Policing in Britain is in crisis. As a former police officer, it rarely takes more than a few minutes into a catch-up with ex-colleagues before the subject inevitably moves onto the poor state of things in their work.
Whether it is police officer shortages, increasing bureaucracy and restraints on working practice, or working for a good result on a serious case only for the offender to get a slap on the wrist when they get to court. That’s if they even get there in the first place. Police officers in this country are overworked, underpaid and increasingly treated as though their jobs deserve no security because the government doesn’t want career coppers any longer because they cost too much.
This has to change, and Labour should be the arbiter of real police reform.
The Windsor Review published in 2012 was hailed by the Tories as a radical blueprint for a future police service. It made several recommendations including; tougher entry requirements academically for new recruits, cuts to salaries and pensions because – as it stood – a career in policing was “too attractive”, and a fast-track scheme for outsiders from the military or security sector to jump the ranks to more senior positions.
All of these recommendations have since been implemented or are in the process of being implemented, but they are gravely damaging to the police service.
Being a police officer is a job like no other. A police officer doesn’t just lock up ‘baddies.’ They are a mediator between neighbours, a first aider to the injured and a social worker to the unsettled. They are a mental health adviser to the troubled, a street fighter against the violent and a professional witness to the courts. No amount of education can prepare you for the job and no amount of previous experience outside of the police service can give you the skill set to command officers.
The very least owed to police officers who walk out of their door to head to work, often with a nagging thought always at the back of their mind of whether they will walk back in, is a good salary, a good pension and respect for the experience that can only be gained from years of service.
The Windsor Review has had the effect of doing the complete opposite, whilst simultaneously advocating a police service that fails one of its core principles, that of being representative of the community it serves.
The Labour Party whilst in opposition has the time to undertake a comprehensive review of policing and formulate policy that we can take forward to the next general election that proves we are flag bearers for the women and men in blue.
Many of the policies that were introduced off the back of the Windsor review should be reversed alongside the introduction of new policies such as;
• The strength of the police service should be returned to above previous levels. Between 2010 and 2015, almost 17,000 officers have been lost from Britain’s streets. The public want and deserve a visible policing presence and the police service needs to return to a time where sources are sufficient for them to act proactively rather than merely reactively.
• The Special Constabulary should be broadened out to introduce a new role similar to that of the territorial army in which specials who wish to commit more than the voluntary amount but who do not want to become a full-time police officer are paid a retainment allowance in order for the UK to have a reservist police capability. The option should remain to serve within the special constabulary as it currently stands.
• Historically, stop and search was wrongly used to disproportionately target minority groups and, as such, damaged the relationship between some sections of society and the police. However, stop & search is a vital tool in an officer’s kit to prevent and detect crime, and in some forces the level of evidence required to undertake a stop and search has gone above and beyond that stipulated within the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984). This is to the detriment of public safety. New legislation should be introduced which clearly states a range of necessary triggers that are required prior to a search being undertaken so that there is a national practice for how they are undertaken.
• A Labour government should introduce a new bill that makes the punishments for offenders stronger across a range of offences. New prisons should be built, and all should be returned to state control. A heavier emphasis on rehabilitation should be undertaken, with inspiration taken from models found in Scandinavia.
As ever, the point of this article is to invoke debate and the above policy concepts are my personal thoughts drawn on my experience as both a Police Officer and Special Constable. The thing that stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of police reform is that it is vital the police service represents the community they serve.
In this country, we operate a philosophy of policing by consent, one of the founding principles of policing dating back to Robert Peel. As a party, Labour has a responsibility to ensure the police service does not slip away from this ethos, as not only would it result in increasing the gap between the public and the police, but it also chimes with the most basic of Labour Party principles; promoting equality, diversity and justice in all aspects of our lives.