Why is it you never hear MPs extolling the virtues of "doctors on the wards" or "firemen in their engines"? It is accepted that as well as being seen quickly when you turn up at hospital, and having water sprayed on your house as soon as it catches fire, other factors come into play. For example it's helpful if the doctors that treat you are trained in the latest equipment and medical knowledge, are awake enough to perform your surgery, and can be on standby for the life-threatening emergency that might walk in behind you. And for the fire crews to arrive with working hoses, well-oiled teamwork and an experienced chief.
But it's easy for a politician to harp on about bobbies on the beat, because of programmes over the years like Dixon of Dock Green and The Bill, that frequently show officers stumbling across live crimes every five minutes they are on the street. And the Tories have been scoring political points off the idea for the last fifteen years.
David Davis, in 2007, laid into the then Labour Government for the fact that only 14% of officers' time was being spent "on the beat". And now Nick Herbert (Policing Minister) is using the same argument to belittle Chief Constable Tony Melville's announcement that his Gloucestershire force is "on a cliff edge".
Still fits into his old stabbie... good man.
(Although that jacket looks suspiciously clean.)
Only last week the Chair of Greater Manchester's Police Federation wrote about being "stretched beyond capacity" and being "barely able to function".
Now a Chief Constable is saying the same things. When a Chief goes on record and sounds the death knell of his own career, you should be afraid. The residents of Cheltenham and Stroud will be quaking in their beds tonight. That isn't undermining public confidence, it's telling the truth.
Police Minister Nick Herbert has trotted out the old excuse that it must be the Chief's fault if the money he has isn't going far enough. Will Tony Melville invite the Home Office in to do better? Just what exactly would Nick Herbert cut, if he was given the same budget?
Well, Theresa May says that policing is about cutting crime, "no more, no less". So the first thing to go would be our response to missing persons and those self-harming or threatening suicide. No longer will we deal with traffic collisions or close roads while firemen evacuate buildings. We'll stop sectioning people barking at their own reflection on street corners, and ignore the request from Social Services to check on three vulnerable children because the mother's threatened to knock them out if they go round again. We won't help scared victims collect their personal belongings so they can leave their violent partner, nor make those night-time visits on behalf of a doctor or coroner, with our hats in our hands.
And that's just the stuff that doesn't relate to crime. I can't wait for Nick Herbert to get his big red pen on Gloucestershire's criminal justice departments, to see him announce just which tape summariser, file admin support worker and witness liaison officer can be done away with, and who is going to get convictions at court without them.
But more importantly than any of the above, will he cut those back office staff whose role is simply to massage crime figures and generate slews of pie charts, reports and policies? Will he make good on his own rhetoric, and extinguish paperwork relating to risk aversion and the fear of litigation?
My guess, is that were Nick Herbert in any Chief Constable's position, in any force in the country, not only would he find himself unable to do any of the above, he wouldn't have the guts to do what Tony Melville has done, and put his neck on the block to make it public.
When will the next member of ACPO follow suit? And who will be first to join PC Nick Manning in front of a disciplinary panel for it?
How many Chiefs feel unable, or unwilling, to speak up?
It's all very well to harp on about the sacrosanct front-line, but before Chiefs can make the cuts in the right places, there has to be fundamental change to the infrastructure holding it all up: the Criminal Justice System, Health and Safety, and the law itself. There's no point in telling someone to run their car with eco-fuel, if none of the filling stations around them provide it.
Of course, most Chief Constables aren't talking about any of this. They're just piling more and more work onto fewer and fewer people, and blaming their own staff if they can't bear the load. Come on, ACPO, let's hear a few more of you clamouring for a better deal.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.