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.