The current Home Secretary and Policing Minister use the phrase “Frontline Policing” regularly. They role it out time and time again and tell the television, radio and newspapers that 20% cuts to policing will not affect it.
Yet in recent weeks, after months of religiously telling us the frontline will be protected they have now admitted that they don’t really know what it is.
It’s rather shocking to think that all the current police reforms are based on a premise they haven’t grasped yet. It doesn’t really come as a surprise either but is it really that difficult to define?
The dictionary says;
of, pertaining to, or involving the forefront in any action, activity, or field
So in simplistic terms this has got to be the police officers who are out on the street, responding to emergencies and dealing with incidents. They are the forefront of our service. Right?
Well it sounds plausible but what about the neighbourhood policing team? They are out dealing with crime and dealing with incidents too. In fact there is much overlap between them and response. Then there is traffic policing ( what’s left of it ) dealing with serious road traffic accidents and fatals. That should cover it. Ah but hang on the burglary team are out executing a warrant and have locked up 3 burglars who use weapons when committing crime. They are out there and putting themselves in harms way. To add to that the CID are on the trail of a serious sex offender and are raiding an address to arrest him. He is likely to face life imprisonment and if found will come out fighting.
That should sort it. Please forward this to the Home Office. Then again wait a moment. Custody have just taken delivery of a violent drunk. They have had to use restraint tactics to secure this person in a cell. One officer has been spat in the face and head butted. They are certainly in harms way and dealing with the product of live incidents so they must be frontline?
That concludes it. There are many specialist departments working from HQ that have every weekend off and work normal office hours. They aren’t frontline. Or are they? For example; Counter terrorism is primarily an intelligence operation but it does engage in proactive work. I defy anyone who would tell me Stephen Oake was not frontline when he was stabbed to death.
You may suddenly be realising that the frontline is not quite as obvious as you thought? I’ve only scratched the surface too. No wonder the Home Secretary is having such a problem defining it.
I remember a phrase from my childhood. It relates to ship building and trade unions. “I’m a rivet holder. Not a rivet hitter.” The theory being that the job couldn’t proceed if the rivet hitter wasn’t there and nobody could take his place. Whilst we have come a long way there is still much of this mentality in the workplace. “I’m the chef so don’t ask me to hoover the function room.” or “I’m not paid to do that so I’m not doing it.” There are countless examples where people raise their role or contract as a reason not to do something.
Police officers are different. Every one of us from probationer to Chief Constable is first and foremost a constable. This means we can be moved at a moments notice. We can be sat in an office one minute and 60 minutes later be pulling on public order kit to face a large disturbance. We cannot claim its not in our remit or our contract. We are constables and that duty we take on through our affirmation holds fast until we retire. We are a flexible and massively malleable workforce.
The frontline starts as described but it has many facets that make it up. Like a line of police officers in a shield line at a riot. There are shield holders, fast dispersal teams, medics, dog handlers evidence gathering teams and more. It looks like one line of cops but but it has many different aspects that aren’t immediately obvious.
It has to be said that some officers are more at risk on a regular basis than others. Is running around in a police car and fighting with 16-30 year old hooligans on a Saturday night a job for the young? In some degrees yes. Even more so when current reforms are likely to put 60 year old officers in this position.
Reforms in the past and now have tried and try to compensate for this and have and will only ever be divisive. The reason obviously is the frontline is not black and white but a whole myriad of shades of grey.
The frontline has many outward facing aspects. All support one another. Yes, we have our primary core business but this area of work relies on every other officer. Those officers underpin that service and provide the foundations that make it work.
If you keep pulling at the foundations the whole house will, sooner or later, come tumbling down. When this happens we will still struggle to define the front line. What we will be able to say with certainty though is that there is no longer a frontline at all.