After reading Alex Stewart's poignant piece how can anybody doubt the decay of police management?
The Guardian: Why I quit the thin blue line: a former Met police officer on a service in crisis
And things have deteriorated a good deal since late 2014, when Alex left.
This week I was out on patrol in my borough and my inspector brought me up short. He ordered me to don my high-visibility jacket and cited the current 'Severe' threat assessment. The Metropolitan Police Service currently has a standing policing that constables patrolling on foot must wear these scruffy ill-fitting jackets. They are untidy yellow zip-up sacks that make us resemble dustbin men.
“But guv,” I said, “how will my hi-vis protect me from a gunman?”
“Protect you?” he said. “It's not about you. Nobody gives a fuck about you. This is about reassuring the public. About making them feel there are plenty of coppers around.”
But the terrorists have stated that they want to kill soldiers and police, not members of the public. So, the threat isn't against the public. It's me and my colleagues who need reassuring.
So when the crazy guy is walking around looking for a cop or a soldier to shoot or behead, he'll spot me a mile away. I'll be the sponge soaking up his bullets.
Nobody gives a fuck about you.
That's just it. I've been in this job a long time and have NEVER felt that constables' welfare means anything to local or senior managers. Like many of my colleagues, the heavy kit and sometimes inhuman hours have damaged my health. When I bring this to the attention of my managers, they say:
“Yes, me too. Oh well, if you don't like it you could always stack shelves in a supermarket.”
Lately I've noticed a subtle change – colleagues no longer contemplate the departments where they would enjoy working, but instead try to determine which are the least unpleasant – where they could tolerate working.
It's interesting what Alex says about the inability of the organisation to embrace meaningful improvement, unless the suggestions originate centrally. It's only when senior managers are able to claim credit, that initiatives are supported.
I've experienced this myself and mention it in my book, which will hopefully be published this autumn.
The Met is currently amidst a round of training days for sergeants. The content of them is very telling. After one such day last week I spoke with a sergeant with twenty years of service. He told me:
“There was no training, only browbeating. For the first couple of hours we were criticised mercilessly for our failings. But there are a thousand things we're told we must do perfectly, and there simply aren't the hours in the day.”
“As for the rest of the 'training', we were told that the Met needs to lose six thousand officers to make the necessary savings, and that means replacing experienced people – who are expensive – with brand new probationers – who are cheap.”
“We've been told that from now on we must take every opportunity to put sick or recuperating officers on a disciplinary. With can use any excuse to stick officers on for gross misconduct or unsatisfactory performance.”
“The worse part is the organisation is simply going to start dismissing officers with no reason. They'll be told 'You are leaving on such-and-such a date. Thank you and goodbye.' As we don't have contracts of employment, the law doesn't protect us.”
Personally, I think this is a disgrace and a revelation – an official Met policy of quietly decimating police numbers. An enquiry should be held.
My team already consists of only two experienced constables and six probationers, none of whom have more than six months experience. I spend all my time simply hand-holding the new guys and girls.
They're rushed through training so quickly that many of them barely know how to carry out a respectful and lawful stop-search. The traditional mode of learning – watching and listening to experienced colleagues – almost doesn't now exist.
Theresa May is correct when she states:
“...there is still wasteful spending in policing and that resources are still not linked to demand.”
But her mistake is that she believes these gaps have been partly closed and can be narrowed further. The reality is that over the last couple of years there has been no reduction whatsoever of 'wasteful spending'. Ask any officer and she'll just laugh. Contractors are still charging the Earth for outsourced services.
All that's happened over the last couple of years is that our managers are more frightened than before, and so to protect themselves they have introduced ever greater accountability. Hence more spreadsheets and report-writing.
The application of yet more pressure will only further escalate the very problem that has knifed into the heart of UK policing since the 1990s.
Managers will be more fearful for their jobs and pensions, and so will create more accountability. This will increase pressure around work returns and performance figures. Officers will spend even more time than at present listing how they've spent their time each day.
And spend fewer hours serving the public. So rolls on the ever-downward spiral...