Let there be no doubt, Policing is failing on many levels.
Its failing the public it has sworn to protect and its failing the rank and file officers who are striving valiantly to prop up a system that is simply not working.
I spent 29 years as a Surrey officer the first 13 of which were on front line response. I then worked for several years within the intelligence world at both local and cross border levels and as a detective. I have seen humanity at its most inhumane, dealt time and again with those who want to hurt, and degrade and destroy and the victims of those oftentimes, heinous acts. After a while, you become inured to the things you see, you have to or you wouldnt survive for long in that environment.
Police officers are expected to remain disconnected, unemotional and to deal with provocation, violence and the threat of violence, day in day out, without reacting. We are not trained to do this, none of us were born with a special ability to deal with these things. We feel the same way as anyone else would about what we see and experience and are subjected to. But you learn to ignore your emotional responses and get on with it. And that has a cost.
Unprecedented numbers of police men and women are suffering stress, depression, PTSD and a host of other mental health issues.
Survey after survey has shown that the rank and file do not feel they have been or will be, supported by senior officers if they admit to their struggles.. This is having devastating consequences.
Between 2016 and 2017 whilst I was waiting for my pension to be ratified because my own mind had completely broken, 3 of my Surrey colleagues committed suicide. There have been at least two other suicides that I am aware of in Surrey since then. There have been more up and down the country. This is unacceptable.
I was almost the third officer from Reigate in that 16 month period, to became a statistic and I received zero support from management. My brother had to threaten to take legal action against Surrey Police to get them move on my ill health pension application.
That he had to do so, speaks volumes. But this story is not just mine, its one that more and more of my colleagues are telling and yet no one is listening.
It is becoming harder and harder to fulfil our obligations. In the last 10 years we have seen budget cuts of just under 1.8 billion and the loss of 20000 officers, which equates to more than 15 percent of the workforce.
There is talk of another 22,000 officer posts being cut.
These cuts could be weathered if the expectation of what the police have to deal with was reduced to take into account staffing and budget cuts.
Sure, ministers and other talking heads will trot out the usual hackneyed response about how crime is falling and how the police need to learn to do more with less. However, cold hard reality is that the cuts to funding and staff has put incredible strain on those front line officers left to pick up the slack.
The thin blue line has become a broken blue line. And that has left the service with no resilience.
The only ones it has to call upon to do more with less are those who are already struggling to meet the relentless and short sighted expectations of government and senior managers.
A PEW demand and welfare survey showed a staggering 66 percent of officers taking part, reported they were subject to a violent attack last year – of which 31 percent said they experienced attacks on a monthly basis. 76 percent of those surveyed, reported being always or mostly singled crewed.
The only reason that officers are single crewed is to put more marked vehicles out on the street to lull the public into a false sense of security. Special constables have for a number of years, worn a uniform identical to those worn by the regulars for exactly the same reason. This smoke and mirrors approach by the policy makers is unacceptable on a number of fronts.
That they are willing to put officers out on their own, in an increasingly hostile environment, to peddle this myth that we are coping needs to end. It serves no one, least of all the public.
Things became, shall we say, interesting, in 2015, when Theresa May, in her then role as Home Secretary, attended the police federation conference and told its members to stop crying wolf and scaremongering about the impact of financial cuts and fewer officers.
The police federation of England and Wales works tirelessly to assist its colleagues. But in a profession where its against the law to strike and where staff can only attend protests in their free time or by using their annual leave allocation, what leverage do they have to fight the changes that will cause policing to fail. None. The federation is rendered little more than a paper tiger.
I think the unprecedented rise in knife crime and murder that is blighting our streets today like an unstoppable cancer, puts paid to Mrs Mays allegations of crying wolf.
And yet, having made her stance on more with less abundantly clear, there has been yet another swift volte face during her term as Prime minister as her cabinet seek to pour more money into policing to stop the very thing she was warned would happen 4 years ago.
Well Mrs May, That ship has sailed.
Was there a need to put policing under a microscope? Undoubtedly. Certain attitudes and methodologies required scrutiny. The need to hold policing accountable and for it to operate with complete transparency is necessary.
But the various media sources who continue to label policing as institutionally racist and focus solely on mistakes and areas that need improvement are encouraging a continued erosion in public confidence. And without public confidence, policing will inevitably fail.
Why? Because it takes so much more than just policing to keep the public safe. It takes communities and the police MUST be a part of those communities in order for law and order to prevail.
One of the worse aspects of the austerity cuts was a loss of so many community support officers and specially trained police officers embedded within our communities. 20000 fewer officers impacts these incredibly important roles because those officers left are needed for the rapid response type of policing that has the highest demand on manpower. But our communities are where officers are needed most.
It is there, among the people of our communitues that barriers are broken down and trust reestablished. The communities we police are a wealth of intelligence and information. This helps facilitate a targetted approach, essential to the fight against rising crime.
Every day I hear that conducting more stop and search and increasing budgets to facilitate this, is being heralded as the solution for the problem of knife crime. Yet as home secretary and just a few short years ago, our prime minister implemented reforms to REDUCE the number of stop and searches carried out because researched showed time and again that it has little impact on reducing crime. But it has huge impact on feelings of exclusion, alienation and the disenfranchisement of minority groups and an increasing lack of trust in police officers. This is a recipe for disaster and for a continued rise in crime.
Stop and search has its place but to promote it as the answer to combatting violence on our streets, especially when its been proven to have little impact is ludicrous.
And this obvious knee jerk reaction hasnt lead to a decrease in knife crime.
Policing is a tool. it is a consequence of what ails society. And its success or failure tends to run parallell to the sucess or failure of the societies it polices.
We operate a system of law enforcement known as policing by consent. In this model of policing, police officers are regarded as citizens in uniform.
“Policing by consent” indicates that the legitimacy of policing, in the eyes of the public, is based upon a general consensus of support that follows from transparency about their powers, their integrity in exercising those powers and their accountability for doing so.
Policing has been guilty of a lack of transparency, integrity and accountability. And this has done little to help police and public relations. Under the Thatcher government of the late 80’s when I joined, the police had many powers it no longer has as a result of various reviews and reforms and pressure from certain public sectors.
Some of the most significant lapses in judgement from those times are coming home to roost. As a result, the huge changes that have been made to make policing more accountable and transparent, are being lost. No matter how good we get, we will always be only as good as our last reported epic fail.
But if you continue to point the finger unequivocally at policing as the reason why society is failing, you abnegate the resonsibilities which are incumbent upon EVERY citizen to ensure community welfare.
And speaking of communities lets speak about the tough stuff.
Policing in this time of increased ethnic and cultural diversity.
Its not easy not least because of the ever changing political landscape.
In 2000 Labour had overseen a deliberate open-door policy on immigration to boost multiculturalism for political ends and to “rub the torys noses in their outdated attitues.
In February 2011, the then Tory Prime Minister David Cameron stated that the “labours doctrine of state multiculturalism” had failed and will no longer be policy and yet official statistics showed that mass immigration increased during his leadership.These push me pull you political shennanigans are a minefield to navigate by a service required to police apolitically, which means that it serves without fear or favour and does not align itself with any political ideology. That tennet of policing becomes increasingly difficult when we are constantly used in one way or another within an everchanging political arena, to prop up or promote the short term objectives of those in power. The solutions to what ail our society lie in a long term consistent and multi pronged approach that is set to fail, in this current system of left-right political one upmanship.
And Increased interference from Whitehall which is involving itself more and more in how policing is delivered at a local level is rendering an already difficult task just about impossible.
Violent crime is on the increase, it always has been and to lay the blame for that firmly and only at the feet of the police service is a myopic. Its roots are much deeper and more far reaching than the failings of one public service. Policing has had to prop up cuts to ALL public services and then theres a judiciary weak on sentencing, the increasing socio economic divide that exists in the Uk and governments failure to deal with that and so much more.
Until policing is privatised and that is coming to one degree or another, it is still a public service and whilst the officers have no sway with government, the public do.
You, we the people, put them there. Unless the public knows whats really going on, unless you aware that you are not as well protected as you think you are, nothing will change.
The rank and file are trying desperately to do a dangerous job in increasingly untenable circumstances and in a world where policing has become a bureaucratic nightmare as it seeks to please everyone. They make a bad system work because they do not want to fail the people they are there to protect.
But its not just reaching breaking point. Its already broken.
My own failure was pretty spectacular. Finding myself becoming less adept at coping, I used alcohol more and more on my days off as I sought oblivion from the fallout of 3 decades of policing.
I finally walked out in april of 2016. I had been completely honest about my issues with alcohol. I had stopped drinking 6 months previously. This had caused a tsunami of emotions to completely overwhelm me and it was very obvious that I was struggling to cope. I begged my managers to let me stay at reigate for at least 6 months so I could begin the process of healing. I had been forced back to work on threat of half pay and was desperate for support and stability from my bosses. A few weeks after literally begging for a period of continuity I was moved to a uniform role at Caterham.
I walked out.
During the following 8 months, I became so depressed that I started using sleeping pills to the point where I was taking them round the clock.
Towards the end of 2016, I had written my letter of apology to my family. I had planned my exit from life. But some semblence of the old me remained and in a last ditch effort to sort myself out, I asked my family to help me pay for rehab.
I spent 28 days in a facility and with their help, and my own determination, I began to rebuild my life. 2 weeks after I returned home, Surrey police saw fit to stop my pay completely notwithstanding a letter from my gp advising against this for obvious reasons.
It has taken me two years to reach the point where I feel strong enough to speak about my my journey. But it is not just mine.
If it isn’t already, it will become the journey of more and more police officers.
This evening is the first time I have spoken publicly on these matters. But I dont intend for it to be my last because I still have a voice and I can no longer be held to ransome by those who dont want the bright light of scrutiny cast upon the realities of policing the front line in the 21st century.