A COPY OF A LETTER POSTED IN THE
From MICHAEL NICHOLSON O.B.E.
Former Chief Foreign Correspondent ITN
Special thanks go to The Surrey Constabulary Blog, for bringing this article to our attention.
Born in Romford, Essex, Michael Nicholson was a war reporter for ITN, who has covered more wars and conflicts than any other British newsman. He has reported from wars in Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Jordan, India and Pakistan, Rhodesia, Beirut , Cyprus, Angola The falklands and The Persian Gulf. During a twenty-five-year career, Nicholson reported on fifteen separate conflicts and became one our most respected and admired journalists. He has won numerous British and International awards, including the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, The Richard Dimbleby Award for his reporting of the Falklands War, and three times The Royal Television Society's Hournalist of the Year. He holds the Falklands and Gulf Campaign medals, and in 1991 was honoured with the OBE.
It was on matters closer to home that Michael wrote to his local newspaper, The Surrey Advertiser concerning the plight that faces UK policing, in particular, the challenges now facing his local force, Surrey Police.
To read what Michael has to say about the cuts to policing click here.
Clearly au fait with the policing plight, Michael makes reference to many of the issues highlighted previously on these pages and those of many other police bloggers. Whilst the content of his letter is focused on the challenges faced by Surrey Chief, Mark Rowley and the likely effects of the tax paying residents of the county, his observations and astute comments apply to each of the 43 forces of England and Wales and therefore to the tax paying community on a national basis.
Michaels main complaint is that the residents of Surrey have not been adequately consulted on the proposed cuts to the service and the likely consequences. This is synonymous with typical reports from around the country.
To illustrate Michaels clear grasp of the "policing plight" we have reprinted here some of the relevant points that transfer across all police force boundaries.
"In another of those optimistic police pledges, these response teams, sirens blaring, blue lights flashing, promise to be with you within 15 minutes of your call. That will indeed be all improvement because in reality current official response time figures show that it is more often nearer sixty minutes. Last year in the Haslemere area, only 30% of police response time were within target. That is one in three. Surrey police record for quick response is among the worst in the entire country and that’s official".
Officers and regular readers will echo these sentiments, knowing that it is the poor managerial application of resources that has resulted in this travesty of policing, not just in Surrey, but in forces across the UK. Earlier this year, Home Secretary Theresa May ordered that all forces must scrap the Policing Pledge.
Most Police Forces in England and Wales have ignored the Home Secretary’s stated aim to abolish Policing Pledge and Public Confidence targets. Ignoring her instructions on June 29th 2010 is an act of defiance because for 13 years, ACPO officers collectively wrung their hands and rolled over to acquiesce to everything the Home Office and Labour ministers suggested, no matter how silly or damaging. Now, suddenly, they pretend that they do not have to do what the Home Office tell them, even though it makes perfect sense. Over 300 own police officers commented on the Inspector Gadgets blog pages, confirming that their forces were still promoting the pledge:
• Bedfordshire Police
• Cambridgeshire Constabulary
• City Of London Police
• Devon & Cornwall Police
• Dorset Police
• Essex Police
• Hertfordshire Constabulary
• Sussex Police
• Kent Police
• Leicestershire Constabulary
• Lothian and Borders Police
• Northumbria Police
• Metropolitan Police
• Merseyside Police
• Cumbria Constabulary
• West Yorkshire Police
• South Yorkshire Police
• Lancashire Constabulary
• Lincolnshire Police
• Northamptonshire Police
• Nottinghamshire Police
• Surrey Police
• North Yorkshire Police
• Norfolk Constabulary
• Essex Police
• Gloucestershire Constabulary
• British Transport Police
• Cheshire Constabulary
• West Mercia Police
• Derbyshire Constabulary
• Warwickshire Police
• Wiltshire Police
The Policing Pledge was a bureaucratic, top down way of attempting to improve performance which just became a whole lot of targets in disguise. It was wrong to spend £6 million of taxpayers' money to advertise it. The Coalition have said they want to replace bureaucratic accountablity like this with democratic accountability. They scrapped the policing pledge to cut central bureaucracy and ensure a focus on cutting crime. Of course the police need to deliver a high quality service, but this won't be achieved by central dictat. In future it should be local people who judge whether the service they get is good enough, through the Police and Crime Commissioners, and it will be for Commissioners to determine the strategic priorities of the force.
Michael again . . .
"In another of those police pledges, Surrey is promised 200 new constables. Great news but given a 20% cut in revenue how will the county afford them? And where can we expect to see them? On the beat? Or more likely ensconced in their offices keeping their seats warm, or attending classes in social engineering? When was the last time you saw a uniformed warranted Policeman patrolling your high street?"
"The make-up of Surrey’s police force is revealing and on closer examination, rather disturbing. Did you know that there are more civilians in it than police officers? We have, at the last count, around 1,840 full time police officers in Surrey but more than 2,500 civilians on the Pay roll".
There are around 143,000 warranted police officers in England and Wales with a basic salary cost of £4.8billion. There are 82,000 civilian or police staff employees that cost in the region of £2.7billion. Much media coverage has focused on the growth in police numbers over recent years, yet the growth in civilian personnel has dwarfed this by comparison. The argument is that civilain staff are cheaper to employ, but is this what the public want? Would they rather not see more police officers making our communities a safer place to live? Would the better allocation of funding on warranted officers not alleviate much of the media and senior officer hype about the liklihood of rising crime in that wake of future austerity cuts?
"There is not a square foot of space to be seen between the parked cars and most of them do not belong to police officers. As the budget shrinks, how many of them will be handed their P45s? How many casualties? We bankroll them. Do we have a right to know?"
Excellent point well made Michael. This echoes what police bloggers have been trying to bring to the public attention for many years.
"Delve further and you find that fewer policemen than you think are on what they call ‘front line’ duties. In other words, out there in the cold, rain and snow protecting life, liberty and property. There are currently only around 460 front line uniformed warranted officers on call in Surrey. But about a third of them will not be available for duty because they are either on leave, (including maternity), at in-service training, on court attendance or absent due to the increasing contagion of days off sick.
So if my arithmetic serves me correctly and with Surreys population at around the one million 100,000 mark, we have only around 300 officers on call spread over three eight-hour shifts. That works out to one front line police officer for every 10,000 people.
And given that Surrey already has one of the lowest detection rates in the country, does it make you feel any safer?"
Once again, this echoes the points in reports from this site and many others, supported by in depth reports from Her Majesties Inspector of Constabulary. Too many of our warranted police officers are not avaialable when and where it's needed most .... at the front line of British policing, not sitting behind a desk, ticking boxes, filling in forms and adding to the over stretched burden of the frontline staff with nonsense e mails regarding targets that should by now have been scrapped.
"What exactly will a police presence represent? A part lime copper-cum counsellor on a nine to five shift, Monday to Friday? And where will that police presence be situated?
How accessible will it be? How visible? How responsive?
We do not want him or her squatting in Tesco or in the back room of the library or along a dim corridor of a council office. Surely we should demand it deserves prestige, some dignity? Perhaps even a blue lamp?
Public confidence of the police has fallen to an all-record low.
PC Plod has lost the plot and all because, according to Sir Denis O’Connor, currently Chief Inspector of Constabulary, the police “have retreated from the streets… they should be more visible, more in touch with the very people they are meant to protect”.
Isn’t that exactly what the rest of us have been saying for years?
Much the same complaint has come from another of our knighted policemen, Sir Ian Blair, the less than successful former head of the Met. How ironic then that these remarks are made by these two former chief constables of Surrey who were, in no small part, responsible for our current policing crisis. The one Mark Rowley has, much to his annoyance, now inherited.
That we have been left out of the loop and all but bypassed by the arrogance of a small number of un-elected people who reckon they and only they, know what is best for us".
Many readers will undoubtedly echo the sentiments so eloquently expressed by Michael as being representative of their forces. Many members of the public too, would confirm that they have little or no consultation in how the cuts will affect their quality of life.
This will be music to the ears of the Home Secretary Theresa May and Nick Herbert, the Police and Justic Minister, who will be pressing for the introduction of Locally Elected Police and Crime Commissioners in 2012. The main driver behind this proposal is that greater local consultation on policing matters will be introduced with Commissioners holding Chief Constables to account for their performance on local issues such as this.
The invisible and under performing police authorities have been shown to be unfit for the purpose they were intended to fulfill. This point was endorsed by the HMIC inspections of the 43 police authorities, who were shown to have a weak grasp and control of police issues.
There are arguments for and against the introduction of Localy Elected Commissioners and whilst not seeking to comment on that debate at this juncture, the experience and reporting of Michael Nicholson suggest that this is one area where the new regime needs to improve communication between the police and the tax paying public they serve.
We are hoping that Michael will be given the opportunity to read these pages and that he might lend his weight to the issues on a national level. Either way, he is to be thanked for his contribution as a tax paying citizen who has earned the respect of us all.