There are genuine fears within the police service that the ‘beat bobby’ is becoming an endangered species.
Some forces are already finding that they’re a luxury that can no longer be afforded and have reassigned their community beat officers to become part of response teams. What‘s the problem with that, you may well ask?
Well, it fundamentally changes the nature of policing in this country. Instead of an area having a local bobby who knows the community and takes ownership of the problems in that area, the officer is replaced by a system that involves the police mainly attending incidents, as and when they occur. A response officer will rarely have time to deal with a more minor long-standing issue because their priority will be to attend the next 999 call, or deal with a more serious or current incident.
This ‘fire brigade’ mentality policing style is something that Lancashire police tried to eliminate as far back as the early 1980s, with some success.
The Police Federation believes further cuts to the police budget will mean a return to this policing style nationally, with officers becoming more ‘paramilitary’ and further removed from their communities. The Home Secretary, Theresa May accuses them of scaremongering.
Mrs May appears to see the situation very differently and considers that the police are dealing with many issues that should be dealt with by others.
She would like the police to concentrate on cutting crime and cease being the public service of default that deals with everything.
If the police can be unburdened from dealing with mental health and other non-police related social issues, she considers, in simplistic terms, the police can deliver effective neighbourhood, response and investigative policing.
Mrs May is right – the police are dealing with too many issues that are not policing matters. The key to this issue will be whether she can successfully reduce or remove this unnecessary demand and introduce better IT. If she can, then her vision of a leaner more effective police service may well succeed.
If she can’t, then ‘beat bobbies’ and PCSOs will become a rarity and the policing style will become brusquer and mainly reactive. I think the time has come for the police federation to do as Mrs May has asked and that is to stop shouting from the sidelines and to work with her.
Let’s find out if Mrs May can deliver what she is promising.