The story of two Northants bobbies who "refused" to attend a stabbing should be a cautionary tale. Before condeming the PCs concerned, it's worth mentioning some salient points:
- There's no information about how much detail was in the call. It was initially shouting and screaming, then a mention of stabbing. At what point were they asked to attend?
- In Blandmore, there is at least one "stabbing" a week, sometimes several over a weekend. About 10% actually involve a knife, and 1% serious injury or death.
- There is a duty sergeant and inspector, plus control room sergeant and inspector, who should be making resourcing decisions and challenging any officers who they believe should be using their time differently.
- Everything is more important than prostitution, in terms of immediate unfolding crime. If officers redeployed from an operation to cover all of these incidents, they'd never identify any repeat offenders or deal with them, and local residents do appreciate these operations.
All of that said, I am in disbelief that any sworn officer would rather spend his or her time trailing prostitutes around than going to a stabbing. Er, well, almost in disbelief. The point at which my goodwill evaporates entirely is where I read that a single-crewed colleague had to disarm the suspect AND deal with a dead body. Did those officers still not redeploy? The article isn't clear.
The pairs' defence was that their inspector would not have liked them to abandon the operation they were on. In front of the IPCC, and in the pages of tabloid newspapers, that sounds like a flimsy excuse. However, it is not uncommon for Operation Orders and emails sent out by both DIs and neighbourhood inspectors in Blandmore to include one of the following phrases:
- Officers will not be redeployed from this operation without direct authority from the inspector/superintendent.
- Any officer redeploying from the operation will be in my office the next day to explain why.
- Response inspectors are under no circumstances to redeploy officers from this commitment for emergency commitments.
I for one am glad this case has hit the news. It provides protection for my officers, committed on hi-vis foot patrol for this or that CID investigation, or on one of the DI's performance-enhancing assault/robbery/burglary drives, to pull themselves away from that if something more important comes along. It is now plain, in black and white, the IPCC (not to mention the public, and the grateful duty resourcing sergeant) expects officers to attend emergency incidents happening nearby. If that sounds absurdly obvious, that is the stage we are at.
In fact, in the above scenario, had they attended and found a minor wounding requiring a few stitches, their inspector or DI probably WOULD have been irritated to lose his staff to another job. He/she'd probably even send out one of the above phrases in email form, to make sure it didn't happen again. If anything similar had been said in this case, whoever said it was careful enough not to put it in writing and has consequently been able to deny it. If that sounds cynical, consider the fact that I have a special folder where I save emails that my senior managers might later regret sending. In a culture where performance is based on numbers and promotion on write-ups of operations like these, real live policing is more an inconvenience than our purpose.
I'm not defending the disciplined officers. Nothing was preventing them popping down to secure the place for paramedics, and then returning to their operation - had it turned out to be minor - once local units were on scene.
But it's worth considering the context in which their laziness arose, and the decade of performance culture that has allowed it to breed. Either way, I'll be storing the newspaper cutting in a back drawer, and pulling it out every time I need to drag officers away from vital operations to attend the next violent domestic.
If nothing else, it's proof of the fact that those at the top can say and do whatever they want: at the end of the day, the decisions of a front-line police officer are the officer's, and the officer's alone.
* Before anyone writes in, these aren't the bobbies in question.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.