Responding to a statement made by the Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police concerning the cuts rendering the police service ‘unsustainable’, the Home Secretary announced that the budgetary cuts being imposed on policing would not challenge forces’ viability. Changes, she suggested, to ICT procurement and further collaboration with other 999 emergency services would enable significant efficiencies to be delivered.
So where do we start? Viable is a broad term and for the context of this piece I would like to unpick it further, particularly in relation to where Theresa May suggests money can be saved. The term viable means workable, operational and capable with the ‘means available’. But what exactly does the Home Secretary mean when she discusses viability – viability to deliver what and for whom?
Demand: The suggestion that combining with other services will alleviate pressures is complex. The entire public sector is bulging at the seams with, for example, the ambulance service calling on the fire service and the police to respond to calls as they desperately attempt to keep up with the pressures placed on them.
Emergency services, assisting each other, as the Home Secretary suggests, is about response, demand and dealing with problems in the short term. Without long term problem solving this demand will surely remain significant and potentially grow. Part of the issue of being viable together concerns the capacity and capability of all of the services involved. It is hard to see where any agency in the current climate has the time to sit back and reflect on how these issues may be solved in the longer term.
Officers: Believing the current situation is viable for officers is unrealistic. How exactly do the Home Secretary’s proposed solutions to save money make working practices more workable for officers doing the job? Anecdotally it seems, retention and indeed recruitment in some areas is problematic. Officers are going off sick as a result of the increasing demands placed on them and this is at a time when occupational health facilities are being reduced and outsourced.
Research shows that officer morale is at a critical point and the perceived lack of support for the police from the government is only likely to exacerbate this further. This is perhaps an area of ‘viability’ that the Home Secretary has not considered.
In terms of delivering an effective service, the impact the cuts have had on the officers themselves is fundamental when considering operational capacity. In order to have a viable service, it requires that officers have a commitment to delivering on the priorities of the organisation and officers who are given the capability to do the job. Yesterday several officers on social media described operating, currently, on ‘good will’ – without the investment in them the viability of the service will suffer.
The Community: Community policing is crucial to the relationship the police have with the public. Community engagement and dealing with issues that affect local areas impacts on public confidence in the police. Indeed, research shows that the public’s perception of the police as legitimate can impact on their compliance with the law. As the police respond to the increasing demands placed on them as a result of the fall out of the cuts to all critical services, community policing suffers.
Community officers are not simply there to reassure and deal with low level disorder. They are fundamental to local intelligence gathering and picking up on local issues through building trust with local communities. As leaders in the police juggle the diminishing resources they have available to them community policing is often one of the first areas to suffer. The risk to local intelligence gathering and problem solving as a result of this is significant. However it is hard to imagine that sustaining community policing in the format of previous days with dedicated neighbourhood policing teams etc. will be realistic within future budgetary constraints.
Victims: The scope of victimisation is changing. Cybercrime and reports of historical cases of sexual abuse alone create complex investigations for officers. Research shows that the provision of information to victims of crime is a key driver of satisfaction in the police. Indeed this is likely to impact on their decisions to report subsequent crimes and to engage with the police in other capacities. There continues to be a government monitored survey on user satisfaction to assess this across the country.
As the police respond to the increasing and different demands placed on them as a result of the current climate and within time driven targets, the amount of resource that can be dedicated to victims can become problematic. Further demands may impact on the ability to provide quality or bespoke care to particular victims. Therefore can the police provide a consistent and viable service to victims of crime and indeed in some circumstances have the space to conduct robust risk assessments about their future victimisation?
The areas I have considered here are just a few of those affected by the cuts to policing across the UK. Indeed all of these areas are worthy of an analysis of their own. However it seems from an initial consideration that as decisions are made to redeploy officers from one area of policing to service another, the viability of the actual quality of service’ they can provide reduces. There has been much discussion on social media recently about the need for an honest debate about the role of policing today and the expectations of what can be delivered.
The longer the police react ‘viably’ to the short term problems and increasing demands placed on them the more significant and problematic the demands will become. I would suggest that this is not what the majority of officers want from their role. Perhaps what is needed is a definition from the Home Secretary about what she considers viable to be and what exactly she thinks may happen in the longer term if we follow her definition.
Without this benchmark her phraseology remains elusive and provides no guidance on what vision she may have for an effective and efficient police service and what exactly their changing role in the future should be.
If I was being cynical however, perhaps this lack of definition and clear statement about what makes a service viable in the current climate, assists with further justifying her and the wider governments’ lack of responsibility around the impact their cuts to public services has had.