Policing Britain

Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

In the mid 1970’s as part of the national Queen’s Police Gold Medal Essay competition, the blogger (then a youthful Metropolitan Police Officer) submitted a paper on Policing Reform.

The blogger’s  idea was to divide UK policing into three separate functions: the ‘Police Community Service’, the ‘Police Office’, and the ‘Police Agency’ – yes, very radical proposals at that time.

Clearly, the essay hit the establishment like a wet blamange…in fact less than that – it caused no reaction whatsoever, to be hidden away as a losing entry and certainly did not procure the writer a Gold Medal.

But today….hello, South Yorkshire Police? Did someone dig out the blogger’s essay and re-jig it for Chief Constable, David Crompton?

The purpose of my three-way division of policing was to address the problems arising from a single police pyramid – to which recruits arrived, in which they were required to cover disparate and sometimes incompatible functions, and from which (when skilled and experienced) they were to be removed into police administration on promotion.

My proposal envisaged separating functions and responsibilities. It was driven by pragmatic desire for both rationalisation and appropriate career development, rather than cost. Therein may be the distinction from the current South Yorkshire Police pilot.

All police officers would start their careers as Community Service Officers, performing a peace-keeping function in the community, interfacing with other public bodies, such as social services, community mental health, education, probation, housing and the charitable sector. They would be visible and have a limited, but useful range of powers. Their tasks would be much to do with community cohesion as with enforcement. The department would have its own career structure, with the aim of retaining skilled community officers within this special field through to retirement.

Parallel to, and fed from the Community Service Department, would be the Police Office. Officers in this department would have similar powers and functions to those of current police officers, with investigative and enforcement responsibilities, save that they would be relieved of many of the social tasks undertaken by the Community Service teams.

Finally, to be fed from and having responsibility for both the ‘Community Service’ teams and the ‘Police Office’ (with the added option of recruiting outsiders with appropriate skills) would be the ‘Police Agency’. It would have tactical command of both police and community operations and policy.

How has the blogger’s vision stood the test of time? I now see reactive policing, with officers in stab-proof vests, festooned with handcuffs, sprays, and para-military pockets stuffed with kit, arriving in police vehicles long after they are needed. Frequently, their communication skills with the public are lamentable. I see town centres, both during the day and at night, devoid of any element of social management. Reflecting current concerns with the nursing sector, I see a loss of care and empathy in policing. More worrying, I do not sense a proper interface between policing and other social players who have responsibility within the community.

The separation of functions between police officers and those with community responsibility could have a hugely ameliorative impact on this. The Community team would be attentive to social management and support, providing a visible and financially sustainable presence. Likewise, Police Officers, skilled in observation, investigation, detection and restraint techniques – with the risks, responsibilities and pay that go with them – would be released to do precisely that.

In addition to the social benefits, such measures would enhance the career opportunities for many who choose to work in this important public sector. Those who see their future working in the community could develop their skills and further their careers whilst staying there. Those officers who seek specialist policing skills and are prepared to take the responsibilities that come with them, could gravitate to the Police Office. And with a separate Police Agency, streamlined management and public accountability would be a real possibility, rather than, as currently, an uncomfortable compromise between operational independence and political control.

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