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White Noise: What is the reality of modern policing?


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Former Police Federation of England and Wales Chairman Steve White asks if policing has changed for the majority.


There is a constant fascination with the world of policing.

You cannot change channels on the television remote without landing on a police “reality” series or police drama.

The content is sometimes not that close to the reality but it makes good television for those who like to see the UK’s finest chasing bad but often stupid people doing stupid things.

And sometimes we see the compassion needed when dealing with tragedy and social discourse.

So do we know what the reality of policing today actually is? The College of Policing did some excellent work recently on demand and is probably the closest thing to knowing at the moment.

Those of you reading this who are in “the job” whether officer or staff, will probably say you know. That makes sense. Chiefs will say they know. Some retired armchair experts will say they do. But the reality is that most will know some of it, but I doubt if anyone really understands it in its totality.

The police service has such a wide and diverse remit and tends to live in the moment. It is oten learning and sometimes paying for the mistakes of the past in order to make things better for the future. The often short-termism associated with decisions at the political and policy level will very quickly lose corporate memory.

Back in 2001 (which I thought wasn't that long ago until I paused to think) the Home Office published “The Diary of a Police Officer”. PA Consulting was brought in to facilitate the study which was to focus on uniform patrol policing and discover what happened in a typical shift and how much time was spent on reassurance patrols.

I think it fair to say that there were no surprises. Officers spent a fair amount of time in the station and little time (17 per cent) providing reassurance.

You can read it be clicking here: The Diary of a Police Officer

Some 25 years ago a study, again from the Home Office and assisted by PA, into the administrative burdens of the police was conducted. It  concluded there was a huge amount and it rarely related to the seriousness of the case or task. Not surprisingly two of the five main areas of recommendation related to stopping to doing some tasks altogether and the service needing better IT support. Sound familiar?

Again you can see it here: police administrative burdens.

The reports make interesting reading, particularly when one is as long in the tooth as I and can recall what was happening in the service when they were done.

They of course only covered a proportion of policing operational activity back then, but you could argue they probably dealt with the lions share.

I wonder what has changed since then? I often hear people saying that policing is now very complex. The law has changed, the way in which we gather evidence and use technology and science to get to the truth has changed.

But has “policing” changed for the majority? If not why not? Does it need to? If it does, one must first understand what it is and what it does and why it needs to change. For the record, it is my view that there is much that could and should change, but again, Im not sure I truly understand the totality of policing despite my wide experience and recent remits.

So maybe we do need to try and really understand where we are so that we can reform for the good of the service and the benefit of the public.

To see how far we get, we first need to know where we started. Then we can see how things have changed, hopefully for the better of all.

What would be interesting is to repeat the exercise to an extent, with new terms of reference, and see what progress has been made. Or not. Are we still coping with the same issues and blockers to service or new ones?

I suspect it would be a bit of both, but I think it may be time to really understand what the reality is of policing now, so that we can see what is working and what is not. If we were to do this it must not be a purely academic exercise, but one which can directly inform and shape the next generation of policing. And in 15-25 years time we could look again and compare to see how we got on.

View On Police Oracle

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Good topic and I’m sure there will be many different views on this depending on role, length or service and which path people want to go down within their careers.

I can’t comment a lot on what happened with any great authority pre 2007. I’ve been involved in policing since mid 07 and have worked in 3 different forces from a SC to a PC now.

I may get shot down here but I have certainly noticed a big difference particularly in recent years. As a service I think we have shifted to the left. I get that this reflects society as a whole. 

I don’t think we got to grips with the social media culture, many forces are poor when it comes to PR and I think this played a part.

We are run by bosses who are weak willed usually and more bothered about what the looney activist has to say than people at the coal face.

Policing in general now is far too risk averse. Nobody dares to make a decision and all we think about is the what ifs. 

My biggest bug bear is the word ‘vulnerable’. This is the most overused word we have particularly in the last few years. Nearly everyone is vulnerable (of course some forces will deal slightly differently), but because it’s so overused it’s almost becoming meaningless. Because someone is classed as vulnerable we jump through hoops to investigate non existent crimes just to say that we have done something.

I would like to clarify that genuinely vulnerable people of course do deserve an enhanced service and support from us.

We fill in for numerous other services and again whenever we question this the stock answer is ‘incase it goes wrong’, even though it shouldn’t be the Police that would be accountable anyway as it would be a failing from another service.

The biggest difference at the moment to 10 years ago is of course resource levels. In many places now we are a token presence. We don’t have the resources or will frankly to tackle anything, we just sort of keep the lid on it. We are discouraged from arrests, discouraged or unable to do anything proactive and unable to properly investigate anything. 

I think the frustration now is that for your average working person who calls us they are so far down the list that the service they would tend to get is laughable. 

Its not all bad, but I’m sure a lot of other front line officers will see where my post is coming from.

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When I first joined Sir Ronnie Flannigan had produced a report on police bureaucracy and there was going to be a drive to reduce paperwork. It’s increased beyond comprehension and that report seems to have disappeared.

I would agree with you on the vulnerability comment. However, I think it’s a reflection of where certain aspects of policing are and the #### covering culture that exists. As I’ve commented on other threads there is a culture of recording because it’s easier than not to. We also have a culture of blame and where everything must have an outcome, whether that he from response incidents to PSD. I would like to see a cultural change but that won’t happen anytime soon whilst pressure groups or journalists continue to influence policy.

I would agree with the comments in the article about short term decision making. Some that I’ve witnessed it truly atrocious but persons at senior level who make such decisions are never accountable. Money wasted just so someone can claimed to have changed something in order to get promoted. There seems to be a distinct lack of strategic long term decision making.

The job is and always will be the best job in the world. I feel very privileged to do it and will promote policing and back policing wherever I can. The biggest change in my service has been the cuts and erosion of neighbourhood policing and proactive policing. I don’t think we are feeling the full effects yet. But it’s the small things that often matter the most to people that isn’t being “policed” which is leading to a lack of public confidence.

There is also, in my opinion, a tidal wave of cyber crime and cyber fraud waiting to hit us. We are well behind with regards to online investigators and IT infrastructure as a whole.

In summary I would like to see the NPCC lead the way to culturally change the police and stand up to pressure groups and politicians. There are far too many people willing to knock the police at every turn. That and investment need to change.

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Not always his biggest fan but this is quite an interesting well thought out piece.

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