The BBC seem to be giving one of my comedy heroes Blair Gibbs some media attention. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14780735
“Officers should wear uniforms on their way to and from work to increase police visibility and help reassure the public, a think tank has suggested. The right-leaning Policy Exchange said in London that would equate to having an extra 1,200 officers on the streets.”
Perhaps in an alternate reality this is a good idea.
Earlier in the week I tweeted that I was no longer using my warrant card to obtain free travel. After weeks of working double shifts, with no rest days or annual leave and having daily been faced with the sight of scores of officers sleeping in the corridors of police stations because they could not make it home and back again in time for their next shift, I ended up fed up when for the second time in as many days I had got on a bus to start the journey home and the bus driver was calling for my assistance with some minor ticketing issue. The bus sat there refusing to move until I’d “dealt with him” (the chap who had the wrong ticket, or no Oyster credit or whatever). I had worked a succession of extended shifts and had not been able to get much more than a few snatched hours of sleep, yet here I was being asked to deal with a minor ticketing issue. I really could not be bothered (and to be honest had no clue what the correct course of action would have been anyway) so I paid the driver £2.20 for the chap’s fare and sat back down.
Now this is not unique to me (I admit am a trouble magnet on public transport!) and I know several other officers who will not brief it on the buses. Your anonymity goes straight out the window. You no longer get to make the decision about what level of response Incidents require, no more quietly sitting and being a professional witness; you are ‘outed’ to the entire bus. You have neither PPE nor a radio and if it all goes wrong you are left relying on someone else, having called it in. Now this is not to say that we ignore crime when we are off duty, we do not. Sometimes however, the action we take is not overt.
But it is my decision; part of the dynamic risk assessment whether I show out or wait for response to get there. Going to and from work in uniform with no PPE and no radio is a huge officer safety issue. Obviously the Policy Exchange have no actual experience of policing, but officer safety is a very important thing. It goes without saying there will be officers who have informed their neighbours they are “dolphin polishers” or “plain clothes astronauts” and some of us do not want what we do for a living to be public knowledge; we do not want to draw that level of attention to our homes and our families, we do not want people coming to us at home trying to report crimes. Cutting about in uniform when you are not on duty is not the answer to getting more police officers on the streets; the simple answer is to stop getting rid of them.
We work in a job where for most of the people we meet it will be the worst day of their lives. They will either be a victim of crime themselves, some other ill fate will have befallen them, or we are there to take their liberty away. Needless to say the latter do not always have positive feelings towards us, and there are times when they would like to take a pop at us. We are thus faced with the situation where a lone officer is on their way to work, sans radio, without a stab vest and with no equipment. Some might see them as a vulnerable target. What about the violent thug with a penchant for revenge for the multitude of times we have turfed him out of his bed at 3am? We might as well hand them a personal business card with our home address and list of family members on it, or pop a Police light aside our front doors to alert all and sundry.
“Too many sworn officers are hidden away in back offices,” said Blair Gibbs, Policy Exchange’s head of crime and justice.”
Really Blair? What do you describe as a “back office” role? Is it everyone who is not in uniform? What about the people you do not see, the CID officers, the SIOs and the countless people who are warranted officers but are in key roles that cannot be filled by a contractor from G4S? (By the way, we do not have “sworn officers”, you are confusing us with America again, we have warranted officers.)
I feel that we are moving in very dangerous times where people with no actual experience of the very unique industry in which I work are making statements about how that said industry should be run. We are the police. We deal with crime; we are not here to turn a profit. How can someone with no operational policing experience and seemingly very little common sense be in a position to pass judgement? I am considering starting up a Think Tank to deal with Think Tank reform. I believe I am perfectly qualified because I have never worked in a Think Tank and I have very little idea what one is or what one does.
If you want to increase officer numbers on the streets, reduce sickness and the amount of officers wanting to move out of “front line” duties might I suggest, as a start, improving the quality of the issued uniform and equipment? Walking round for 8 hours in a pair of £28 boots and some polyester trousers is not easy. So Mr Blair, try a mile or ten in our shoes before you force us into an even less comfortable variant.
(this blog has been edited, to ensure it makes sense, by the fantastic @TooManyBlues)