I opened my emails this morning to find a message about another colleague breaking under the strain. Now off sick with depression and stress.
Stories like that seem much more frequent these days.
And it troubles me.
Then to the day’s news reports and the publication of the latest set of crime figures. According to the ONS, recorded crime in England & Wales rose by 14% in the year to September 2017. The following headlines were amongst the most concerning:
· Violent Crime – up 20%
· Knife Crime – up 21%
· Sex Offences – up 23%
· Robbery – up 29%
Over the course of more than 25 years in policing, I’ve developed something of a cautious approach to crime stats – lies, damned lies and all that. And there are those who will point, with some justification, to differences apparent in the findings of the British Crime Survey.
But, it’s increasingly difficult to turn aside from a set of headlines that looks something like this:
· Crime is rising. (At the very least, the ONS figures offer an indication of significant increases in the level of crime-related demand on policing. And some of the actual numbers make for very uncomfortable reading. There were, for example, 57 more murders last year when compared with the year before – the highest level since 2009.)
· And it’s not just crime.
· Demand is rising elsewhere too (for example, in relation to the investigation of missing persons reports or the overwhelming need to safeguard children and vulnerable adults).
· Demand is also rising as a consequence of shortfalls in the provision of other services (for example, mental health and adult social care).
· Complexity is rising (for example, in the investigation of human trafficking or cyber offences).
· Threat and risk are rising (for example, as a consequence of terrorism).
· Anecdotally at least, the number of assaults on police officers and staff would appear to be rising – both in frequency and severity.
· And, all the while, the UK population is rising. In 2006, it stood at 60.8 million. In September 2016, the ONS estimate was 65.6 million.
But police budgets and resources are falling.
There are now just 121,929 police officers in England & Wales – 21,805 fewer than in 2010. That’s actually the lowest number since comparable records began.
There are also fewer PCSOs and fewer police staff in critical supporting roles.
And there is still the pressing demand to identify and deliver further significant savings.
Whichever way you look at the numbers – the statistics – they are undeniably and unavoidably troubling.
But it’s actually the stories that bother me even more. The stories of individual men and women who are stumbling under the loads they are carrying. Hearts are still willing but, in far too many cases now, minds and bodies are breaking.
We need to listen to those stories.
Then we need to understand that there is a difference between listening and hearing – and between hearing and doing something about what’s being said.
As I look around me in policing, I see some of the finest women and men you could ever hope to meet: people of courage and compassion, people of kindness and simple human decency, people who understand the priceless privilege of public service. As they face up to the most challenging times for policing since the end of the Second World War, they need our support more than ever before.
The very least they deserve is the very best we have to give.