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New police recruits shocked by huge social care workload, report says


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Two groups of officers were followed over the first four years of their careers.

New police recruits shocked by huge social care workload, report says

The longer a police officer serves, the greater the “reality shock” of the limits of their influence, new research has found.

A study published by the Police Foundation on Friday, which followed two new cohorts of officers during the first four years of their careers, showed how the officers became increasingly frustrated by the sheer volume of “Jeremy Kyle” social work which they were expected to do at the expense of proactive crime-fighting.

Researcher Sarah Charman warned officers disappointed at gap between expectations and realities of the job may become more “cynical, suspicious, alienated” and “display lower levels of empathy and higher levels of authoritarianism.”

Her report, From Crime Fighting to Public Protection: The Shaping of Police Officers’ Sense of Role, was based on 98 interviews with the new officers, police tutors and student development recruitment officers.

The officers were shown 22 statements five weeks, six months, one year and four years into the job and asked to rate how strongly they agreed.

At the start of the study, 15 per cent of officers said “safeguarding” was the role of police but this surged to 85 per cent four years later.

In contrast 86.4 per cent agreed or strongly agreed “the primary role of a police officer is crime fighting” at five weeks but after four years of service 53 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Although the majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “policing is concerned mainly with upholding the law”, the strength of this agreement did vary considerably at different stages of their early careers. This fell from 79.2 per cent at five weeks to 52.9 per cent at four years.

“Officers expressed surprise about the quantity of non-crime and non-policing demands that they were involved with, particularly in relation to issues of mental health and missing persons, which it was felt should be dealt with primarily by other agencies,” the report added.

In interviews, one officer said “I can’t tell you the last time I went to a crime” and another said their job is “30 per cent crime, 70 per cent social work which is something I didn’t really expect … I thought it’d be a bit more crime fighting.”

Another complained: “I’ve been in the environment and seen what it used to be like and that’s what I wanted to do but it’s not like that anymore. It’s too fluffy I think.”

Ms Charman said her interviews reflected how police officers were aware of “the changing role of police which has not only become wider and more diverse, incorporating both the preservation and the production of social order, but has also been affected by budgetary cuts elsewhere within the public and care sectors.”

“I think quite soon we’ll have to make a decision we’re either going to deal with crime or just deal with vulnerability, because at the moment we’re not particularly doing both.”

Another officer said: “What they teach you at [name of training school] is what, you know, what people still believe is the role of a police officer and it’s about building files, it’s about crime investigation, it’s actual victims, you know, and stuff like that.

“And actually, a large proportion of our work isn’t that. It’s dealing with people with mental health issues, it’s dealing with social issues and all sorts of stuff. So, actual crime fighting is a very, very small proportion of our work.”

The study raised concerns the “growing sense of cynicism” is in some cases influencing officers’ attitudes towards their work and the public.

In the words of one officer: “You are a social worker – you’re mother, you’re father – you’re an auntie, you’re an uncle. You are Jeremy Kyle, it feels like sometimes”.

Another interviewee said: “It’s just constant mopping up of people, who literally, cannot run their own lives.”

“You deal with a lot of people’s problems where you think, does it really need a police officer here? Should you be wasting police time? And we spend a lot of time…or police time just sorting people’s problems out … disputes over property, over relationships … just people moaning about people.”

The report stated the issue has been found in research spanning decades and is “identified in most corners of the globe.”

Officers’ changing perceptions of what their jobs involve may be a result of the “changing realities of policing work in more challenging economic times” and a “fundamental change to the arena of policing where the focus is much more upon the congenial activities.”

But the report also said historically police officers have “always liked to portray the crime fighting image” despite evidence suggested this has only ever constituted a minor part of police duties.

“The narratives of policing then have never quite matched the actions… Policing and police officers, it could be argued, are now more comfortable with their social identity as ‘peacekeepers’ rather than ‘crime-fighters’,” the report argued.

The research interviews started in late 2012 and were completed in early 2017.

Chairman of the Police Federation for England and Wales, Calum Macleod said: "The police federation supports any research that gives evidence of the experience of our members during their career, as this in turn will help us in developing ways to support them.

"Due to cuts across the public sector we have seen an increase in police having to deal with more demands beyond crime. Our members are being called in to aid issues such family disputes, social care and health issues.

"To be better placed to support our members, for the last 18 months we have been running a survey of new recruits.

"To date we have gathered more than one thousand responses about expectations recruits have about their policing career and will follow up with the members to identify how well these expectations are being met within the police service and what we as a federation can do to support our members."

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Good article and some good points raised. The only thing is it is difficult as much of the social care type stuff where people can’t actually run their lives usually falls under the DV banner which we can’t get away from. As has been discussed we can’t try and use common sense anymore so end up creating a lot of the problems ourselves.

With a lot of the other stuff we just label it as vulnerability and safeguarding and we seem to be the primary organisation to deal, everyone else vanishes. 

Ive said before, we do need a serious look at what the police do and are expected to be doing. It can’t just continue the way it is.

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