Police chiefs have recently warned that as many as 22,000 police officers will be lost under proposed government cuts. This will unquestionably widen the chasm that exists between rank and file officers and Home Secretary Theresa May. Here Chris Hobbs looks at how police dealt with one 'minor' crime and how this could become the norm in the near future leading to a loss of public confidence in British policing.
It would of course be all too easy for hostile elements within the press to turn the following into a diatribe against police which is why I'm not naming the force, for whom I have the highest regard, although representations (not complaints) are being made.
The two victims, on parking their vehicle, secreted their laptops out of sight before leaving the vehicle in question, unaware that they had been observed. Whilst they were away, a vagrant, who had been watching, smashed his way into the car with a brick and stole the laptops.
The suspect was;
a) Seen and named by a nearby car park attendant who knew him well and said he lived rough nearby.
b) The incident was recorded by a member of the public on his mobile phone. He was sitting in a vehicle parked behind that of the victims. There was a clear view of the suspect's face as he decamped carrying the computers.
c) There is good CCTV coverage in the area.
The victims, who returned to their car a short time later, telephoned 999 expecting a prompt response as the information was such that the suspect was almost certainly nearby. Even if no unit was immediately available they felt that there was sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation.
They were told that no officer would be attending and were merely provided with a crime book number. They did speak later to a Scenes of Crimes Officer over the phone who concluded that as there was no blood apparent, he would not attend. The fact that the suspect was a vagrant and had plenty of contact in the back of the vehicle, would suggest that there was some realistic possibility of fingerprint evidence to support the identification.
To add insult to injury, the victims flagged down a passing police vehicle only to be informed that the occupants were British Transport Police officers and couldn't assist. In fairness they could well have been told that the matter had already been reported to the police force in question.
The victims, who were desperate to recover their laptops, could be forgiven for believing that the BTP officers could have done a quick tour of the area to look for the suspect making his way to the nearest second hand shop or local 'fence.'. Doubtless that BTP officers would have been concerned that dealing with a call which the 'jurisdictional' force had declined to attend could be politically problematic although that will be of little consolation to the luckless victims.
The force in question is being savagely cut and has admitted its standards of service will suffer. It could well be that the refusal to attend motor vehicle crimes, even where a suspect is in the vicinity, is part of force policy. It could perhaps be that the police operators, and the victims made three calls, didn't fully appreciate that the suspect would have been close by.
What is perhaps concerning is that, if this is the standard of service forced on police forces by the level of government cutbacks, how will this adversely affect the public view of police? There has of course been intense speculation, some (but not all) of it wildly distorted, as to how police will treat future victims of burglary as the cuts bite even deeper.
At present, despite the bile healed on police by the press and politicians especially Home Secretary Theresa May, satisfaction remains constant at between 60% and 70% which is more than three times that of both politicians and journalists. With no section of the national press willing to fight the corner of police in respect of the devastating effect of cuts it will, in any event, be difficult for police forces to maintain the public levels of satisfaction that are so crucial.
It could, of course, be that some police forces are pre-empting future cuts by introducing policies that, in effect, illustrate the reduced level of services the public can expect. This may be with a view to instigating a public debate on the issue; a debate that has been sadly lacking thus far despite the efforts of local police federations. Forces may also be attempting to demonstrate to the government and a reviled Home Secretary that matters are becoming desperate.
If the government are attempting to drive a wedge between the police and the public, it could hardly be doing a better job. Police have two factors in their favour; that the public see for themselves on the streets the challenges faced by police while the plethora of fly on the wall police documentaries, also convey the difficulties encountered by front line officers including extreme violence and intimidation.
Those who are the above mentioned victims in this particular case hope to ascertain how the relevant force policy was applied to their particular crime. They are also in possession of the relevant footage which clearly shows the suspects face after his hoodie slips.
This relatively minor crime and its unsatisfactory outcome, when multiplied thousands and thousands of times across the UK will unquestionably and, perhaps deliberately, drive a wedge between police and public thereby paving the way for increasing privatisation.
Perhaps it is pure coincidence that police whistleblower James Patrick's book 'The Rest is Silence' provides compelling evidence that architects of so called police reform, from which these cuts emanate, have their fingers in the lucrative private security pie.
Sadly, as the cuts bite and more issues of this nature emerge, they will provide a feeding frenzy for the national press who seem, almost as one, to have decided that the UK police service needs to be 'put in its place.'
Meanwhile two victims of crime who were fervently 'pro- police' are now perhaps just a little less so.
Originally published in Guerrilla Wire magazine.