Friday, 27 September 2013

'Return' of Police Targets...

BBC News: Police forces facing dozens of new performance targets
BBC News: Theresa May warning over police targets 'comeback'

At a conference for the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales Theresa May told 250 senior police managers that targets are “making a comeback”.

I feel compelled to explain how this statement signals that the Home Secretary – who has been in post three-and-a-half years - knows little of the functioning of her own police forces.

I have been working for the Met for the last umpteen years and targets have never gone away. On the contrary they dictate my colleagues' actions ever more relentlessly. And Mrs May will surely soon blame the Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) for the police targets.

At the conference she claimed that her government has removed the bureacracy that previously “turned police officers into form-fillers rather than crime-fighters.” I know that was her intention, and an honourable one it is, but we have always been form-fillers and Social Workers.

Sometime around 2010 the Met's senior officers told us “There is now only one target: public satisfaction.” This objective seems so vague as to be meaningless: which public? How is this measured? How can it be usefully quantified? If we ask a hundred people and generate a decimal between 0 and 10 how is easy it for managers to apply spin? My point is: that's a good objective, but we can't measure it so let's not try.

Theresa May's statement unfortunately made no difference to the targets and pressures imposed on us. During my time on various teams, my managers have always required every team member to submit daily returns summarising stop-and-searches, arrests, and so forth. My inspector would then submit this data upwards through her managers.

Irrespective of PCC expectations, the Commissioner's 'new' Local Policing Model (LPM) only heightens the use of targets.

The key to understanding the LPM is that the response team now deal only with I-grades (Immediate – 12 minutes attendance) and S-grades (Slow – 60 minutes). The new local policing teams only deal with E-grades (Eventually – 48 hours). The result of this restructuring has been a drastic reduction in victim care.

I must explain. There is now one sole objective amongst the sergeants and inspectors running the response teams and the local policing teams: attending these I, S and E calls within the attendance targets. When I am on duty and listen to my personal radio all I ever hear is:

“How many minutes are left on that one?”
“It's about to run out? Okay let's downgrade it...”
“We're out of time for that call - forget about it. What else have we got that's still within time?”

Borough senior management tell us that hitting these attendance targets is imperative and that message is passed down through the hierarchy. Prior to LPM the response team were able to resource all the calls. Since the introduction of the LPM the response teams run out of units an hour into each shift. The result is that when the response team are about to miss an I-grade - perhaps 11 minutes has elapsed - a sergeant speaks up on the radio:

“We're about to run out on that one. Can we downgrade it to an S?”
And then when they're at 58 minutes:
“Can we downgrade this to an E?”

Even though an S-grade might (downgraded from I-grade) be in its 61st minute, it could still be very important. Perhaps Mrs Miggins has been burgled or mugged. She needs a police unit, but because we've missed the hour, she goes to the bottom of the pile and the resourcing sergeant turns his attention to the next call still within time. Mrs Miggins' burglary, now an E-grade, has now to be attended inside 48 hours.

Victim care has gone out through the window. PCs have no choice - their sergeants are frightened of missing the attendance times and rush them from one call to the next that's still within the deadline - 12 minutes, or 60 minutes. Each day I-grades are missed and end up as appointments.

A gang-rape by seven males was recently missed, turned into an S, then missed again and consigned to the local policing team's diary as an appointment the next day.

About us being Social Workers, government do not seem to realise that whereas the roles of the ambulance service, fire brigade and social services are well-defined, this is not the case for the police. Everybody likes to imagine we fight crime, but actually we do everything that isn't under the remit of the other services. Everything that falls between the cracks. The managers at all levels are so afraid they'll be blamed if somebody is harmed that they send a pair of police officers to everything. Half the jobs we attend are not police matters. Landlords have complaints against their tenants (and vice versa), but don't want to pay a solicitor, so they call the police. However there's nothing we can do about a civil matter. We waste an hour or two going to this.

So we are Social Workers. Police have to pick up everything turned away by the other services, therefore when Theresa May tells police she "hadn't asked the police to be social workers... I've told them to cut crime" (BBC News: Police forces facing dozens of new performance targets) it's just hollow words. I know she has the best intention, but it has had no effect. If senior police officers can ignore her, they will. Police managers at all levels are so frightened of criticism that they never say “That's not a police matter” and a police unit gets sent to almost everything “just in case”. This is why a constable colleague recently visited a woman who called police because there was a dead pigeon in her garden.

The pressure to get an officer to every call, irrespective of it's details, has resulted in a loss of victim focus. Partly this is because every moment of the day is under pressure. Local Policing Team officers continually have to visit a local mental hospital where every patient has a mobile phone and calls the police constantly.

“Another girl calls me names.”
“A guy threw a sausage at me.”

Either the calls aren't a matter for the police because of their triviality or because the allegation is delusional or fabricated. A quarter of the E-grades are calls from such patients.

The hospital has a special secure ward, male-only, for extremely delusional patients. One of these called police: “There are dancing girls here and all the nurses are raping them.” The officer spoke with the Control Room sergeant to query whether she really needed to attend - the sergeant said, yes, she would have to go to because the LPM dictates that an officer MUST be sent to every appointment within 48 hours.

So, irrespective of the PCCs, the targets have never gone away. If Mrs May believes that thanks to her diligence and forcefulness with police chiefs she made the targets vanish, she is trying to deceive us.

This is all, I suppose, only the latest manifestation of police leaders' need to control everything tightly because they believe that if the system fails it is because officers are not doing what they're told or are not working hard enough. On the contrary, the LPM has had the effect of halving staff and increasing the number of calls. Because of this bankrupt LPM system we constables are all flat out just keeping up with the workload.

Mrs May, you've told us to “reduce crime”, but that's the one thing police cannot do. When we're not acting as social workers we are mopping up after the crime has happened. The only chance of deterring crime is by being out on patrol, but the LPM has officers running from one appointment to the next. The LPT officers I know haven't patrolled for months. They haven't the time.

Apologies for the length of this blog. If any reader could shed light, I would be very interested to learn details of the consequences when Sir Bernard introduced the LPM in Merseyside? I have heard that was also a disaster.