Blandshire Constabulary's priorities are hard to keep up with. If you visit our website from one month to the next, you may be confused as to whether we are Together, Driving Car Crime Down (notice clever pun on drive/car), or if we are in fact Working As One Against Antisocial Behaviour (no clever pun this time - budget cuts in the media department).
This month, we are Number One Focus on Assault. No pun, not even proper English.
If you think these ever-changing priorities have little to do with the job of a front-line response officer in Blandmore, you'd be utterly wrong. Our working lives are entirely governed by the force's priorities. Teams and squads emerge in their name, inspectors are promoted off the back of them, emails are sent and spreadsheets drawn up. Every action from every morning meeting, every audit by every civilian scrutineer, starts and ends with the priority of the month.
Right now, my officers Must Investigate Assault Thoroughly. This means scribing lengthy statements, taking swabs and seizing clothing, promptly arresting any named offender and on no account bailing them before the full twenty-four hours of their PACE clock has been well and truly used up, whether or not there are realistically enquiries going on that justify it. At the end of all this, the CPS will be consulted and in about 30% of cases, a charge or caution for assault may materialise. This astonishingly low percentage - astonishing when you take into account that most assault victims know the name of the assailant - is largely due to the fact that having phoned the police and named their attacker, most assault victims want nothing further to do with the investigation.
A good proportion of cases are of course domestic violence, and in those cases the prosecutions are pushed forwards just in case one or other party kills the other next time. But an equally large number of cases involve squabbling schoolchildren, immature neighbours and drunken scuffles. No matter how many swabs we take, or how much we spend on DNA analysis of hoodies and tracksuit trousers, regardless of reams of CCTV we have viewed or statements taken from passing witnesses, if the victim does not want a prosecution it is highly unlikely that one will occur. Call me an old-fashioned relic, but I say, quite rightly. If you don't give a damn that someone's lamped you whilst bickering over the yellow line outside your house, why should I?
Now Lord Justice Leveson has announced that assault charges will rarely result in prison sentences. Which is the same thing as saying that assault will not be punished at all - when you consider that alternative sentences now more and more consist of writing letters of apology and attending a couple of meetings further iterating how apologetic you are. Oh and the fact that breaching these alternative orders will not result in prison either.
We in the police service are not surprised at this news. Indeed, we are only surprised that Lord Justice Leveson thinks that anyone is sent to prison for assault at the moment. And we are cynical about the claim that the announcement has nothing to do with budget cuts.
None of the above has affected Blandshire Constabulary's website, or the emails coming out daily pushing Assault down our throats. Because the drive to investigate and detect more assaults has nothing to do with suffering victims or bringing people to justice, it is based in its entirety on the fact that our current detection rates for assault are worse than some other forces.
In a few months, the laws of fluctuating crime rates will determine that assaults fall back in line with the rest of England and Wales. At that point, you may well find Blandshire Constabulary Locking Down Burglary or Saying No to Sex Crime.
Which is why no force priority will stop me spending the time I want on the investigations I choose, where the victims are deserving and the offenders scum. The day they turn that into a strap-line, I'll close this blog.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.