Blandshire Constabulary currently pays a private company to pay a person to travel between custody suites totting up how many on a spreadsheet of about 100 performance indicators have been met on a random selection of 15 custody records. The indicators include, among other things, whether or not the sergeant has correctly entered the postcode for the place of arrest, whether they were offered the "diversity box", and whether their rights were given and carried out.
Our performance against these indicators is collated and submitted to Headquarters, where it finds its way into the books of the HMIC. Since introducing the role of custody auditor (among others), Blandshire has shot up the ranks of police forces and stands to do pretty well in the next ranking lists.
This is a world where the entering of a postcode is given the same weight and importance as allowing a detained person access to a solicitor. On the shifts I have done in custody, I have borne the wrath of the custody auditor more than once, as I repeatedly refuse to comply with five or six of the most pointless indicators. I don't do this to be difficult (although the fact that it is seen as difficult is a source of constant pleasure). No, I do it because there is a queue of officers with prisoners waiting to book them in and get back on the streets, and by skipping some of the more unnecessary steps I can book them into custody in half the time it takes a more procedurally-compliant sergeant.
Both myself and the custody auditor are, indirectly, paid and supplied for the benefit of Blandshire Constabulary. So why is it that I can at a whim discard something that is the auditor's sole purpose to enforce, without any fear of more than a severe frown from my inspector?
The fact is, the auditor exists to enforce these indicators, to ensure Blandshire Constabulary is rated for the highly professional conduct of our custody suites. (And believe me, compared to years gone by, they are highly, highly professional.) If one indicator is missed off one record, the private company employing the auditor is in breach of contract. The breach carries a fine, and either the company will have to pay the fine, or the custody auditor will.
As a police sergeant, when it comes to any showdown between me and the establishment, my priority is to show I have adhered to the law, to the Codes of Practice, but above all to what was morally right and made sense at the time.
There are some motivated and sensible civilians working for companies that have contracts with the police. But when the proverbial shove encounters push, the private company employee may not fall back on his or her morality or commonsense. He has no scope to wiggle around the Home Office Counting Rules, or to duck that week's assault detection target. He can only comply, and comply.
Which answers the question, really, why some Chief Constables are so keen to promote the idea of privatised police services, including some elements of patrol. After all, if it wasn't for those pesky police officers, Blandmore's local top dog might have a chance of meeting some of his targets this month.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.