I don’t want to get into a political debate. Professional discretion is the better part of valour – and some things are just too important to be left to partisan perspectives.
Neither am I about to venture into an ideological argument. There are better thinkers out there than me.
But I am interested in an honest and practical conversation about the reality of how things seem to be – at least, from where this Copper is standing…
Take a handful of the recent stories that have made the headlines.
• Events in Paris, Belgium and beyond… A terrorist threat that is real and rising – and drawing closer to home… Concerns expressed by frontline Cops prepared to put themselves in harm’s way;
• Further anticipated reductions to policing budgets – and the suggestion that some smaller Forces may struggle to survive the cuts;
• Falling Police Officer numbers… Chief Constables beginning to speak out about the likely implications;
• A reported increase in Violent Crime in London – and elsewhere;
• A teenager suffering from Mental Illness compelled to spend two nights in a police cell… Apparently, no hospital beds available anywhere in the country… And the beginnings of a much wider debate about Mental Health and the role of the police in responding to those in crisis;
• A reported nationwide increase in Sexual Offences;
• Apparent difficulties being experienced by A&E Departments and the Ambulance Service… Officers being called to deal with hospital drunks and the suggestion that some injured people are being transported by police in the absence of any other alternative
• The College of Policing reporting that, in a number of significant respects, demand on the Police Service is growing – and becoming more complex.
Policing operates in the places of greatest vulnerability and need in society – in amongst the broken homes and broken bones, the broken hearts and broken lives.
This is the stuff of real life… and what will be the cost of Austerity?
• For the young woman trapped in an abusive relationship, caught between the horrors of staying and the terrors of going;
• For the child of that young woman, witnessing extreme violence on a daily basis and suffering unimaginable trauma as a consequence;
• For the 15 year old caught on the periphery of a gang and wanting desperately to put the knife down and get the hell out;
• For the man in his 20s experiencing psychotic thoughts, afraid that he’s going to go out and harm somebody;
• For the amateur shoplifter, too ashamed to ask for help at a Foodbank and running out of options to feed his family;
• For the young woman unable to access housing or employment, now standing on the parapet of a bridge, looking down at the Thames;
• For the child abused and the teenager trafficked;
• For the drug addict and the alcoholic, committing crime to feed a habit they just can’t seem to break;
• For the inhabitant of an online world, subjected to bullying, threats and wickedness of every kind.
It seems to me that the cost of Austerity will be greatest for those least able to bear it.
And what of the consequences for policing itself?
The fact is that we are being challenged as never before: greater threat; greater public expectation; greater complexity; greater risk; greater pressure… And those who stand on the frontline with us – paramedics, teachers, prison officers, A&E staff, youth workers and the rest – are feeling it too…
There is a cost to Austerity.
Now and in the future.
If Violent Crime rises, so will the cost of medical treatment; if the Terrorist threat escalates, so will the cost of prevention and investigation; if Domestic Violence rises, so will the cost of intervening in troubled families; if Gang Violence persists, so will the cost of complex murder investigations; if community provision for the marginalised and the vulnerable falters through lack of funds, the burden on the State will only increase; if policing becomes steadily more reactive – withdrawn from neighbourhoods and disconnected from communities – we are going to find ourselves in a very difficult place. And so it goes on.
We can’t keep demanding more for less indefinitely – there has to be a tipping point. That isn’t an argument against policing reform (heaven knows we need it), but it is a statement of fact.
And everything can’t be a priority. We have got to decide what matters more.
In a world of spending reviews and shrinking budgets – as we consider some of the critical issues of our time – the repeated question becomes:
‘Can we afford to do that any more?’
To which the response has to be:
‘Can we afford not to?’