The Blog

Policing Cuts 'Not on Election Agenda', Furious Officers Hit Back

Hundreds of angry police officers together with former now retired colleagues, PCSOs and police staff have signed an open letter bitterly condemning both the damaging cutbacks to policing and the fact that these cutbacks have failed to become a major election issue.

Hundreds of angry police officers together with former now retired colleagues, PCSOs and police staff have signed an open letter bitterly condemning both the damaging cutbacks to policing and the fact that these cutbacks have failed to become a major election issue.

Front line officers believe that the true extent of the cutbacks and the damage which they are causing to policing are not in the public domain. This has resulted in the 'police family' taking this highly unusual step during a period when police officers and other employees linked to national and local government traditionally keep silent.

The letter, penned by former detective Peter Kirkham, pours cold water on the repetitive, dubious government response that 'crime is down' heard whenever there is any criticism of government imposed police cuts. Officers still remember that during Theresa May's infamous speech to the Police Federation last year, she listed every single police transgression , some stretching back decades before some serving officers were even born. These transgressions included target driven 'fiddled' crime statistics yet in the same speech she breathtakingly took credit for 'improved' crime figures.

The government studiously ignores the evidence that many non-historical sexual offences still remain unreported; that youth workers in the country's most difficult to police areas state that much youth crime including stabbings, robberies and gang rape remains very much below the radar; that police figures in relation to theft shoplifting type offences record only about a tenth of such crimes and of course, as Mr and Mrs Nice from Nicetown, traditional supporters of police, come to realise officers are under pressure, they will be far less inclined to bother police with reports of 'less serious' crime.

Added to this mix remains the massive ever growing problem of cyber crime, most of which remains unreported and unrecorded and will ultimately place another huge drain on police resources with some ACPO ranked officers suggesting that this will have to be dealt with at the expense of community policing.

It is the links with the community that are the cornerstone of British policing and these are being eroded on a dramatic scale. I wrote about the destruction of community policing in a previous Huffington Post blog; suffice it to say that the closure of police stations nationwide means that communities that once had a police presence now simply haven't while popular safer neighbourhood teams are being wiped out.

As the open letter points out, police are being cast adrift from their communities with the likely result that officers will become 'remote, hostile authority figures' as is the case with so many continental forces. This in turn will have a damaging effect on the collection of community intelligence so vital, not simply in the fight against traditional crime, but in combating the most serious terrorist threat the UK has faced in 70 years.

Police dogs, police horses and police helicopter coverage, all regarded as essential by front line officers, are being dramatically cut and there are questions as to whether the UK's roads are becoming less safe due to cutbacks in roads policing (traffic) units.

CID and other investigative officers are struggling under huge caseloads with the almost inevitable result that complaints will increase as matters fall through the cracks.

The ability of police to respond to emergency calls is suffering as response times are beginning to increase while police response units are becoming more and more thinly spread placing both officers and public in danger.

As the letter shows, all the above are resulting in increasing levels of stress related sickness while surveys clearly show that morale is at rock bottom. Even the Deputy Commissioner of the Met, Craig Mackay, admits that morale is 'not good' which frankly is an astonishing admission and could also be interpreted as a criticism of government cuts.

Those reading the letter will notice that there is a distinct absence of complaints about sharply deteriorating police pay and conditions which includes many officers having to work until they are 60 before collecting a reduced pension. These are issues but the major concern of officers is the service they provide to the public, even to those who perhaps do not always welcome a police presence.

The fact that serving officers are signing a letter expressing the concern in respect of government cuts has resulted in criticism from a very small number of ACPO ranked senior officers. Such criticism has however thus far been muted leading to speculation that the silence of the majority speaks volumes.

It is also believed that many ACPO officers have clearly been muzzled in voicing their concerns as to the extent of the cutbacks by their politically affiliated Police and Crime Commissioners. It is of course still possible that senior officers could be 'poked' by their 'political masters' into issuing critical statements condemning officers for "involving themselves" in politics; a situation that could be regarded as having a touch of irony.

Critics will also point out that individual officers should, like civil servants, be in "purdah," for the election period which is in itself based on a dubious legal premise. A more consistent critical theme in respect of signing the letter has been the suggestion of a possible breach of police regulations which of course, apply at all times. The relevant section states that police officers 'shall not take any active part in politics.'

Most would interpret this as becoming a member of a political party, actively canvassing votes, wearing party colours or putting leaflets through letterboxes. Stretching this to what is in effect, placing a tick in a box, albeit to a letter criticising government policy, is perhaps a bridge too far.

Of course then, as police regulations apply throughout the year, any action by the Police Federation criticising or even agreeing with government policy is a clear breach of rules which would also apply to groups such as the Black Police or Muslim Police associations. All 30,000 officers that took part in a protest march in 2012 against cuts would be breaching regulations as would those joining anti-austerity protests in a private capacity.

There is also the question of conscience. Officers signing the letter in an attempt to place the issue of policing cuts on to the election agenda are, in fact, indulging in a form of whistle blowing that is clearly in the public interest and surely there can be no constraints on such actions, elections or no.

Those politicians and senior police officers wishing to stigmatise serving officers who have signed the letter should remember one indisputable fact; they have signed because they care.

UPDATE: The number of signatories has now reached the 'magical' 1,000 figure; the original target was 100!!

The letter can be here