There’s an old line from the Good Book that’s been on my mind of late. It goes something like this:
“Without a vision, the people perish.”
It comes from the Old Testament book of Proverbs (known also as ‘The Book of Wisdom’) and it has particular resonance as I scan the current police-related news headlines.
First there is the National Audit Office report into police funding. Amongst a series of damning conclusions, you can read the following:
- ‘The Home Office has no overarching strategy for policing, limiting its ability to plan investments and programmes of work over the longer term.’
- ‘The formula for funding police forces does not take into account the full range of demands on police time.’
- ‘There are no common standards for measuring all demands for police services and their costs, and therefore no national picture of what forces need.’
Extraordinary. Just extraordinary.
And, without a vision, the people perish.
The NAO point out that there has been a 30% real terms reduction in central Government funding for policing since 2010. That is one heck of a cut.
The BBC coverage of the NAO report’s release includes the following detail:
- Policing has lost a total of 44,000 officers and staff since 2010. That is a staggering number of people.
- It includes a reduction of more than 22,400 police officers.
- The suggestion made is that the Home Office failed to forecast the potential consequences of these losses.
And all this at a time when:
- Crime is rising – certainly crime of the most serious kinds
- Demand is rising – not least as a result of the gaping holes that have appeared in the delivery of other frontline public services
- Complexity is rising – as crime crosses both geographic borders and digital frontiers
- Risk is rising – as officers continue to be seriously assaulted and each of them remains an explicit terrorist target.
This week saw the opening of the Inquest into the Westminster Bridge attack, prompting us perhaps to pause for a moment to reflect on the realities that police officers now face – and the extraordinary personal sacrifices that some of them make.
And, without a vision, the people perish.
This week, the head of the national Police Superintendents’ Association, Gavin Thomas, has also spoken out. He’s made a number of telling observations – including the following:
- ‘There is a void in the long term strategic vision for the police service.’
- ‘Policing is now utterly reliant on fewer people working longer and harder.’
- ‘I cannot emphasise enough that the delivery of routine policing functions should not be dependent on officers effectively giving their time for free by staying past their shift times or working on leave days… That exploits police officers and defrauds the public.’
The newly-elected Chair of the Police Federation (the body representing rank and file officers), John Apter, has spoken out repeatedly about the same issues.
I know Gavin and I know John – I’m proud to count both of them as friends. And here’s the thing: neither of them is some kind of grumpy, damaging throwback to a policing past where frontline officers complained indiscriminately about anything and everything, oblivious to the fact that they themselves were actually a significant part of the problem. Neither Gavin nor John is a blind apologist for a job that can sometimes get things very badly wrong. Actually, they would both be amongst the first to acknowledge that there are things that policing can – and must – do better. The simple fact is that they care deeply about policing – about what it is and what it represents in society. They care deeply about the public they serve – and about the men and women they serve alongside. And they understand that precious, old-fashioned thing called duty. Like all the best officers I ever worked alongside, they joined simply because they wanted to make a difference. I share their sense of overwhelming concern about the way things are.
In recent years, politicians have spoken repeatedly about police reform – without ever defining what they meant by it. In place of any semblance of a coherent vision, we have been faced with with a series of individual and frequently isolated changes – the hugely unpopular reforms to police pay and pensions, the controversial introduction of PCCs, the provocative appointment of a first civilian HMIC, the establishment of the College of Policing, the introduction of direct entry programmes and so on – without any clear reference to their place in a bigger plan. And it seemed to me that the police reform agenda was being driven by a small number of people with little or no first hand experience or understanding of policing. And certainly with no empathy for it. All the while, austerity tightened its grip and the public sector began to buckle under the strain.
In truth, I have never felt more troubled about policing than I do at this particular moment in time. And the thing that troubles me most of all is the very real consequences of the current situation for the real lives of real people.
I think of my former colleagues – those extraordinary women and men who stand on the thin blue line. For more than twenty-five years, I worked with heroes: the best of who we are and what we can be. But these days, quietly and privately – out of the sight and hearing of most of us – they tell me that all is not well. They tell me that they are struggling to manage caseloads, that they are struggling to answer calls, that they are struggling to provide the standard of service that the public need and deserve. They tell me that their health is suffering as a consequence – but that duty compels them still.
And I think of the communities they work in: affected increasingly by crimes of unimaginable trauma and horror. I think of the number of murders in London this year. I think of victims and their families – of lives lost and lives shattered as the madness of history continues to repeat itself.
And I realise that, without a vision, people are perishing.