Cutting off our nose
Insidiously, other practices were brought in, and the management started to harp on about "single-crewing policies" and other such measures. It wasn't overtly linked to the budget, although we had our doubts that single-crewing could possibly benefit the force in any other way.
As I've said before, I consider myself an avant-garde lone rangeress of the Twenty-First Century. The day I was declared "independent" I tore out of the police station leaving my colleagues for dust and raced about town on my lonesome targeting the lawless evildoers of Blandmore with my stern arm of justice. Or at least I collared a few detained shoplifters. When I got my blues-and-twos ticket, it was all my sergeant could do to stop me haring into every dangerous situation without a shred of back-up. To be an independent-thinking, mistress-of-my-own-destiny, single-crewed saviour of society was why I joined the job.
But you learn early on there are some things you just shouldn't do single-crewed. And if you're on the front line as a response officer, everything your job encompasses is done better with a colleague. Moving into office-based roles, best practice interviewing techniques of victims, witnesses and offenders all recommend double crews. Certain traffic offences have to be corroborated by two officers - and ALL stand a better chance of prosecution if they are. The list goes on.
So when I read in an announcement about budget cuts that single-crewing is supposed to increase visibility and make the public feel safer, forgive my cynicism. When I go onto discover that more money is being ploughed towards victims of anti-social behaviour, it is almost beyond response. If you had a gang of violent teenaged yobs outside your house, throwing bottles at your car and threatening your children, what would make you feel better: to know lots of money will be spent on the poster campaign to catch your killer when you go outside to tackle the kids; or to know that a vanload of officers is available to scoop up the perpetrators and lock them up for the night?
Alan Johnson hastens to reassure us, of course, that he doesn't expect single-crewing to happen in areas where it could be dangerous. Like George Street, Luton? Universal Express travel agent's on Morley Street, Bradford? Lenton, Nottingham? River Derwent, Workington? Cuckoo Road, Birmingham. Elizabeth Avenue, Stalybridge. Most of these officers weren't single-crewed. God help the public if they had been (in the Luton case, for instance).
The job of a police officer is to go to situations where someone has called for help. If the 999 call sounds risky, a single-crewed officer will not be sent, and will be told to wait for back-up nearby. Believe it or not, many of us didn't join the police to hide round the corner while a member of the public screams for help. The "risky" calls do not just come from those drug-infested city centres or "problem" housing estates. They come from homes and streets up and down the country. Many cannot be predicted, nor prevented.
We have a single-crewing policy in Blandshire. My single-crewed shift officers spend a great deal of time waiting for back-up before making arrests/attending domestics, or shuffling between marked cars with prisoners so as not to transport on their own (a very high risk enterprise). I spend all day juggling what jobs they can and can't go to, and trying to find units to assist those who need help. All my officers are willing to go to incidents alone, but they shouldn't have to.
At least, they shouldn't have to under a false pretext. If we can no longer afford to police this nation safely, let's at least be honest about it.
There shalt not be two officers. Two is the number there shalt not be.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.