The most radical changes to the police service in 200 years, combined with massive budget cuts, have left officers "frustrated" - and could soon have a knock-on effect on crime, one of the UK's most senior policemen has said.
The election of police and crime commissioners in November will alone represent "the biggest change in policing since 1829 without question", Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), told the Huffington Post UK.
And with 20% budget cuts also looming, it now seems"probable" that crime will rise as a result, Orde said.
The prospect of forced redundancies may even put the right to strike 'back on the agenda' for rank and file officers, Orde warned.
Meanwhile, police have come under renewed pressure over racism and corruption, particularly in relation to the media - but Orde insisted the service was not corrupt.
"For the first time officers suddenly feel vulnerable," he said. "They've been doing a good, excellent - outstanding - job, but for no other reason than finance they can suddenly find themselves out of work.
"That's different, and culturally that's a huge challenge."
While arguing that many of the reforms affecting police are still subject to negotiation - and praising the work of officers - Orde said it was now inevitable that profound changes would leave the service vulnerable to future cuts.
Orde spoke to the Huffington Post UK in the week that 30,000 police officers took to the streets to protest against "criminal" budget restrictions, the prospect of forced redundancies and what they see as the "privatisation" of the service.
In an interview on Thursday at Acpo's offices in Westminster - within earshot of the mass of protesting officers outside - Orde said while crime was down 3% overall nationally it was now possible that reductions in police numbers - thought to be at least 16,000 lost posts by 2015 - would lead to a rise in crime.
"Is it foreseeable that crime will increase if the cuts continue to bite? Answer, yes it probably is," Orde said. "Or will crime start to increase - yes that is a real possibility. Our job is to keep that to an absolute minimum.
He added: "That gets tougher and tougher."
Orde said he "fully understands" why officers are worried - but as the president of Acpo, which is made up of 334 officers of the rank of Assistant Chief Constable or above, but not rank and file officers, he admits he may be "increasingly out of touch" with their concerns.
He also said that officers were "equally concerned" with their "personal circumstances" - meaning their own pay and pensions.
Chief officers have been asked to cut 20% from their budgets and are currently preparing to start negotiations with the government over the second part of the Winsor Review of pay and conditions.
Among his recommendations, Winsor concluded that policing needed to attract higher-quality graduates, with a minimum requirement of three A-levels to join the service.
But his report also recommended savings in pay which would cost 40% of officers up to £4,000 per year, cutting starting salaries to £19,000, as well as annual fitness tests and an end to the ban on compulsory redundancies.
Forced Redundancies In The Police?
Orde said that of all the many changes currently affecting the police, the prospect of forced redundancies was the "most radical".
He said: "These officers you saw exercising their right to protest - they can't strike, and they could all have been ordered to work today by their chief and they would have had to have worked - part of the balancing act was because they held an office, they're not employed, and they have a job for 30 or now 35 years, provided they don't misbehave or are not performing.
"What Winsor's recommendation does is change that contract on one end, because it would allow us as chiefs, in extremis, to make people redundant.
"No chief, in my judgement, wants to make anyone redundant. But if one looks at the next CSR period - is it going to be better? Answer, no. If we get hit with 20% cuts again the only way you'll be able to achieve that is by cutting numbers. "
Does that not put the right to strike back on the agenda?
"I think it does. … But I still firmly believe the last thing they want to do is strike. It just goes against everything they joined for. You cannot stand up and say I want to protect people but I'm not going to come into work."
Regardless, Orde said, there is still "a greater noise around the right to strike, if not to exercise it".
A spokesperson for the Police Federation said that it was currently looking at methods for balloting its members on the right to strike.
It is now likely such a ballot will not be held before the autumn, PolFed said -- and added any decision not be made "on a whim".
"The reality is it's not an easy path, and probably quite a long path," a PolFed spokesperson said, while adddingthat officers -- including some at Thursday's protests -- were openly discussing it, and that reflected the depth of anger at budget cuts.
Police Commissioners: Are The Candidates Good Enough?
By the autumn elections will be held to select elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), whose job it will be to oversee 41 forces in England and Wales, replacing Police Authorities.
Orde has previously said he could foresee police chiefs resigning if PCCs affected their "operational independence" - and he stands by that line.
Also concerning, he says, is the quality of candidates that have come forward.
"We're really waiting now for the parties to nominate [their candidates]," he said. But of the list of current candidates, Orde admitted "I don't recognise a lot of the names".
"My sense was the government were looking for some pretty high-profile, qualified individuals who would deliver a completely different style of governance. I'm not sure how happy they will be with some of the lists."
"For one thing there are a number of police officers on it. I have a big problem with police officers being police and crime commissioners."
Orde also believes elections will be decided on local issues, leading to a potential conflict at times when forces have to send officers elsewhere in the country - as seen in the riots of summer 2011.
Despite protocols put in place by the government, at Acpo and the Association of Police Authorities' insistence, the ability to nationally coordinate a response when forces are overseen by locally elected commissioners is still "potentially a tension", Orde said.
"It's only as good if people choose - if the PCC says for example I have no confidence in the chief, well you can have all the protocols in the world the relationship's destroyed."
Racism: 'Crime Is Dropping And Confidence Is Rising'
In recent weeks police forces across the UK - and the Metropolitan Police in particular - have come under pressure over racism. More than a dozen Met officers are currently suspended facing investigations over allegations of racial abuse, and several are facing charges.
"It's something you can never take your eye off," Orde said. "But confidence in the police is rising - look at the evidence, look at the polls. Crime is dropping and confidence is rising."
"The best indicator of corrupt cops for me - do we prosecute police officers for speeding? All the time. You ask cops in other countries if they'd prosecute another cop for speeding they'd look at you in abject horror.
"Is this an endemically racist police service - no it isn't. Will you get individuals who behave way outside the bounds of respectability, yes you will.
"You have to do deal with it very robustly, very quickly and very effectively, and my sense is that is what the Met commissioner is doing. … I don't think there is endemic or institutional racism in policing."
Orde has recently been the subject of speculation that he may put himself forward for the role of chief constable in Scotland when a reorganisation of its eight current forces into a single command is complete.
Given Orde's enthusiasm for a similar reforming mindset when it comes to policing in England and Wales, it is perhaps natural that his name has been linked to the role.
Recently Orde gave evidence at a Holyrood committee in which he praised their reforms, and told the Huffington Post that it's a model he hopes "we learn from that down here and that government look at it very seriously."
Despite cheekily referring to the speculation ("there's a good job going there you know...") Orde insists that he has a job and is "very happy doing it".
"There's no advert yet!" he said, of the Scottish role. "I don't know where my name appeared from, someone is being mischievous I think.
"I've never finished a job early… This is a four year post and I've done two and a half. There is so much in the national policing agenda where it is essential that a coordinated response from chiefs is clearly and unambiguously delivered to government. And that's my current job."
It's quite some job - and has not come without criticism.
Recently Acpo came under pressure after it was revealed it paid large consultancy fees, some up to £1,100 per day, to former police chiefs.
Acpo has since launched a review of how the amounts were reached and how the consultants were selected - though Orde rejects the claim of "corruption" made by a backbench MP.
"Our expenditure on consultants is peanuts," he said. "If you look at what government spends on consultants, we hardly spend anything on consultancy, it's not a big story, it's a mischievous story."
Despite those issues, next week Orde - as well as Home Secretary Theresa May - will speak to the Police Federation's annual conference.
So what can he tell those officers who he said have never felt as vulnerable as they do now?
"[Officers] see the government as overly critical… they sense their work is not acknowledged," he said.
"There is a sense they feel let down. But our job as leaders is to lead them through it.
"And I'll be absolutely straight with them and tell them we have to get on with delivering regardless of our personal circumstances because that's what we're paid to do."
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Sir Hugh also denied that police were inherently racist. There has been a catalogue of complaints against officers in the Metropolitan Police in recent months, with a wave of separate allegations of racism under investigation by Scotland Yard and the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
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