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Comment: a new Job description

There are no shocks for the service in the first part of the strategic policing review but it underlines some hard choices need to be made

When was the last time a politician, researcher or other public official asked a police officer what he or she thinks their role should be? It’s a fair question, after all, as joining the local constabulary was always seen to be a vocation.

Yes, it is also a public service role, so the legislature and pressure groups through the various accountability mechanisms are responsible for setting a changing agenda. Officers’ ability or willingness to go along with that may or may not be reflected in the crime figures.

But officers’ views must be crucial given that the first part of the Police Foundation’s strategic review paints a picture of an organisation which is structurally and culturally stuck in the 1960s trying to deal with more complex 21st century issues. Officers will be completely familiar with the competing and complex demands foisted on a role which is increasingly not matching the original job description.

Part of the culture of policing has always been around knowing who the opposition is.

We used to call these professional criminals and there were and are officers who have built highly successful and rewarding careers around disrupting their illegal enterprises by all means possible and locking them up.

This required no little professionalism and skill and what would now be referred to as ‘tangible outcomes’ were plain for all to see. It was all about harm reduction. Then as now the police service had to constantly adapt to remain one step ahead of the career criminal’s propensity to adapt their enterprises to exploit vulnerability and opportunity for the maximum monetary gain.

This is as true today as it was in the 1960s and the lockdown period has highlighted some notable successes on the policing side of the ledger.

Online fraud is a separate issue and the service has considerable ground to make up in that sphere but the solution is unlikely to lie within local ‘jack of all trades’ policing

The tier below the serious and organised crime level has always been problematic. The Police Foundation research shows that volume crimes such as burglary and vehicle theft have reduced by around 70% since 1995. Whereas hate crimes, missing persons cases and call outs that involve people with “multiple disadvantages” and require a multi agency approach have increased exponentially.

Those bread and butter crimes may be at a historic low but so are the detection rates for those offences which cannot be a source of satisfaction for either officers or victims.

The Police Foundation report acknowledges that many of the cases involving “multiple disadvantages” require a social rather than a criminal justice solution most of which cannot be tackled by a single agency but require extensive collaboration.

The same could be argued for those who stalk or harass people  - another significant growth area. Are many of these offenders criminals of suffering from mental health problems?

But how do officers rate the level of harm caused by all or any of these offences? And given finite resources which do they think their training and role is best suited to deal with?

To use a very simplistic example; an addict who was abused as a child, has spent a lifetime in care and is a repeat offending opportunist thief is not the same as someone who imports and distributes Class A drugs for huge profits but has no other adversarial contact with the authorities and avoids it at all costs.

Should the same law enforcement agency be dealing with these two personalities or different ones? That is the question that needs to be answered by the second part of the strategic review.

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