At last, media outlets are printing that one-fifth budget cuts "might" affect the front-line. For some reason it took Sir Dennis O'Connor (Chief Inspector of Constabulary) to say it before anyone took it seriously, perhaps because
he isn't normally heard backing the lowly street bobby.
"Do you know why I've stopped you, madam?"
What outrages those of us who can describe exactly how budget cuts are affecting the front line is the eerie silence from most of our Chief Constables. Which is the biggest indicator of all that the Home Office has systematically taken control of the nation's police forces and an environment has sprung up in which it is impossible for dissenters to make their views known. In Blair's Britain, if you spoke about issues that you couldn't solve, you were an incompetent - after all, no one else was whinging about the problem. And now, under the new Coalition government, any Chief Constable who moans that the cuts will affect how his/her force delivers policing is clearly still spending too much on bureaucracy and performance measures. This mantra is trotted out regardless of whether or not it is the case.
Sir Dennis also raises the issue of what is the front line? He even suggests, shock horror, that those back-room roles that enable police officers to work on the front line should be considered vital themselves. This might even mean custody sergeants, gaolers, case file builders, etc. It's almost as if the concept of a front line is that it's actually the SMALLEST part of a police force, just the visible tip, and that in fact an effective back office means that a force can run with a very tiny proportion visible to the public.
For example, if a police officer can arrest a shoplifter and hand them straight over to someone to book them into custody, process and charge them, while someone else seizes CCTV and takes statements, that police officer can go straight back to the next shoplifting. Meaning that 3-4 other officers are needed back at the station to enable him to use his time the most efficiently on the front line.
"That is correct: you were going too fast, over a stop line, and you weren't wearing your seatbelt."
"Shouldn't you be out catching burglars and rapists?"
This debate has to continue: it has been a sacred cow that the front line must be untouchable. Is it possible- gasp- that it has all been political smoke and mirrors? And that maybe, to run an effective police force, what is actually needed is to preserve the front, middle and back line?
Time to think again, Theresa, or shall we just push on regardless? Let me guess...
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.