Some thoughts on todays further cuts… or perhaps rants!

Today it was announced loud and clear that the Home Office is to further cut the police budget by 289 million. This comes at a time when the remit of what the police are dealing with is getting wider (more than likely as a result of the severe cuts to other public services), retaining officers is hugely problematic, new complex types of cyber-crime are on the rise and internal stress levels are rife. Fundamentally this stress has resulted from the under-resourcing of some police areas and the constant organisational change programmes which officers rarely feel in engaged in. Coupled with that is a sense that this government, particularly the Home Secretary, care little about the police organisation or indeed it’s’ staff.

Morale is near on non-existent and officers are coming under more and more scrutiny for misconduct and what constitutes unethical behaviour. Things are not looking great!

I am sure this is old news to most of you reading this but I have nearly 130 serving offices currently on our BSc in service policing programme at Canterbury Christ Church. Many of them, particularly those involved in CID roles currently have over double the recommended amount of live investigations and several members of their team are off sick with stress related illnesses. 30 hour shifts are not unusual.

When I read this decision today and the subsequent news that followed – that the government were to increase funding for the likes of HMIC and the IPCC by up to 30 million I was astounded for a range of reasons but two in particular.

Officers talk regularly about the existence of a blame culture in policing – this is partly a result of the wider political ideology of neo-liberalism. This ideology strongly promotes individual responsibilisation and absolves blame from the government for the impact of these cuts. This is all under the ‘guise’ of giving the power back to local areas (in this case police forces) to make decisions about where to focus the budgetary cuts.

One of my students last year wrote a first class dissertation on the strains such decisions place on officers at the top and subsequently lower end of the organisation as they struggle to maintain performance, meet targets and deal effectively with victims and members of the public.

Not at any point during these decisions to cut the funding for the police has the government considered what the impact might be on officers themselves, the public and indeed victims of crime. Instead they pump more money into the very organisations that seek to discredit officers and seek out their mistakes and flaws. I am a firm believer in accountability but at what stage will there be some recognition that maybe – just maybe – the failings might be partly related to these ongoing strains that officers are under in their attempt to deliver and maintain performance in the organisation. I find this decision an absolute paradox.

Secondly is the issue of the apparent government drive to promote evidence based policing, which I write about a lot. Firstly it seems extraordinary that this government appear to have no strategic forecasting proposals or evidence to suggest that the police, in its current form, can sustain delivery once these cuts hit them. Of course as a result of the political factors I mention above, it is now down to the individual force senior leadership team to conduct this planning. However we know from what officers tell us that these decisions are not understood by the lower end of the organisation and are rarely subject to proper long term consideration as a result of the speed that they have come in.

The College of Policing are currently stressing the importance of officers having a sense of organisational justice where staff feel they are treated fairly, are engaged with about changes effecting them and understand the justification for why they occur. This links crucially to external procedural justice and the fair treatment of the public. Most evidence at the moment suggests that officers feel very little sense of fairness and engagement both inside the police and from central government and the known negative impact this has on the way officers’ sign up to organisational priorities and advocate their organisational outside is vast. The wider implications of this on public perceptions of the police and ‘not doing this change’ right are clear.

There has been a lot of debate recently both in the national press and on social media about the need to fully understand what we want from the police in the 21st century. We are facing enormous changes across the public sector in local authorities, the NHS and education which will impact on the most vulnerable and therefore policing and other emergency services.

At what point will the government admit that part of the need for these evidence based changes are a result of the cuts they have made. I am a huge advocate of the commissioning of a full Royal Commission to review what we want from the police today and more importantly how we maintain that required service during a time of severe austerity.

What is it they are so frightened of when considering the need for a full review to gather evidence of what is needed to facilitate the development of more efficient and effective service for both its staff and the public – in some cases some of the most vulnerable members of society.

Emma Williams

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