The revelation by the Police Federation that the morale of rank and file officers was at its lowest ever level will as no surprise to those struggling to maintain an effective police service in urban and rural areas throughout the UK. The Federation survey mirrored that carried out by the University of the West of England some months ago and indeed by internal police surveys compiled by individual forces.
Whilst police surveys show much criticism in relation to the leadership of chief officer ranks, the police rank and file collective finger of blame for the inescapable fact that their morale has all but collapsed points only in one direction; namely towards Home Secretary Theresa May. It is no exaggeration to say that as Margaret Thatcher was to the miners and mining communities, Theresa May is to rank and file police officers and their families.
Police officers expected tough times ahead regardless of which party took power after the 2010 general election; what they did not expect was constant criticism and vilification from the holder of one of the country's greatest offices of state which culminated in her infamous speech to the Police Federation Conference in May of this year.
'Teflon Theresa' or 'Cruella,' as she has become known, listed every single police transgression going back 25 years to the time of Hillsborough. In fact the number of officers 'responsible' for such transgressions, and we should remember many remain alleged, probably numbers less than 100 in total. The anger of officers was compounded by the fact that 'fiddled' crime figures were listed amongst the series of transgressions. Amazingly later in the same speech she claimed credit for the apparent 20% reduction in crime figures which would have been based on the 'fiddled' figures she condemned just minutes earlier.
There is strong suspicion that Theresa May's attacks on police are part of an attempt to divert attention from the truly disastrous performances of her own law enforcement creations namely the UK Border Agency and UK Border Force. These dominated headlines earlier this week following yet another damning report, this time from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.
The Home Office ineptitude in respect of UK Borders inevitably impacts on the police. Theresa May's failure to strengthen 'chocolate teapot' border controls has resulted in hundreds of jihadists being able to travel back and forth with impunity. Foreign criminals, whether from within Europe or otherwise have also been able to exploit lax controls while drug traffickers are having a field day in that customs trained officers are frequently taken from anti-smuggling duties to 'stamp passports.' Cocaine seizures at airports are down by 76% and this again adds to the burden on front line police officers.
Theresa May's most recent onslaught on police took place at the Conservative Party conference last month. The main content of her speech concerned terrorism but the first ten minutes consisted of a blistering attack on front line Metropolitan Police officers accusing them, in essence, of racism based on stop and search.
Despairing Met officers would have hoped that she might have tempered this criticism with a realisation it is not the fault of police that inner city areas suffer from poor schooling, lack of parental role models, poor housing and a woeful lack of job opportunities with 54% of young black males between the ages of 16 and 24 being unemployed. The blame for this sorry state of affairs can only lie at the door of successive, inept governments.
Surely, they argue, these conditions invariably breed gangs, drug dealing and the violent crime that goes with it. In London this grim cocktail has resulted in the tragic deaths of innocent teenagers who have been murdered as a result of being wrongly identified or for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Whether gang members or not, every murder victim is someone's son or daughter and front line officers would argue that this is the primary motivation for officers carrying out stop and searches rather than simple racial harassment. The fact that dozens of young men and women would be alive today had their assailants been stopped and searched before encountering their victims appears to have been ignored by Theresa May and should have at least been considered in what remains a contentious issue.
Now, to add to the woes of an already demoralised service, there is a very real threat to police officers, whether on or off duty, from ISIS or other jihadi terrorists, many of whom would have breezed through border controls to learn their craft abroad or have been indoctrinated within the UK's justice system or via the internet.
There is little confidence that Theresa May will take the necessary steps which will help ensure the safety of officers whom she clearly appears to despise. Sadly in the event of an atrocity being committed, one sight that no front line officer wishes to see would be the spectacle of the current Home Secretary 'crying crocodile tears' at the funeral of a police officer who has been murdered by terrorists. They will be only too well aware that such a tragedy will have been assisted by government hostility, complacency, cutbacks and sheer incompetence.
It is indeed a sad indictment of the breakdown in the relationship between police and the Home Secretary that a number of front line officers have instructed that, in the event of them dying in the line of duty, 'that woman' be barred from their funeral.