Policing Challenges in 2017

So here we are then, at the beginning of 2017.

And the multitude of challenges facing the police service in Britain are, it seems to me, greater than at any point since the end of the Second World War.

I.    Operational

There are the crime challenges:

  • Terrorism
  • Serious Violence – including Homicide, Domestic Abuse & Knife Crime
  • Sexual Offences – including Child Sexual Exploitation
  • Human Trafficking
  • Cyber Crime
  • Drug & Alcohol related criminality
  • Fraud (some of it on an industrial scale)
  • And so the list goes on.

And it’s not just crime:

  • Mental Health
  • Missing Persons
  • Roads Policing
  • Anti-Social Behaviour
  • And so the list goes on

Given the fact that everything can’t be a priority, there are any number of exceptionally difficult decisions to be made – not least in terms of the people, resources and money we invest in:

  • crime vs. everything else
  • short-term enforcement vs. long-term prevention
  • emergency response policing vs. neighbourhood policing
  • uniform policing vs. detective work
  • the investigation of historical crimes vs. those being committed now
  • police officer numbers vs. police staff numbers
  • core policing priorities vs. the needs of partner agencies
  • support and care provided for victims vs. the pursuit of offenders
  • And so the list goes on

We want to do it all. But the fact is that we’re not going to be able to. Which means that there are some very tough questions to be asked.

What are we going to do differently?

What are we going to do less of?

What are we going to have to stop doing altogether?

The easiest thing in the world is to recline in the comfort of an armchair and point out what policing is doing wrong – and what policing should be doing more of. But dealing with the reality and endless complexity of those challenges is a different proposition altogether.

For example we cannot, simultaneously, put more time, effort and resources into every emerging priority. There will have to be some give and take. If we want more of something, there will have to be less of something else. And we need to understand that, when it comes to making those decisions, there will be inevitable differences of opinion about what those ‘somethings’ should be.

It’s a whole lot easier to talk about policing than it is to be a police officer.

II.    Organisational 

The organisational challenges facing the service as a whole at the start of 2017 are eye-watering:

  • Economics: In an article published on January 4th, the Guardian reported that the Met, for example, still to needs to find c.£400M in savings. On top of those already made. The continuing financial challenge remains on a scale that is entirely without precedent.
  • Reform: Whilst change is a constant in policing, the current relentless pace of it – and the demands associated with it – are greater than at any other point in our history. Without denying the very evident need for reform in the service, it is not unusual to hear officers and staff expressing the view that too much is happening, too quickly – and that not all of it is for the better.
  • Governance: Policing has an accountability framework arguably more complex than any other. Chief Constables are answerable to – amongst others – Number 10, the Home Office, The Home Affairs Select Committee, the College of Policing, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Police & Crime Commissioners and the local communities they serve. That’s a lot of important people to please.
  • Legacy: We continue to be confronted with the deeply unsettling sins of our past – both distant and uncomfortably recent. No one to blame but ourselves of course – but they remain a heavy burden in the present.
  • Morale: The most recent survey conducted by the Police Federation (in the summer of 2016) provides a clear indication of the people challenges currently facing local forces. 45,000 officers took part, with 68% of them suggesting that they did not feel valued and 56% stating that their own morale was low. More than 90% of officers stated that morale in the service as a whole was low.

III.    Personal

In addition to the issue of morale, individual officers and staff face a number of personal challenges:

  • Physical: The Police Federation estimates that there are 23,000 assaults on officers in England & Wales every single year. That’s a heck of a number – and is accompanied by the stark realisation that each of them is an explicit terrorist target.
  • Health & Wellbeing: The recent report published by the Police Dependents Trust revealed that 81% of officers (almost 11,000 were surveyed) have suffered physical injury or mental ill health as a consequence of their work. I have my own scars – seen and unseen – and I know more good coppers working under more strain that any previous point in my career.
  • Financial: Every frontline police officer is feeling the pinch of austerity. Of course, they’re far from being unique in that respect – but it remains an immensely significant issue for them.

IV.    External

  • Global events, local impact: Police officers are called upon to respond to the consequences of events happening far beyond their immediate force boundaries: Brexit & the reported rise of hate crime, Syria & the consequences for radicalisation and terrorist activity to name but two.
  • Scrutiny: As I have suggested before, the current story being told about policing in this country is an insistently hostile and negative one. There is an urgent need for policing to be held to account – but there is an equally pressing need for balance in the narrative.
  • Public Sector Strain: Policing is, increasingly, being called upon to support partners under pressure – in the ambulance service, in mental health and adult social care services, even in prisons.
  • Public protest: When people take to the streets to exercise their democratic right to protest, it is the police who are diverted from other places to keep the peace.

Where from here?

Having joined the Met in 1992, I’ve been a proud police officer for almost a quarter of a century – and I believe that this is as challenging as I have ever known it.

But I also believe in the people I work alongside. I believe in:

  • their courage
  • their decency
  • their compassion
  • their humanity
  • their terrible sense of humour
  • their willingness to work all the hours to get the job done
  • their belief in that precious, old fashioned thing called duty

These are the things that haven’t changed. And these are the people who remain the everyday heroes and heroines who police our streets.

It’s people who answer emergency calls. It’s people who step into the middle of violent confrontations. It’s people who stand in the driving rain at the scenes of serious car crashes. It’s people who place an arm round the shoulder of someone in unimaginable pain. It’s people who search for missing children. It’s people who chase armed criminals. It’s people who deliver the news no one else wants to hear. It’s people who roll up their sleeves and get on with it. It’s people who pick themselves up, dust themselves down and go again.

More so now than ever before, we need to make damn sure that we’re not taking them for granted.

I don’t have all the answers to the challenges of this new year, but I know that any response has to begin with the care and regard we display for the men and women who stand on the thin blue line.

Everyday Heroism



22 thoughts on “Policing Challenges in 2017

Add yours

  1. A welcomed honest and open blog detailing the challenges faced by the police service today, which of course is necessary for us, as the public, to understand the pressures you are facing. Of great concern though is, based on the difficulties you have highlighted within the service, how do you continue to encourage victims of Child Sexual Abuse, Child Sexual Exploitation, Rape, Trafficking, Forced Marriage and Donestic Violence to come forward and report these serious offences when, as a victim, we worry about whether you have the time, the resources and availability to investigate our cases? How can we, as victims, remain confident that you are able to support us based on the challenges you have highlighted today and not lose faith in the police service? Ivy

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much for responding Ivy. You are asking some incredibly important questions… The simple answer has to be that, the more serious the crime, the greater the resource and priority we must give to it. The crimes you list are, murder apart, about as serious as it gets. Whatever else happens in policing, the victims of those crimes need, deserve and must get the very best we have to offer. I believe that passionately. I hope that offers some reassurance. With very best wishes. John

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m not holding my breath for any change for the good. I retired from the Met in 2008 as a CI and it seemed to me that the police service as a whole was undergoing a collective nervous breakdown. I remember the joys of being double/triple tasked and being told ‘You don’t do it or, you do it as well as’ , these gems were followed up by ‘it’s all a priority’ and ‘if you were any good you’d find a way’. No wonder people of my era were, in the main glad to leave, especially as CI’s of my vintage were once described as ‘the ice at the heart of the service’. BTW when I retired I had to write in to HR to get my certificate of service and the only official contact I had was an e-mail asking for my locker keys and car park pass. I felt really valued I can tell you.
    I am pessimistic, it won’t get better any time soon and it will require a major failure of policing to bring this to the attention of the public. All I see is a drive towards a privatised police force using temporary employees. Add to this a toxic and overtly hostile media who now seem to instinctively side with ‘bad guys’ ( see the slick PR job the press are doing after the Huddersfield shooting) and I see nothing but trouble ahead.
    We have gone beyond being able to have a reasoned and intelligent debate about crime and policing in this country and the police, as a whole, are dealing with failures of other agencies and are the only ones held to account when it goes wrong. I see so many potential problems ahead, short term staff with a constant churn, direct entry detectives and supervisors will keep the IPCC employed for the foreseeable future.
    Good luck, you’ll need it.


    1. In a strange way glad to see I was not alone….not so much as a phone call or letter on my final day…(I was working away from my home force)…then around three months later I was chasing up my certificate of service. On a lighter note my ( now obsolete) identity card has a place in my photo album. There really is a need to get it right from a people perspective as they try to balance these demands.


      1. Thanks for that, I may have been different from a lot of CI’s as I was working shifts and I had a lot of days off owing to me from my time as a Public Order Cadre officer but looking after people was never a strong point of the Met.


  3. Sir this hits the nail on the head. Spot on. It does feel like we are urinating against the wind regarding politicians and press etc. But we do see the smile on the face of people in the street and the thanks they give in appreciation. However we will never be judged on this in the monthly spreadsheet.
    One thing I do quite enjoy reading on the intranet is the forums. Lots of negative comments but we are a whinging bunch after all. The survey had a low turnout. About 50% bothered. 17% said they had faith in the top brass. This was awful to know but they stated it is an improvement on last year’s 9%! Then you see that the overall comment from MB was cut and pasted from last year’s survey! Total disrespect in many opinion which matches what the retired CI stated.

    I used to be in the military and it was simple for top brass. Look after your troops and they win the war.

    We get a new boss soon. Will he/she have the front to challenge the press or politicians or will the government put in someone who will be their own type.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. All you have said is as it was in (SORRY!) my day and probably since police were invented. The big differences now are the shear volume of work and the total animosity of the media. I fear that with the excessive and, usually, inaccurate comments by the press, on any armed police action, an officer will think twice before pulling the trigger. That split second could be fatal. It’s time to support all of our police but especially those brave enough to carry a firearm. We need them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s clear my time is at an end as I enter my final weeks of service, all spent in uniform, on the ‘front line’. I used to be an expert on it all, but there have been so many seemingly unnecessary changes in just the last five years or so that once I’ve attended and dealt with a job, I flounder on all the clearly unnecessary admin (much of it being soaked into an unknown hole never to be seen again by anyone that matters). It seems much of the time, the work I’m doing is to satisfy and protect us, rather than the victim. Many is the time I’ve trebled my workload on a job simply to cover myself from any future allegation of neglect or malpractice, with none of the extra work contributing towards the situation the victim is in. People need to understand and realise that a 30 minute scene interaction often leads to several hours of form filling in, and this might help them understand why there seems so few of us out and about.

    I actually can’t wait to walk out the gate for the last time.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I want to say a simple ‘thank you’ from all of us to those of you who work under incredibly difficult circumstances and continuing pressures. Thank you also for explaining to the general public what those pressures and challenges are. Unfortunately the press do like to focus on any perceived failings so it would be helpful to see this published in the popular media…

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I really like to read your blogs as you are the kind of boss I one day hope my son will serve under. Supportive, realistic, honest, that policeman’s humour that as a parent we see daily and marvel at following difficult incidents. The truth is that more positive words should be out on social media from those at the top otherwise the moaners and critics of police in general have the upper hand. People would support increased council tax if police at the highest levels stuck their heads above the parapet occasionally in support of their workforce. Don’t hide the facts that county forces are struggling to meet the demands placed on them, don’t punish them for tweeting honest opinions and facts, but say Yes this is the case. Come to Norfolk…. I know you would be welcome here:)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I worry at the state of the Police nowadays as a youth before I was 18 I had problems with the police but always had respect for MOST of them! Since this urge to have commissioner,s the Police appear fractured demoralised and very few and far between! Commissioner,s no matter what political party they have affiliations with seem to have pet projects (most to be seen on or in the media) there should be 1=Protection for officers
    2=Policing policies for all forces(tweaked for different areas) 3=No Political motives within the Police commissioner/command! 4=More money for Proper Policing
    5=Magistrates and Judges should speak from the same page in dealing with Crime ^=close the CPS and Allow the Police to decide who or who not to charge with an offence as they know the full details whereas the CPS see stuff on paper that may not clearly detail evidence (or they miss important FACTS)


  9. Thank you for this candid article. I have a wholehearted admiration and respect for police officers. It’s encouraging that people, such as the son of the person who commented above, join the force. Your list at the beginning of the post is exactly to the point: there are choices to be made, and like-it-or-not our public services are limited, and we can’t do everything. Thank you for writing these blog articles and giving us the opinions and points of view from the inside, greatly appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great respect for you again for this honest blog. Your support for the troops is admirable. I wish more of your rank held your views and showed such support.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi John. Glad to see you continue to be honest and brave in your comments. Happy days at Hammersmith, best of my career. Working on SNT (Old Oak SNT) and Response with you at FS/FH as Insp/Ch Insp was a pleasure. Retired since 2012. I’d like to think that I hold the same values as you do (most cops do). Police in the headlines again over the last few days – some fair comment, some perhaps unfair. Then the 2 PCs run down in Brent over the weekend who – if life-changing injuries – probably won’t be looked after by the organisation as well as they should be. There was always a place in the police family for those who gave so much of themselves – now 6months/12 months, fail the fitness test and likely to be ‘cast’. Hopefully it won’t come to that but if so that the new Commissioner can be more creative than her predecessors. Enjoyed your book, much of it felt very familiar! Have a daughter in the CID (not Met), she’s like a pig in the proverbial! Her tales of hard-working and committed colleagues gives me great hope
    – but also worries about unrealistic workloads and good people keeling over. Apologies re long comment – as opinionated (and verbose) as ever! Have a good Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

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