Why London's Police Feel Belittled and Humiliated

04/03/2012 22:33 GMT | Updated 04/05/2012 10:12 BST

In an interview with the Financial Times newspaper in September last year, former New York Police chief Bill Bratton, who was in Britain to advise the Government about gang culture following the summer riots, described the morale of London's police as "awful".

"All you have to do is read their police blogs," he said, adding: "Right now, a policeman's lot in London is not a very happy one."

If morale was awful back then it is now in a state which defies description.

The Government likes to paint the police as the last unreformed group within the public sector, governed by archaic regulations which are no longer relevant to the modern world.

Yet there are some 'archaic' regulations which ministers have no desire to change at all, including the oldest of the lot, which dates back to the Police Act 1919 and forbids officers, on pain of criminal conviction, to take any sort of industrial action.

They are very keen, too, on the equally ancient regulation which makes it a serious criminal offence for officers to even discuss the matter of industrial action.

Successive generations of police have themselves been content with these rules because other regulations exist to protect them from managerial abuse in the absence of any right to withhold their labour.

But now the Home Secretary is seeking to deny them protections offered by this second group of regulations.

To some extent she has been thwarted in this aim by an independent body called the Police Arbitration Tribunal (PAT), which is run by ACAS and which steps in when there is a dispute about terms and conditions.

It recently decided that some of her proposed changes were unfair.

But Metropolitan Police officers are braced for another attack by Mrs May, who, they believe, will simply dissolve PAT if it continues to side with officers in any way.

Shortly after the Coalition government gained power, Mrs May appointed lawyer Tom Winsor to come up with a package of 'reforms' to, among other things, "enable modern management practices in line with practices elsewhere in the public sector and the wider economy".

He was also to analyse "officers' remuneration and conditions, as compared to other workforces".

But what other part of the public sector and what other group of workers can be reasonably compared to the police? What other group of workers, for example, are not only forbidden from taking industrial action of any variety but...

...Can be ordered to report for duty at any time - even on their wedding day or when they about to jet off with their family on holiday

...Can not only be ordered to continue working after their shift finishes but can be required to work whatever hours management demands - during the August riots, no fewer than 2,469 Met officers worked continually for at least a fortnight and some worked the entire 31 days of August without a break

...Are never off-duty. If police officers encounter criminal activity they are obliged to intervene. Failure to act would constitute the criminal offence of malfeasance.

...Can be told where to live

...Are forbidden from joining a political party

...Are issued with a mandatory code of conduct which governs their private lives as well as

their professional ones

... Need the permission of a chief officer before their spouse or partner can start a business

The "archaic" regulations which govern these matters are NOT among those that Mrs May wants to interfere with.

She DOES, however, want to reduce or, in some cases, do away with overtime pay for extra hours which officers can be forced to work.

Overtime pay was never introduced to make officers rich. It was introduced to put a budgetary curb any temptation management might have to exploit the workforce.

Similarly, existing regulations require management to gain agreement from the Federation before introducing new shift patterns. This precaution is to protect officers from having to work unreasonable shifts which shatter their work/life balance.

Mrs May has successfully done away with this one.

Met Police officers accept the need to undergo the two-year pay freeze which has been imposed on all public sector workers and the one per cent pay cap which will apply in year three.

What they cannot comprehend is why Mrs May wants to reduce their pay still further by reducing or eliminating various parts of their pay packets, especially in view of the fact that they cannot defend themselves.

They feel belittled and humiliated.

And this at a time when their skills, dedication and professionalism have never been more in demand, with the approach of the Olympics, the growing threat posed by gangs and terrorism, public fears over knife crime and everything else needed to protect the citizens and economy of one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in the world.