It’s been a busy few weeks for the police. We marched in London on May 10th and this week has seen the annual Police Federation Conference in Bournemouth. For the police march we saw 30,000 plus officers parade through Westminster to protest about the 20% cuts to policing and reforms that will undermine our independence, our accountability and our resilience. We also saw the keynote speeches at the Police Federation conference by the national chairman Mr Paul McKeever and the reply from Home Secretary Theresa May MP.
When I spoke on BBC Radio 4 last week I said that the march wasn’t about pay but primarily about the cuts. Pay and pensions are some serious concerns for us and there is much fighting still to be done but they are just one facet of a multi-pronged attack on the police service as a whole. The threat to the police service by privatisation and policing for profit is one. The introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners that will replace Police Authorities and bring about the politicising of the police is another. Parachuting people directly into the service at Superintendent rank with no practical policing experience is another. Cuts of 16,000 police officers across the country over the next 4 years and how that is going to affect public safety and officer safety is another. The list goes on.
What was clear during the Federation conference from Nick Herbert and Theresa May was that they are not for budging. The HMIC said that the police service nationally could take 12% cuts and still operate. In any organisation there is always room for efficiency savings and improvements. The police service is no different. The Home Secretary has chosen to ignore this and pushed ahead with 20% cuts. During her address this week she consistently told the conference that we lived in difficult times and that every sector was facing cuts. The police were no exception.
I don’t think there is a police officer in the country that would deny that the country is in an economic downward spiral. As such I don’t think there is an officer in the country that would expect to be treated any differently than any other public sector department. We expected a pay freeze along with everyone else. What we didn’t expect was the reforms to pensions and all the other facets of the 2 reports created by Mr Tom Winsor that have longer term financial implications for officers and could lead to the destruction of the finest police service in the world.
Over the Twitter network officers have been raising awareness of our plight though the #antiwinsornetwork hashtag. This has been picked up on a number of occasions by some of the media representatives on this platform. The federation leaders both at national and regional levels have been out speaking to local television and radio stations. Last year the federation ran a series of advertisements that were designed to raise public awareness. They were criticised by many as scaremongering. Yet the summer riots of 2011 came to be a reality.
On May the 10th we marched in London. Nearly every police officer in the country that was on rest day attended. An absolutely amazing achievement. Yet it got very little media coverage. Despite inaccurate reporting in the Daily Telegraph, we announced our march and some time later the PCS union announced they would protest on the same day. Most media outlets concentrated on the PCS strike and the police march was tagged on at the end. Some in the service will ask what it achieved. The answer as far as I can see is that we don’t know. What I do know is that we as a service feel the cuts are wrong. They will put officers and the public at risk and crime will rise. We would look much worse 12 months further on if what we predict comes to pass and did nothing about it when we realised. We can point back to May and point out that we did try to tell you.
When you work in an environment that revolves around upholding the law it stands to reason that you are going to upset some people. People who think we have nothing better to do or should be out catching rapists and murderers. Since the 1970′s when officers were put into panda cars we have been criticised for being distant from the public. We were not the bobby on the beat anymore, just a car speeding past in a blur of blue lights and sirens. This said I still believe that the bulk of the public are fully supportive of the police. We make mistakes every now and again. We have the odd rotten apple too and these people erode our public confidence far quicker than the years we spent building it up but overall we are supported. If we weren’t then the traditional model of policing by consent would not be working.
I was told by a friend recently that the public wanted a police service. They wanted us there 24/7 and never to strike. That meant the public asked us to surrender those rights that every other employee in the country has. Because the public had asked for this they charged their representatives, the politicians, with ensuring that officers pay and conditions were reflective of the task they perform and that officer numbers were sufficient for public safety. She went on to tell me that if our conditions and numbers were not meeting that standard then the politicians had broken that trust and the public therefore had a duty to get with us, on our side of the table and take the politicians to task.
I have felt for a long time that if we argue our case solely about pay we will never win public confidence or support. It is a factor but we must also argue about the risks the cuts to the service are going to engender.
In this time of serious risk to the police service who needs to know and understand the situation the most? The general public.
In our line of business who do we meet the most every day? The general public.
We need to raise awareness with the public. Unless we tell them face to face what is being done to THEIR police service how will they really know? Speak to people, tell them about your job and the pressures you are under. Tell them why it’s taken you 4 hours to respond to their call. Be honest. Don’t dress it up or exaggerate. You cannot be condemned for telling the truth. I’m swiftly coming to the conclusion that whilst petitioning our MP’s and challenging Winsor through the PAT process is essential it is the public we need onside… that my friends is in your hands.
Take it to the people.