Government pledge, May 2010: "Any cabinet minister … who comes to me and says 'Here are my plans' and they involve frontline reductions, they'll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again.
Government response: "There is no simple link between police numbers and their impact; what matters is how the police are deployed."
The government's position is a bit like saying, "We've thrown away all the eggs, flour, butter and sugar, but I want that Victoria Sponge on the table in time for tea!"
If we believe that David Cameron meant his words back in May 2010, it means that he thinks that 20% of what the police have been doing can be cut. Funnily enough, I actually agree with him. The truth is we haven't been making Victoria Sponge simply with eggs, flour, butter and sugar. We've been making it with all of those things plus salt and pepper, marmalade and ham. I for one would be happy to go back to the classic recipe.
As a frontline sergeant at least 30% of my day is spent on one of the following mind-boggling tasks:
- Checking my officers have filled out a variety of forms correctly, in order that the force will not be sued if someone one of them spoke to that day is found dead.
- Reading through pages of incidents and crime reports that were read through by someone else the day before, and making the same decisions that they did, because day on day none of us have any resources to actually deal with the jobs.
- Acquainting myself with every crime that my team are currently dealing with involving one of the force priorities (robbery, burglary, assault, etc), in time for the 9am morning meeting, so that I can justify why we haven't dealt with it differently. It's worth mentioning that while I'm doing this, the superintendent is also reading through them all so he can come into the meeting armed. Because he reads them all, so does his PA, and the three detective inspectors or sergeants of various departments who have to come to the meeting just in case the superintendent decides one of them should deal with a job instead.
The other 70% of my day is spent trying to ensure that my team is policing as effectively as they can. If I could do that 100% of the day, there probably wouldn't be a need for so many people to check and review the work my team has done over the last 24 hours, because we'd be doing it properly to start with.
Problem solved: the 20% budget cuts coming our way can be directed towards cutting all that crap.
Unfortunately, the reason I spend 30% of my day in the above manner is because of the any number of targets that my force may fail on if I stop doing it: crime detection, crime reduction, custody process, victim satisfaction. In fact, all of the things you'll find measured here, at Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary
HMIC is not the only body behind the scenes holding the reins of Blandshire Constabulary, but along with the Police Authority and the European Court of Human Rights, it is the biggest barrier to implementing meaningful budget cuts without impacting on frontline staff. As Police Authorities are going, and we're stuck (for now
) with the ECHR, why isn't anyone doing anything about HMIC? This is a body that hands out advice to forces on how they should be providing spare knickers for prisoners, and how they should be paying £35,000 to sergeants to phone people up and ask them if they got given a little green book when they reported their crime.
Cameron can blame Chief Constables (and local Councils) all he wants for the inevitable service reduction, but until his government tackles the malevolent force responsible for police bureaucracy, there is only one place for his budget cuts and that's down here on the frontline.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.