The NYPD have recently undertaken a form of industrial action – is this ever something that’s acceptable for police officers to do? (Image from NYPD Drills)
There are lots and lots of things that us police can do.
We can arrest folk, we get to go on stakeouts and drive our squad cars down alleys through piles of cardboard boxes.
On the flip side, there are also things that we cannot do either because there are rules or laws that advise us certain things are not permissible.
One of the things that us British police cannot do is strike owing to the Police Act 1996 telling us that it’s not something that’s okay for us to do.
The debate over whether we should be able to strike has been hovering in the background for several years with some in the Police Federation suggesting we should be balloted on getting the right to strike in response to changes to our working conditions.
Over the past couple of days, the idea of industrial action being taken by police forces has come up again when officers from the New York Police Department have undertaken what’s been labelled a “virtual work stoppage”.
Following a dispute between the force and the city’s mayor, arrests have dropped 66% and summons for traffic offences by over 90% in comparison to the same period the previous year.
Whilst their officers haven’t walked out on strike, the suggestion seems that they’ve done everything but – the drop in work certainly suggests a form of industrial action has been adopted.
The issue I take with police officers striking, or taking other sorts of industrial action, is that our own pay and conditions are placed before the welfare of the public, an inversion that feels very uncomfortable.
Ensuring the welfare and safety of the communities that we protect is the reason we do the job – nothing is so important as to justify coming ahead of achieving this key goal.
The implication of officers taking industrial action is that the contested issue is more important than the assault, rape or murder that they may neglect through the action. Our needs are ahead of that of the victim.
Industrial action at a factory may slow production, in the police the potential consequence of our commitment being anything less than total would far outweigh the value of any goal we wished to achieve.
It’d be a clear message sent out to the public and entirely the wrong one – if protecting the public is anything other than our primary concern then it’s something we’ll fail at.