I’m sitting on a train bound for Cardiff where, later today, I will have the privilege of spending a bit of time in the company officers and staff from South Wales Police. I’ll be talking to them about the day I fell seriously ill and the reasons why I think it happened. I’ll be telling them about the long, long road to recovery.
I love policing with all my heart and soul – I always have and I always will. It’s a heck of a job though – placing the kinds of demands on people (body, mind and soul) that most of the rest of us would struggle to imagine, much less endure. Police officers go where most wouldn’t and they do what most couldn’t. I love them for it.
But as I look round me in policing at the moment, I see more good people operating under substantially more strain than at any previous point in my lifetime. Crime is rising – certainly crime of the most serious kinds. Levels of recorded knife crime are now the highest they have been since the end of World War II. Demand is rising too, not least as a consequence the huge gaps that exist in the delivery of other frontline public services. Complexity is rising as crime crosses both geographic borders and digital frontiers. Risk is rising, with a deeply concerning number of officers being seriously assaulted in recent times. And all of this has unfolded over the course of an eight-year period that has seen 44,000 officers and staff cut from policing in England & Wales.
I have said these things on many occasions before, but it would appear that they still need repeating. Just this morning, the Police Federation for England & Wales – the representative body for the policing frontline – published the results of a demand survey suggesting that almost 90% of officers believe that there are not enough of them to be able to do their job properly.
The only surprise to me was that the figure wasn’t closer to 100%. We are now in a situation where we have fewer police officers, with fewer resources, doing a job that is more difficult, more demanding and, frequently, more dangerous that it has ever been before. And we cannot say that we do not know.
By way of constructive response, here is my 10 Point Plan for Policing – a quick-fire series of suggestions about what needs to happen now:
(1) Immediate & Substantial Re-investment in Frontline Policing
There is an absolute connection between police numbers and crime numbers. To suggest otherwise is to defy both common sense and professional experience. You cannot possibly take 44,000 people out of a critical emergency service and expect to see no change.
I am not suggesting that policing has run out of things it could do better or more efficiently. Of course it hasn’t. But there is a fundamental difference between a saving and a cut and the threshold between the two was crossed a long time ago.
The following parts of policing are in particularly urgent need of reinvestment:
(2) An Urgent Public Debate about Policing
There is an overwhelming need for us to have a proper public conversation about what we want the police to be – and what we want them to do. Because everything can’t be a priority. I’m not talking about a Royal Commission. I’m talking about something that needs to happen now.
(3) Long-term Operational Strategy & Investment Plan for Policing
Once we have reached a point of agreement about what we actually want the police to do, we need a set of proper long-term funding arrangements that give them at least a fighting chance of being able to deliver. And we need an operational strategy that is drawn up and led by people who really understand the job.
Crime is not down and police reform is not working.
(4) Minimum 10-Year Plans for Critical Crime Types
Both culturally and politically, we are living in impatient times, forever demanding quick fixes in response to the latest crisis to hit the headlines. But they never, ever work – problems that have been a generation or more in the making might just take more than a day our two to resolve. As I once heard a preacher suggest, doing the wrong thing faster won’t get the right thing done.
We need minimum Ten Year Plans for a whole series of critical crime types – domestic violence and knife crime prominent amongst them.
(5) Effective Statutory Partnerships
Mental health services are underfunded.
Youth services are underfunded.
Adult Social Care is underfunded.
And so it goes on, with policing picking up the pieces at almost every turn. That is entirely unsustainable – both operationally and morally. A person suffering from a Mental Health crisis needs to be treated as a patient, not a prisoner.
Every frontline service needs to be resourced to do the job being asked of it. And all of them need to stop calling the police at 4.30pm on Friday afternoon and expecting them to take up the strain.
(6) An End to 43 Different Ways of Doing Things
The old-fashioned model of 43 different police forces in England & Wales just isn’t sustainable. The world has changed and policing needs to change with it.
(7) Abolition of PCCs
There are some excellent individual PCCs out there, but the overall experiment has failed. Policing is far too important to be left in the hands of politicians. That is not an argument against transparency and accountability – I am for more of both of those things. But it is an argument for the reassertion of operational independence from political control.
(8) Acceptance of Independent Pay Review Body Recommendations
There should never again be a question about whether or not the goverment will accept the recommendations of the independent Pay Review body for policing. No one ever joined the police to get rich. But all of them deserve to be paid fairly for doing a job like no other.
(9) Review of Police Misconduct Procedures.
Far too many police misconduct investigations – both those carried out internally by forces and those conducted by the IOPC – take far too long to resolve. There is a danger that we accept lower investigative standards when dealing with officers than we would ever countenance when dealing with members of the public.
Officers who are guilty of criminality or serious misconduct need to face effective justice. There is no place for them in the policing.
Officers who are innocent of wrongdoing need to receive effective justice. They are needed urgently back on the frontline.
(10) A New Narrative about Policing
Finally (for now at least), we still need to change the story we are telling about policing in this country.
There are times and places when policing gets things terribly wrong, and we should never shy away from holding it up to the light. Society still has every right to expect higher standards of police officers than they do of anyone else.
But, for more than twenty-five years, I worked with heroes and I don’t hear nearly enough being said about them. We need to be shouting, every single day, about the extraordinary courage and humanity of the men and women who police our streets.
So there you have it. That’s my plan.
I suspect that the response of some will be that we can’t afford to do it.
To which my reply will be, we can’t afford not to.