If you look up and note the definitions of denial and the behaviours that may ensue from its’ presence it is not hard to find examples of them in our current government’s actions. They appear to have created their own view of ‘reality’ about forces doing more with less, being able to cope with extra work by having ‘extra officers’ on the street and rarely discussing anything about how this might impact on officer well being.
Denial of responsibility is also clear and is of course juxtaposed with the denial of reality I mentioned above. If we talk about growing demand – there is clear evidence that it is it is far from reducing and is changing, with some indication from professionals across many agencies that this may be partly related to cuts to other services who now cannot cope with their own workload.
What we witness now is classic minimisation behaviours where data and voice is either ignored, hidden or actually just not mentioned. We also observe argued justifications for certain actions and decisions, serving to remove the onus of responsibility from previous government decisions about police resources being reduced – mainly indeed by our PM who was Home Secretary when she made these decisions. Crime (yawn) remains down after all!? Thirdly we see this blame thing coming in over and over again – the direct shift of culpability from the centre to local decision makers and purse holders, who have now very conveniently, under the joyful guise of localism been asked, with seriously reduced budgets, to decide their own priorities.
In psychiatry they might call this delusional but whatever term you attach to it there appears to be evidence of those claiming to be intelligent individuals adamantly denying facts and sometimes a body of data that challenges their own viewpoint. I find it interesting that this all occurs parallel to the implementation of a professionalisation agenda in policing which seeks to ensure officers use evidence, seek data, not be driven by their own experience alone and become more thoughtful in their approach. All of this at a time where our government are ignoring a wealth of information about the impact of their austerity policies and refusing to accept any responsibility for it at all it seems.
The police cannot do this denial. When they receive criticism from reviewing bodies such as the IPCC, HMIC and others, their failings feature all over the media and around dinner tables all over the country. Governance is vital and I don’t suggest that such reports are not essential for improvement but ask any officer and they will explain that until the government recognises the pressure that demand, changing priorities and juggling resources is having on effectiveness and efficiency nothing is likely to change in the long term. Therefore, blame is pushed down to the local forces who subsequently shift resources around and ‘solutioneer’ until the next time someone knocks on their door. The interesting thing is that many officers are absolutely up for being honest about this and are not denying it at all!
You may ask where the government might get the reality of the current state of policing from. It is hard to contemplate that there are boundless numbers of officers out there of various ranks and roles who might be willing and have tried to raise the reality issues with ministers. Cuts have consequences was a great example.
Today I read a tweet from West Yorkshire Police Federation announcing their request for the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to conduct a spontaneous visit to their force. The purpose of this is to encourage her to speak to front line officers and consider the reality of the current state of policing in their area.
This follows a commitment at the PFEW conference from Amber Rudd stating that she would be visiting forces over coming months to gain a front line view on current challenges, resource realities and the impact of these issues at a local level. Since the conference I have seen some lively debate on social media about the actual reality observed by Rudd should she make planned visits to forces – the main criticism being that officers locally will be asked to commit to extra hours and that local work might be put on hold to facilitate such a visit, therefore assisting the keeping these issues opaque. Hence the request by West Yorkshire for the visits to be spontaneous and unplanned.
I seem to be using this term quite a lot recently but it seems to me that legitimacy is something that cannot be ignored in this context –and this is evidence based. We talk a lot in policing about the need for the public to perceive the police as legitimate.Legitimate to make decisions to use force fairly and appropriately and to deal with matters effectively. Additionally, we also discuss the idea of legitimacy inside the organisation and the concept, for example, of legitimate leadership and organisational legitimacy which officers then buy into. The positive consequence of this relates to officers then identifying with their force, its’ strategic steer and the longer term priorities it has set itself up to achieve. Whilst research on the outcomes of getting this wrong, such as impacts on staff well-being, productivity and commitment to the role is clear, we still hear anecdotal narratives about officers feeling separate to their force, their leaders and most importantly feeling entirely disengaged from the conversations about a variety of policing issues that matter to them. We are not getting this right yet at a local level but this central refusal to value our police only serves to reinforce the sense of opinion disregard from the front line.
Therefore, I think there is another level of legitimacy which has become evident in recent months within the policing sphere. This relates to the legitimate and real concerns of officers and how this plays out at a state level – in Government. The rightful anger expressed by public sector workers responding to the refusal to remove the pay cap was unsurprising and clearly indicates the negativity about their sense of government legitimacy. And all this at a time when we have, as a society, required all of the emergency services’ support, unconditional assistance and heroism more than ever, following recent national events.
The brief payment of lip service to this commitment from the prime minister and others is, I am sure, at least partly, welcomed by officers, but the reality is the government has not been not listening, they refuse to take responsibility for anything much at all and almost blatantly refuse to review the growing need for security and the changes in the demand being experienced by our police forces in the UK. Interestingly what this does is nurture and reinforce May’s personal denial and results in further refusals for her to accept the realities that UK police face today – much of this arguably resulting from her own decisions as Home Secretary. Even her own cabinet are challenging her and beginning to realise the implications of not amending the pay gap for example.
If they listened, heard it, saw it, there might be more chance of them waking up to the reality and observing what most of us clearly see is happening. When she was Home Secretary, Theresa May used the term viable to describe the cuts she chose to deliver to the police –they were not and workloads remain unsustainable. This vehement unwillingness to listen and wake up to the facts seems to assist with the acceptance of this terminology. Her refusal to listen and her dogmatic approach further legitimises her own decisions in her own mind and denies the professional opinion of the professional officer. Paradoxically it is perhaps causing even her own party to challenge her authority and legitimate rule.
Legitimacy is subjective and at times citizens might consider government decisions as illegitimate and unfair. This can create a serious crisis in governance. It needs questioning when the legitimacy of decisions’ is challenged by those that enforce the law. I seriously wonder if, unless there is a turnaround soon and a willingness to engage, listen and not deny police realities, that the wider implications for our government might be impossible to deal with by the head in the sand approach.
Let’s all hope that other aspects of the government are beginning to realise that the service needs more recognition of staff and investment in service provision in these troubled times.