Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Cheaper by half

In a piece I read over at `Calling England` this morning it seems that the nationalisation of the police in the UK is coming closer by stealth. Being carried in the Guardian of course meant that there was a sinister, big brother slant on it, but as anyone with any sense will realise, there have been specialist police surveillance units for ages.  I have no real view on this amalgamation subject beyond what I felt 20 years ago when I wrote a piece in the Police Federation magazine.

In that article I expressed serious doubt that a huge faceless organisation could be truly representative of the community it served and that making a complaint against a locally accountable chief officer was far preferable than being passed from pillar to post in some faceless, nameless office in London before ending up on an equally faceless mandarin's desk for a good rubber stamping. In terms of economies of scale, I had no problem with a standardisation of forces in respect of purchasing equipment, application of IT and the like, but I just wasn't sure about the potential loss of local identity and the application of a local policy for local issues ("we'll have no trouble here, we're a local shop for local people"). Frankly, the local accountability I thought we had then didn't, on reflection, add up to much and I think I probably made far too much of it. Perhaps idealism really is for the young?

Since writing that article, I have seen my last force's air support unit, surveillance unit and, in part, its firearms teams amalgamate with neighbouring forces. The head of the former, an old chum, wrote to me recently slating what had happened to his air force and citing appalling response times and equally diminished cover and loss of credibility with the boots on the ground. From my own observations and contacts in my own area, there is precious little cover at the moment and that is sure to get even thinner as the cuts roll over us all.

One police organisation that really impressed me during my academic studies was this one. We have a lot in common in that they police a liberal democracy, arguably far more liberal than ours (and there's no such thing as trial by jury either, a great bonus). If this country is to go `national police force`, we could do a lot worse than take a leaf out of their book. They have a direct officer entry system, something that was also debated during the Margaret Thatcher years when Ken `thats not a real rape` Clarke was Home Secretary. That debate was not well received by the police at the time and I hear it is being raised again, with equal resistance from many quarters, including the comment pages of Inspector Gadget.

I worked with direct entry officers in The Netherlands as well as those who got to senior ranks the long way and, frankly, the same debates and gripes as we are hearing now were had in police canteens over there as well. But the bottom line  was that good police leaders in Amsterdam were made of the same stuff as good police leaders in London, Liverpool or Skipton and the crap ones were there as well with the same detrimental effect on their subordinates. Human nature doesn't change that much just because you've gone a couple of hundred miles across the North Sea.

So this time around, if there are moves afoot to introduce a direct `officer` entry system in the UK police service, I for one would not raise any objections if it modelled itself on what I saw in The Netherlands - and if those that were clearly not up to leading and commanding were identified and dealt with accordingly, then not a peep would you hear from me on that, either.


sparkflash said...

I always look at the underlying motive for such changes, and with rare, oh so rare exception, its about saving money. And despite what slight-of-hand advocates will have you believe, you're seldom likely to get more (or even the same) for less.
For as long as the Police Force remains a political plaything, the idea of freemarket, performance based results of promotional opportunity and accountability seems like a sick joke. If it was your life on the line, would you give employment preference to anyone based upon their race, religion, colour or sexuality over their ability to do the job? I have doubts that you would.

Just have to add, that whilst I've not a great deal of love for Mr Clarke, he's said far stupider things than suggest that consensual sex between two people, one of whom is underage, is a different sort of rape to a violent assault by a stranger.

Dear, oh dear. I feel all grubby now.

Hogdayafternoon said...

Hi Sparkflash:
I agree, it's rarely about better, just cheaper. Ken was hammered beyond reason over that comment. I met with an old chums last week who is, sadly for her, still investigating major crime. The same old `rapes` are still coming in, with the same old (young) victims trotting out the same old lame stories. Everything they say to the police after their night of blotto-ness reiterates what Ken really meant.

Roger Fortier said...

We call it Affirmative Action over here. During 23 years in the U.S. army, I saw appalling examples of people promoted beyonds their capabilities - and not just Peter principle stuff. Most Americans don't like it, yet, it survives. Colin Powell used to be our greatest affirmative action success story until Barry Obama came along. (Note to Powell, try harder.)

Anonymous said...

I don't favour graduate entry as 80% of university qualifications are worthless. I'd put the recruitment age up to 21, encourage paid part-timers for weekends, and bring in a technician, detective and management scale that doesn't require policing experience before joining (but might privilege a new law degree containing investigation studies - which should also qualify lawyers).
Re-modelling nationally would be fine and the Dutch have a template that is national-local.

The problem for me is leaving any of this with ACPO. I think there's a toxic senior police culture that's been promoting too many and the wrong people.

Ken was right - and many running SAFE centres agree with him Hog's right, only it's worse. I know of cases that led to conviction in which everyone but the convicted party were guilty.

Hogdayafternoon said...

The more I read of the US experience the more I realise how alike us human beings are. I too saw the most hopeless, creeping insects promoted and watched the so predictable outcomes of their lack of capability. Too painful.

I was against fast track graduate entry and concur with your comments re the graduate qualifications. I sat on the grad selection boards and wouldn't advocate anyone joining that way (and neither did the DCC who sat with me). If the talent is there, they'll get on regardless.

I did my degree part time, whilst serving (after 19 yrs service in the job, the hard way). Would it have made me a better officer had I done it the usual way? Not in the slightest, `though it did give me the ability to argue better. The Dutch have a dedicated police academy. Thats where you have to graduate from.

CI-Roller Dude said...

funny thought. In the county I worked in for 30 years, we had so many small police departments...
there was a county sheriff, 13 city and town departments, the State highway patrol, State and federal park rangers and other state and federal investigators who we never saw but were around.
Myself and some others felt that many of the small departments should combine and reduce having so many police chiefs and duplicated effort.

but it got down to local politics---they wanted the local power of having their own police department.

Hogdayafternoon said...

When I did a 2 month exchange in Michigan I visited Imlay City, where the chief presented me with a lovely framed memento. Being as the place had `City` in its title I asked how many were on the force. I was amazed when he said something like, `Me, the deputy chief and six patrolmen`. He was a little shocked when I told him I was in a county force of 3,500 officers! Then I visited The sheriff of Lapeer County. He was the top man but was formerly a highway patrolman and the guy who was challenging him for sheriff in the forthcoming eoections was a lawyer! I was indeed in a foreign land but amongst friends.

Anonymous said...

We'd have to invent arguments to disagree on this one Hog. My lass did a postgrad diploma in investigation while in the IPCC. Wasn't much use in practical terms. I see a lot that would be in specialised areas like forensic accounting. I did 20 years in management development and would now say that was a waste of time. I distrust boards enough to think rolling dice more virtuous.