The title of this post is also the title of a publication that the IPCC produce. It highlights areas of police work that could have been done better and resulted in problems that the IPCC had to investigate. From my own perspective the Learning the Lessons document covers custody and looks at deaths in custody, suicide/self harm risks and all areas where the IPCC have found the investigated force wanting in certain areas. In essence this is a great idea as it is an information sharing system that seeks to prevent the same problems arising again and again. The most recent copy can be found here.
When I joined the police I wandered around the streets on my second “in company” phase with perhaps the best, most practical speaking, common sense bobby I have ever had the privilege of working with. There are many things he said to me that still hold true to me today but there is one in particular that stands head and shoulders above them all;
Error is the discipline through which we all advance
This is the simplest phrase and has stood sound for me in 21yrs policing and is something I have passed on to many other colleagues. “Don’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty” my tutor said to me. “You will make mistakes. That’s par for the course and expected. Learn from them, build your experience and make sure they don’t happen again”.
In my current role we get bombarded with policy changes, procedural changes and improvements to the way the IT system works that need us to operate in different ways. In some cases we are monitored on our performance and errors are compiled by some bod in HQ. When the procedure comes into play we are expected to have a few errors and as these initial problems sort themselves out we are then expected to be perfect. The stats we are provided with that show our errors are for us to learn from, realise where we are going wrong and correct the issue. If the situation continued no doubt we would eventually be on a management action plan and look to losing competency related threshold payments or SPP and so on. Essentially financial sanctions against us for not doing our job properly and not learning from our mistakes.
In the 1970’s the police were underpaid. Officers were on the bread line, unable to keep up mortgage payments and seriously in debt. Officers were flooding out of forces across the country and new recruits of the right calibre were not being retained because the pay and conditions were so poor. It led ultimately to the report by Edmund Davies and in a nutshell, police pay and conditions were enhanced and improved and the service found its legs and began to run again. These conditions and annual pay increase matters were subject to ratification by the government of the day.
Having seen the recent discussions about police pay in 2012 I get the feeling that some media outlets, some “so-called independent” think tanks and the government believe that is the fault of the officers on the beat that they are paid what they are paid. As though in some bizarre way we are responsible for our own payroll and have abused the public purse. The pay we receive is what has been ratified year on year by a succession of home secretaries. IF our pay were excessive then these would be the people to blame… not those in receipt of it. It has to be said that police pay is NOT excessive.
We are without doubt in a time of financial chaos. The police, along with every other public service (we are not unique in this regard) are being looked at for cost efficiency savings. We are providing them but the government want more. They have cut our budgets meaning that we will lose 16,000 officers across the country. This is akin to simply removing officers completely from several forces around the country. Great big gaping holes.
I find myself pondering that if I don’t learn from my mistakes and continually repeat them I’m likely to be in trouble. I can’t blame anyone else for my stupidity.. only myself. So why are the government running headlong into a situation by an all out attack on the police service and putting our numbers and our pay and conditions on a par with the 1970’s…. the problems of that decade will resurface and the mistake will be made again… no lesson learnt.