I had worked this specific area for the last 12yrs yet as I approached the gates of this building I knew I had never been in here before. An armed soldier peered into the car and satisfied my partner and I “looked” like bona fide cops he raised the barrier and directed us to a parking spot. I slid my Volvo T5 alongside a colleagues Omega saloon. Two advanced police patrol cars and both less than 6 months old. In most of the city they would not look out of place but here surrounded by Green Goddess fire engines from ages past it was like putting a Sinclair Spectrum alongside a MacBook.
I had pulled into the local TA barracks. This was the bronze control point to provide navigational assistance and on scene support to the army who were providing cover during a national Fire Brigade strike.
I was working overtime and getting paid double time for this easy 12hr shift. I walked into the lounge area where we would wait for a job and was introduced to our crew. I shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with four 17-18 year old lads. They all looked far too young to be soldiers let alone stand in firemen. These kids were earning peanuts and hadn’t joined the army for this. One of my colleagues sat around broadcasting how much he was earning. This distasteful behaviour led to a number of us “encouraging” him to start up a fund we could all pay into on every shift to pay for a night of drinks for these young lads when the strike was over. He did, we raised a substantial figure and the young soldiers went out for the night FOC on us.
Most of this shift I sat doing nothing, either in the barracks or at one of the two minor callouts we had but it gave me plenty of time to think. It gave me time to realise that all emergency services should not have the right to strike. It gave me the opportunity to ponder how millions of £’s of publicly owned fire engines in publicly owned fire stations were sitting idle and young soldiers with no training using a 50+ year old fire engine were providing cover. I became increasingly annoyed with the fire service. The fire service who promote fire safety, the fire service who say they care and the fire service who then abandon those principles and hold the country to ransom when they strike.
Today I posted a few tweets in relation to the strike action by police staff in Nottingham.
The #police cannot strike. Our police staff colleagues can. Where would country be if we could strike? Police now filling in for strikers
Who would fill in for the #police if we could strike? The office of constable needs guaranteed protection. #protectourpolice
There are 1000’s of police staff doing great jobs across the country. They all have one flaw though. They are not police officers.
This leaves us in vulnerable position when they strike that undermines the service we provide. Policing is unique. #protectourpolice
I’ve had some positive responses to the tweets and also some from those who were offended. In order to address the latter we need to go back in history a little. There is much in the media of late regarding austerity measures and making savings but as far as the police are concerned this is not new. There was a time when pretty much every position was staffed by a warranted police officer. Over time as crime rates increased and police officers became less visible whizzing past in cars the public demanded a return to the traditional bobby on the beat. There is a hint of rose tinted spectacles about this but the answer was that warranted officers were an expensive investment and should not therefore be behind desks or in control rooms. The net result was an increase in civillianisation of the police. This has been subject to a name change as many other things and our non-warranted colleagues are now known as police staff. They are invariably paid less for doing the job police officers were previously doing. In some cases even now police officers and staff work alongside each other with hugely different incomes.
The number of police staff has increased over the years and they provide a valuable core function to the service we provide to the public. There are many who are as dedicated to their job and the police as many of my colleagues. They should be applauded. Furthermore as employees (not Crown Servants) they are now in a very difficult place as unlike police officers they can and are being made redundant as the cuts bite.
Unfortunately some of my tweets were taken personally. All of my team are police staff and I hold them all in high esteem. They, like their Nottingham colleagues have the right to strike and I defend and support that right.
The police service is a 24hr, 7 days a week, 365 days a year business. The public need us and when all else fails we are still there. Police officers are a unique role and for the security of the nation we cannot strike.
The traditional role of the constable was to be omni-competent. He/she could cover most roles within the organisation and reserves for control rooms and other functions were in place. Police staff have increased and this tradition has been eroded. This has engendered forces around the country providing an emergency service that is reliant upon police staff… police staff who can strike.
Police forces in a time of strike such as today will struggle to cover those vacant positions with police officers who are adequately trained to use the radios, incident handling, crime and call handling software that are all technical IT systems. It’s simply not a phone with pen and paper anymore. As such forces around the country are exposed to risk. A situation that cost cutting and savings over many years has led to.
It’s not the fault of police officers nor the police staff. I sympathise fully with the predicament police staff are facing and worry about the implications for my team. This situation has arisen through cost cutting over many years. We are now facing even harsher cuts but the preceding years have stripped police officers of many core functions they used to have. So when we are now called upon, as we will be, to cover for striking police staff things are going to get messy. The public may well be at risk.
In any strike, even the miners, there are those who will and those who won’t. Many police staff will and many won’t strike. Yet whilst we have an organisation that runs two different sets of staff with very different rules for each we are going to run into problems at times such as this. Losing 20, 30 or 50% of our overall staffing needs in any time period has the potential to be catastrophic.
Having been very critical of the fire service I find myself angered that the police have been put in a position where we are no better simply because half our workforce operates under separate rules. I repeat myself ;
The police service is a 24hr, 7 days a week, 365 days a year business. The public need us and when all else fails we are still there.
If we don’t have the back up systems we have grown used to then the system will collapse.