour and this was leading to ‘whistle-blowing’. This is hardly the actions of officers willingly engaging in ‘gaming’ behaviour and again supported (the) conclusion that the pressures were ‘top down’, i.e. senior officers ‘playing performance games to mislead the public into thinking that the crime problem was being addressed successfully’ “(2009)

 

​The targets are going to lead to cheating and gaming in order to massage the figures. They will have the perverse outcome of alienating the public, hindering innovation, frustrating justice and further demoralising the police officers which the PCC now lead. Want another academic to back me up?

 

​“Managing people’s activity (by way of targets and micro-management) is an incredible waste of management resource; worse, this style of management demoralises workers. Workers are taught their goodness or badness will be judged by whether they meet their activity statistics; they usually learn how to cheat their numbers to avoid attention (driving further waste into the system). The workers’ focus is survival not contribution and improvement; their ingenuity is driven by the system to work against its purpose”. (Seddon, O’Donnovan and Zokaei, 2009)

 

​I know that PCCs want to make a difference. I believe them when they say that they want to produce good value for their citizens. I realise that they want to catch more bad guys, and stop horrible things happening to good people. The fact remains: if you set “tough targets”, the following things will happen:

 

Good people will do bad things to achieve your targets

Your citizens will get a poor service

Managers will strive to achieve your mandated outputs, at the expense of appropriate outcomes

When bad things happen, a sacrificial lamb will be selected and punished. You and I will now know that your senior managers knew this was happening.

When bad things happen, you will know why: after all, you set the tough target that gave birth to the tough regime that ensured compliance at all costs.

 

​You may be wondering how I know this will happen. I know because it happens all over the world, whenever similar regimes are brought into service. I know because I saw it happen the last time we had a detections push; the arrested 10 year olds, the cautions with inducements, the reclassification of drunk and disorderly to public order act offences. I saw the Chief Inspectors stalking the constables and pushing them for detections, no matter how perverse their outcomes.

 

​However tempting it may be to court popular public opinion by quick and easy use of setting tough or challenging targets, or using intrusive or probing questions of your senior managers to achieve arbitrary performance targets, they will be of scant comfort when your stewardship comes under question when the unethical practices they promote are exposed.

 

Leadership is the communication of moral energy to a human herd that needs it. It is not about blind obedience to rank and authority. Unlike formal rank and authority, true leadership is not imposed on a human herd but instead desired by it. What makes a successful leader in the Police Service whether a Chief Constable, Superintendent, Chief Inspector or Inspector?

First and foremost senior police officers who wish to be successful leaders must possess those age old fundamental strengths to which other people will respond: willpower, character and personality. They must have an aura of confidence and certainly springing from an inner faith in themselves or their mission. They must be technical masters of the policing profession in all its complexities. But they must also be blessed with the vision and judgement to place their role in a wider context, whether within their own organisation or in regard to the outside social and political environment.

They must enjoy the ability to communicate to their officers-not just in terms of verbal fluency but in terms of genuine human warmth and concern. Successful senior officer will therefore spend more time among their officers than at their desk: more time talking listening than talking.

Above all, they will understand that the secret of leadership lies not in managing “Human Resources” but in cherishing human relationships.

It might appear that there was never a time when Plebgate and Andrew Mitchell weren’t in the news. One of the most tawdry episodes in public life for years just keeps rolling along, with the developments in the last week of two arrests made in relation to the evidence of the confrontation.

 

It would appear that politicians past and present have no limit to the hypocrisy and spin that they will go to in order to make their point. The Newsnight piece on Plebgate last night was another case in point. Even though Mike Pannett and the new PCC of Surrey, Kevin Hurley did their best to add balance, there was a great deal of bias shown. Even the presenter Kirsty Wark resorted to a gratuitous snipe about the average wage of police officers being over £40k. It’d be a bit like saying that the average wage of Tesco employees is £40k. That might be correct mathematically but it’s a simply misleading way of representing pay levels. I don’t know how Newsnight arrived at that figure but I would wager that it is statistically distorted by higher wages of Chief Inspector and above.

 

Even if there are police constables out there earning over £40k then that’s because they work (at a guess) 500-750 hours a year of directed overtime on top of normal hours. Police work doesn’t pay a shift premium as such, unlike other jobs out there, so now ask yourself – would you work on average a 60 hour week of shifts, getting sworn at, spat at, punched, kicked, stabbed and shot at – for £40k? Also, and this was the point Newsnight conveniently glossed over, would you startdoing that for £19k?

 

Lord Baker mentioned the police becoming politicised. Well fancy that, a public service that fights back in the face of idiotic and ruthless idealogical reform. Lord Baker mentioned the conduct and political conduct of the Federation. Oh, the irony. From a former MP.

 

(At least 7 MPs have been convicted of criminal offences in the last 2 years to my knowledge, not including the House of Lords. That’s a little over 1%. Equivalent to around 1400 convictions of police officers. Where’s the moral high ground now?)

 

Lord Baker mentioned on Newsnight that the police don’t like this Government. I can’t imagine a greater misconception. It’s not that police don’t like this Government, it’s that the police recognise that this Government doesn’t understand the job, doesn’t understand what it takes, and doesn’t respect those that do it.

 

Exhibit 1 is this speech in 2006 by David Cameron. In it we find these gems:

“The truth is we won’t deal with crime until we reform the police.”

“You can’t be tough on crime unless you’re tough on police reform.”

 

Ah. So never mind what causes crime in the first place, or any sort of cohesive social policy. It’s the police’s fault. We really shouldn’t expect much more from a man who’s spent the first half of his time as Prime Minister blaming everything on Labour. People are now having to use food banks (up sixfold since 2010) and South Yorkshire police report an increase in people shoplifting basic provisions like food. Never mind that. That’s Big Society in action. Let’s reform the police instead.

 

“This year, each police officer, on average, will make under 10 arrests. That’s not even one a month.”

 

Here we start to see the real nub of the problem; the lack of understanding of the role. I suspect, but I don’t know, that he simply took the number of arrests and divided it by the number of officers. Quite apart from the fact that arrests do not define police work, there are large numbers of officers who are not in roles which make arrests. Everyone above the rank of Inspector, for instance. Officers recovering from long-term injuries in the line of duty. Officers in specialist roles.

 

“Police officers are relatively well paid – better, in fact, than teachers or nurses.”

 

I don’t want to put teachers or nurses down. They do a fantastic job. My wife is a teacher. But teachers don’t work shifts. Nurses do, but they are relatively unlikely to be killed or seriously assaulted at work. Neither treads a fine line between putting criminals in the dock, or ending up there themselves. You could in fact argue, that a police officer has to have parts of the role of teacher and nurse, plus a few others besides. The Tories don’t get that though. Police, teachers, nurses are – as far as this Government are concerned – a financial drag on the economy.

 

“Some officers today have second jobs. In one force, as many as one in fifteen are in this position.”

 

Notice the perjorative language. President Obama would praise hard-working Americans who struggle on, holding down two, three or four jobs in order to pay their way. Not here. Not if you’re a police officer. That’s bad, somehow. And in order to prove it, he’ll mention that less than 7% of officers, in one of forty-three forces, are holding down second jobs. And of course, he doesn’t mention that this is usually with the written consent of the Chief Constable.

 

“So the fifth priority in reforming police pay and conditions should be to insist that policing is a full time occupation in all but exceptional cases.”

 

Like, for example, being an MP? Or a Police and Crime Commissioner? His government have allowed Police and Crime Commissioners to take a salary from the public purse of around £70k per year, and they don’t even insist it’s a full time role to run the police!

 

“So enhanced entry schemes should make it possible for talented people and professionals to join the police later in their careers and at all ranks.”

 

Lest we forget, the Hillsborough disaster was caused by the incompetence of the scene commanders in their mismanagement of the crowds, and was covered up by senior managers too by removing any criticism of management from officers statements. That’s going to improve by parachuting in the winner of the 2013 Apprentice is it? Again, they don’t understand the role.

 

Possibly the most important thing to note is this: the speech was given in 2006, before the financial crash. At a time when debt as a percentage of GDP was lower than when Labour came to office. Public finances were in good shape, relatively speaking. So these reforms are not about cutting the deficit. They never were. This was always going to happen, crash or no crash.

 

Exhibit 2 is Theresa May. National Policing Conference, 29th June 2010

 

“But targets don’t fight crime; targets hinder the fight against crime. In scrapping the confidence target and the policing pledge, I couldn’t be any clearer about your mission: it isn’t a thirty-point plan; it is to cut crime. No more, and no less.”

 

16th August 2011 just after the riots around the country.

“As Home Secretary, I’ve been clear from the beginning that the test of the effectiveness of the police, the sole objective against which they will be judged, the way in which communities should be able to hold them to account, is their success in cutting crime. I haven’t asked the police to be social workers, I haven’t set them any performance indicators, and I haven’t given them a thirty point plan, I’ve told them to cut crime.”

 

In the same speech, I found this:-

 

“This is one reason why, in addition to his work on pay and conditions, I commissioned Tom Winsor to produce a second report into the long-term future of policing. As part of this second report, I asked him to consider how we can introduce direct entry into the police – including the most senior police ranks – so that suitably qualified outsiders may apply.”

 

Note, not “should we”, or “might it be a good idea if” or “will it damage the service” but“how can we do it“! Winsor’s much trumpeted “independent” report was nothing but a front to see how they could crowbar their preconceived notions into the service.

 

This is where ignorance turns to arrogance;

 

“Earlier this year, when I scrapped the last remaining police targets, I told commanding officers: “I couldn’t be any clearer about your mission: it isn’t a thirty-point plan; it is to cut crime.”

 

One chief constable, who has since retired, told the media afterwards that they only spent about a third of their time dealing with crime, and that the job wasn’t as simple as “just catching criminals.”

 

Well I couldn’t be any clearer: cutting crime is the only test of a police force and catching criminals is their job.

 

And when people have the power to hold the police to account through elections, any commissioner or chief constable who doesn’t cut crime will soon find themselves looking for a new job.”

So – May has been told. “It’s not that simple”, from the horse’s mouth. A Chief Constable. She acknowledges that she’s been told. But she ignores the experience and opinion of those who know, and presses on regardless.

 

During the recent floods, police intervened to keep people safe. But according to Mrs May, that’s not their job. Their job is to cut crime. No more, no less.

 

And in this year’s speech to the Police Federation Conference, in the context of mental health;

 

“And we have also agreed to consider the transfer of commissioning of all police health services to the NHS as soon as possible. That means health professionals will look after mentally ill offenders and victims, not the police – because that is their job, not yours.

 

I don’t want police officers doing other people’s jobs – the police are crime-fighters and that is the job I want them doing.”

 

Again – a clear demonstration that she does not understand the job. When a person is suspected of involvement in a crime, it’s the crime (the police’s job, according to Mrs May) that gets priority. Any information regarding mental health comes later. Sometimes much later. So – does the police officer walk away at this point? Of course not. It’s this kind of “fine on paper but lacking in detail, and unworkable in practice” that we are seeing more and more.

 

“But the crime fighters will remain police officers, patrolling will not be privatised and policing will remain a public service, accountable to the people and carried out by consent.

 

It will only ever be police officers who make arrests; it will only ever be police officers who lead investigations; and it will only ever be police officers who direct policing operations.” [emphasis added]

 

Patrolling has already been, in part, privatised. Police forces have been, and continue to, put work out to private tender which includes patrolling, detaining suspects, and investigative work. Notice the neat little qualifiers “lead” and “direct” in that quotation.

 

Going back to Newsnight – it’s not that the police don’t “like” this Government, as Lord Baker put it. The police recognise that they are fighting for their very survival. Fighting against an arrogant Government that does not understand the job and refuses to listen. Public safety is being put at risk. If the police did not fight against that, they would not be doing their jobs.

A Perfect Storm – politics, policing and participation

“A member of a police force shall at all times abstain from any activity which is likely to interfere with the impartial discharge of his duties or which is likely to give rise to the impression amongst members of the public that it may so interfere; and in particular a member of a police force shall not take any active part in politics.” Schedule 1 Police Regulations 2003

One of the great British administrative traditions is the impartiality of our public servants.  No matter the colour or hue of our political masters, those who are charged with serving and protecting the public are expected to carry out their duties in dignity and silence.  

 

As a civil servant in Her Majesty’s Prison Service I accepted this condition without question or hesitation.  I exercised my function to the best of my ability regardless of the political alignment of the governmentof the day but with my own core values guiding my conscience.  

 

When the political agenda began to compromise those values, when my conscience started to wake me in the night, when I started to feel nauseous at the impact of my enforced decisions, when I could no longer look my staff in the eye, I chose to leave.  It was only at this point that I joined the political party which most closely reflected those previously mentioned core values.  

 

However, at no stage of my public service did I feel unable to participate in the broader aspects of politicallife either by discussing with others the issues at stakeor by carrying out the definitively political act of voting.  Indeed I encouraged others to participate in the democratic process without suggesting where they should mark their X and worked to promote remand prisoner voting in the 1997 General Election.

 

There are others, however, who face a very different situation.  Police officers today face dramatic changes to the way in which they work.  The Winsor Report will change their terms and conditions; budget cuts are decimating their numbers; direct entry will impact on their promotion prospects; their pension compact has been destroyed; and the highly contentious introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners ischallenging their identity. The prospective sale of iconic institutions such as New Scotland Yard and Bramshill Police Staff College is creating a sense of rootlessness and the recent decision of the Police Arbitration Tribunal to delay a decision on compulsory severance until after the forthcoming Industrial Rights ballot has added an element of coercion to the mix.  All this has served to lower morale and to destabilise an unusually close-knit community on whom we depend for our own stability and security.

 

But police officers are officially mute.  Their voices have been stifled.  Despite working in a highly politically-charged environment, they are unable to comment on the political aspect of their role and,indeed, some continue blindly to claim that politics has no place in policing.  

 

In a breathtaking act of control, ACPO regulationsprevented police officers from talking to candidates for the Police and Crime Commissioner posts, from telling the people who will in future pull their strings what they think, how they feel, what’s important to them, whattheir hopes and fears are, what motivates them and what might cause that motivation to wane. Not only were they not permitted to speak to candidates, they were not allowed to encourage others – officers,civilians, even their families – to vote, to exercise their hard-won franchise, to participate in the democratic process that would have such an impact on their futures. Nor even to discourage them from voting.  Sounds incredible?  Check paragraphs 13.2 and 13.3 of this document:http://www.acpo.police.uk/documents/futures/2012/201207FBAGfIwPCCs.pdf

 

This suffocating approach had two different but symbiotic effects:  

 

Candidates stood for election who had never spoken at length to a serving police officer, who had little idea of the day-to-day challenges of the job, of the delicate balancing of work and home, of service and self-preservation;

At the same time, police officers – particularly those who have not been politically stunted by the restrictions imposed upon them – became filled with unspoken frustration, the words burning in their brains and gagging in their mouths with no channel, no vent, no release.

Peel told us from the outset that the police are the public and the public are the police.  It therefore seems to me ironic that the regulations surrounding the introduction of a post which aims to increase public participation and accountability were, at this embryonic stage, restricting the participation of those whose lives would most immediately be affected by its introduction.This restriction reached ludicrous proportions when police officers were unable to participate in an online debate about police morale because a PCC candidate was on the official panel:http://www.guardian.co.uk/public-leaders-network/2012/oct/08/round-up-boost-police-morale

Like many large and largely sluggish organisations in the 21st century, police forces across the country struggle to cope with the impact of social media and the opportunities that social media affords to staff to express their opinions in a public forum. Many forces appear to fear the impact of those opportunities and are tempted to restrict them whenever they challenge the orthodox approach.

 

DCC Gordon Scobbie (@DCCTayside), who speaks for the police on social media, has previously pointed out that forces need to avoid looking out of touch and heavy handed and has suggested that if officers are trusted with taking away someone’s liberty, they should be trusted with a twitter account.  

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/oct/02/police-warned-treat-tweeters-with-care  

 

On 12 December, he also tweeted a promise that soon“more senior people will have strategic understanding of SM”.  This is an admirable ambition and it is to be hoped that the “round table” planned for January will continue this much-needed work.

 

However, national guidance is currently implemented differently in each of the 43 forces and there is little continuity, particularly in relation to what individual forces will tolerate. Many official twitter accounts suffer from lack of structure and support and are sometimes closed down with little reason  Some (eg @DorsetPolice) are relatively dry and bland, tweeting proclamations and pronouncements in the manner of a tannoy with little or no public engagement, something that has been referred to as “vanilla tweeting”.  Others (eg @TVP_Witney, @BridPoliceSNT) are more relaxed and engaging.  A recent BBC study indicated that the latter approach is far more popular with the public  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20641190  and indeed @SolihullPolice has received particular recognition for its engagement strategyhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/dec/11/huge-amount-of-cannabis-twitter and was the recent winner of the  “Golden Twit” award for public service tweeters.http://www.goldentwits.com/

 

Nevertheless, there is real inconsistency in themanagement of official accounts.  Some, such as@SurreyPolice get away with tweeting Christmas-cracker style jokes while other tweeters appear to beclosed down for similar joviality. This inconsistent approach places an undue burden of responsibility on staff and simultaneously makes it easier for management to apportion blame.

Meanwhile, unofficial or off-duty police tweeters are very often anonymous. The purpose of this anonymityis generally to protect the officer’s privacy (usually from potential disciplinary action by his or her own force)and this is a reasonable step for an officer to take.  However, the impact of that anonymity is often that the officer then feels at liberty to behave in a juvenile or otherwise irresponsible manner and to make comments that they would never make if they wereidentifiable.  This in turn confirms the management view that police tweeters and bloggers are a liability when in fact they should be supporting the increased engagement with the public that could have such a positive impact. This kind of vicious circle needs to be broken and the onus may well be on officers to take the lead. For a serving officer’s perspective on many of these issues, I recommend a recent blog by @NathanConstable:http://nathanconstable.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/to-tweet-or-not-to-tweet/

In a recent Guardian Public Leaders debate, I expressed the hope that the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) might alleviate this situation.  PCCs should be the gateway to better communications, not only within and between policeforces but also between the police and the media;between the police and the community safety sector;between the police and other emergency services; and most importantly between the police and the public. PCCs have the capacity to engender a culture of openness and transparency by listening to and taking on board the views of officers and staff at all levels, by welcoming constructive criticism in a way that existing police leaders would do well to emulate and by encouraging responsible engagement via social and other forms of media.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/public-leaders-network/2012/nov/19/live-discussion-pccs-where-now

 

This hope was uncharacteristically optimistic:unfortunately, it appears that regulations have had and are still having the opposite effect as in recent weeks several official and unofficial tweeters and bloggershave been silenced.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/dec/05/police-whistleblower-inquiry-twitter?CMP=twt_fd  and in a post-Leveson world it seems ever more likely that officers who talk off-the-record to the media will suffer severe consequences.http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/dec/04/police-chief-leveson-whistleblowers

 

Moreover, a recently published HMIC report has recommended further suppression of police use of social media because of concerns about offensive language, comments on police procedure, negativity towards work and extreme opinions on governmenthttp://www.hmic.gov.uk/media/revisiting-police-relationships.pdf (page 23). This controlling approach contrasts with the Director of Public Prosecutions somewhat vague attempt to clarify the law relating to online posting in order to “strike the right balance between freedom of expression and the need to uphold the criminal law”.http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20777002

 

The HMIC report recommends that forces and PCCs“should assure themselves that there are appropriate mechanisms in place to monitor and manage the reputational risks presented by the inappropriate use of social media”. Such has been the public controversy surrounding the introduction of the post that PCCs, elected on a low turn-out and with little voter engagement, are likely to be feeling vulnerable both to public critique and to internal criticism.  My earlyoptimism has been replaced by a fear that, far from encouraging the responsible use of social media, of supporting staff to make constructive criticism of policy and practice, of trusting officers to use their judgement and their vast experience to improve both public relations and public safety, there is now a risk thatPCCs might view all criticism with extreme suspicion and clamp down hard on any perceived challenge to their authority.

I believe that such an approach would be a hugemistake, one which would serve only to frighten some dissenting voices into silence while driving othersunderground, into subterfuge, into a position where,instead of being a force for openness, for transparency, for accountability, they warp into a malign force at the eye of the perfect storm.

Rachel Rogers

@DorsetRachel / www.rachelrogers.net

I absolutely understood, and to an extent shared, the concerns of the many thousands of people who were concerned that the election of Police and Crime Commissioners would lead to the politicisation of local police forces along party lines.

What I didn’t understand was the view, often shared by the same people, that only someone who had been a senior police officer could be an effective PCC. I’ve seen the same arguments made about why only ex-probation officers should head up probation trusts.

And I have to say, I just don’t get it.

Just look at football. For every Brian Clough, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klinsmann, there is a Mark Hughes, Roy Keane and Paul Ince.

The playing careers of Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho are nothing to write home about either.

It’s not that ex-police officers won’t make good PCCs, I’m sure that several of the eight who were elected will do so.

I just don’t agree with the assumption that having been a copper should be written into the job description.

Of course, police officer PCCs will have the advantage of understanding the realities of day-to-day policing and the culture of the force. But they will also have a number of disadvantages:

  • How many Chief Constables will be delighted to be accountable to someone who reached an inferior rank to their own?
  • PCCs have no choice but to implement national budget cuts (albeit with important decisions about how to cut and whether to raise the precept to lessen the impact). Will frontline officers feel betrayed by one of their own?
  • The PCC role is much broader than policing, will police officer PCCs be too focused on the police alone?

PCCs are now a reality. The next four years will show which of them have the skills to make a success of the job. My top five skills would be:

  1. Leadership
  2. Explain policing and the wider criminal justice system to the public
  3. Get criminal agencies working in co-operation, not competition
  4. Make budget cuts that eliminate waste not cost jobs
  5. Engage a wide range of agencies and communities in working with the criminal justice system

What are yours?

 

By Russ Webster