We are currently in an era where money or lack of it is having a huge impact upon the policing landscape.
Last week saw the publication of two reports which will have a very significant effect on police officers terms and conditions for years to come. On Tuesday, Tom Winsor, the former rail regulator published his report into Police pay and conditions. This was followed by the Hutton report into public sector pensions.
In the space of a week, many officers have seen a future which is looking significantly worse than it was the week before. All of the public sector have been told to deal with a two year pay freeze and an increase in pension contributions, but seemingly uniquely, police officers also have to absorb a report into pay and conditions which will leave almost every officer worse off. This is I think much worse than most officers had expected, and has left many feeling a bit bewildered.
At the same time there has been an unprecedented campaign being carried out in the media, with many credible journalists repeating some tired claims, many of which are totally untrue. I will deal with some of them now;
- Police officers can claim five hours overtime for answering a phone call on a rest day; absolute nonsense, it is expressly stated in our terms and conditions that you cannot claim for this. I have been called morning noon and night, (including being woken up this weekend in the middle of the night because my name was on the wrong rota!) on my rest days, spent hours on the phone and never been paid a penny for it.
- Police officers get double time on a Sunday; again totally untrue Sunday is just a normal working day for the police
- Police get free gold plated pensions; Police officers pay 11% of their salary into their pensions, the highest in the public sector
- Only 11% of officers are visible at any one time; Police officers work shifts, 25% will be on a rest day at any one time, the rest split between earlies lates and nights. In addition we have officers posted to investigating rapes, murders, dealing with counter terrorism, child abuse, and a whole host of other things which are not visible. Which one of this list should we stop doing to fulfill a visibility target?
- Police officers spend all their time in stations filling out paperwork; Most officers hate paperwork and will do anything to get out of being in the station. The majority of paperwork we fill out is to service the needs of the criminal justice system, where we see the same criminals again and again, being taken through the system by the same defence lawyers, demanding to see every scrap of paper in an investigation to see if they can find a flaw in the paper trail and get their client off. Every agency in the criminal justice system is moving towards a paperless system, but it is frustratingly slow, and over the years, every agency has built up their own systems, none of which are compatible with each other!
- We can massively reduce back office numbers and save money; we will have to do this, but who is going to carry out all of these functions? In some cases we will be able to remove the function, or work with other forces and agencies, but in others we are going to have to ask officers to carry them out until technology catches up.
I do not seek to say that there is not waste in the public sector, nor in policing, and the state of the finances is forcing us to look at things again. We should have been more aggressive in previous years, tackling waste where possible, and I suspect this is true of all public services.
My Dad is a builder who has to make a profit to survive and pay his bills, there is no room for sentiment in his world. Many practices in the public sector would not survive contact with the private sector, but this is not the whole story. Policing is a service, not a business, and it cannot be run like one. We need to be able to assess things based on risks to and needs of the public, not on a cost only basis. I once ran a hugely expensive operation targetting one man for months on end. He was a repeat stranger rapist who used terrible violence on his victims. All the prison psychologists told us he would offend again upon his release. We eventually got him locked up for the rest of his life. Was this value for money based on a private sector costs analysis? Probably not. Was it the right thing to do? Definitely.
Police officers do not join for the pay. They join because they like locking up the bad people and helping the good. Police officers will I am sure continue to serve the public to the very best of their ability, irrespective of their terms and conditions. We do not have the right to strike, but even if we did, I do not think for a second that most officers would ever want to.
When I joined the police service I never expected to find myself having to lead officers in this environment. We will step up to the challenge, but it is a funny old world at present.