Sunday, 29 June 2014

Commuting Officers Provide Free Security On Railways

Officers of the Metropolitan Police Service pay £500/year for rail travel from Central London out to a distance of seventy miles, although new probationers aren't offered this. The cost is likely to increase further and disappear within three or four years.

I know that police-bashers dislike the idea of us receiving a rail fare concession, but I have points to make. Very few Met officers can afford to live in Greater London, including myself, and wouldn't work for the MPS without the travel concession. For London to be policed, we are expected to pay £500/year and tolerate a two hour daily commute.

But here's something that people perhaps don't realise:

We are technically never off-duty and so have to frequently confront aggressive drunks and fare dodgers during our journeys to or from work. At least once a week I'm on a train on my way home, exhausted after a long shift, and the guard runs to me and asks for help. I have no CS spray, handcuffs or baton. No body armour or back-up. But I have no choice but to deal with a situation which, incidentally, I won't be paid for. Every other passenger is able to enjoy their ride home after work, but not cops. We are on duty 24/7.

Try to imagine that, and how you would feel.

The Met management intend to take away the free travel over the next two or three years, so that the MPS can save the money they pay the railway companies. However, the railway companies have never insisted the Met pay them for the concession, and back when the free travel was granted, they offered it for free. The MPS management however, insisted on paying a small fee and the companies have gradually escalated the fee since then.

When I travel on trains railway staff tell me they're glad to see me - they know they have a police officer to deal with fare dodgers and drunks. We provide a free security service, which the staff on the trains welcome, but doesn't seem to be recognised by their senior managers or the MPS senior officers. Officers of Thames Valley and other forces have free passes, so if the train companies want to keep the free security service that we provide, shouldn't they consider giving Metropolitan Police officers the benefit of passes?

It isn't as if we enjoy a long commute to work, or having to deal with situations off-duty.

The reason Sir Bernard gives for not offering the concession to new constables is that he wants to encourage applications from people living in Greater London, which he says this will increase the diversity of the officers.

This is propaganda and spin designed to justify a money-saving exercise. I can't afford to spend a third of my salary on the daily commute and, in two or three years when the concession is taken away, I predict a mass exodus from the MPS.

Gideon is a new probationer on my team. His salary is too low for him to live in London, so he commutes, like most of us. But because he has no travel concession, he can't afford to pay into the pension scheme.

Gideon expected the travel concession, and so has had to change his plans. He is still in his two year probation and already wants to leave and find a career with a pension, perhaps where he can afford to work within a reasonable distance of his home. Like many officer he might take a part-time job alongside his police work, in order to pay into a private pension scheme.

Sir Bernard might claim he wants more Londoners to join, but Gideon tells me that all of his class at Hendon were young, white, middle-class and living in the Home Counties with their parents.

Without the travel concession, only candidates from affluent families can now afford to work for the Metropolitan Police. By removing the travel concession Sir Bernard has created the opposite effect from his stated intention.

Gideon adds that most of his classmates intend to work for the Metropolitan Police Service only a couple of years, then either join a county force or leave the police altogether, having acquired it for their CVs.

The travel concession was brought in roughly twelve years ago to stop the haemorrhage of Met officers to county forces. I predict the Met will again become a training ground for county officers, as it was before the county cops flooded into the Met. These things run in cycles, as management reinvent the wheel again and again, pretending they've had original ideas, and doing so only to gain evidence for their promotions.

Sir Bernard's stated desire to increase recruitment from London is also ironic because he himself isn't from London and neither are most of his entourage.

Denying officers the travel concession to save money – it's a short-term goal that creates long-term problems.