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The Met, the sharp end and life in the boroughs

In his regular column, Dennis Weeks considers London’s new Local Policing Model

This week (June 24, 2013) has seen the initial roll-out of a new way of policing London's boroughs called the local policing model (LPM). The second part of the roll-out is due to happen in the autumn once recruitment brings the remaining boroughs up to sufficient strength to support the new concept.

It involves giving neighbourhood officers a beat and then expecting them to deal in totality with a whole host of issues during their shift.

Thus, two decades of increasing specialisation among police officers are coming to an abrupt end – and not before time, long-service officers may well be thinking as they remember the days when they knew all the villains on a beat, arrested them and even went to court and prosecuted them.

Many of these officers would have been trained from day one to deliver this type of service. Officers who have joined more recently, however, are unlikely to have experienced this omni-competency, which is the lynchpin of the LPM.

The Police Service has consistently encouraged officers to become ever more specialised, especially after any high-profile failure seized upon by the media, because it believed this would improve quality of service. Now it is doing an about-turn but I don’t think that the most essential component of this new delivery is ready for this rapid change – namely: the officers who will be on the street, delivering the service.

The Metropolitan Police Federation has been reviewing the plans for LPM ever since its conception and has consistently highlighted training as a major area of concern. The staff association knows that failures and mistakes often occur when officers are inexperienced or lack many of the requisite skills.

I accept that management is making many attempts to provide training but often this is non-scripted, ad-hoc and delivered locally by operational officers who are not proper trainers. Furthermore, it often has not been codified in any formal manuals.

At a time when the Police Service is supposed to be moving towards more evidence-based policing, this does not bode well.

I’m not saying that many officers are not giving useful advice to younger colleagues. What I am saying is that they are all doing it differently and its value is completely unknown and unaccountable. In my opinion we have people who have some of the skills to do the work, but they have not had all the appropriate tested training to confidently deal with what they are being required to do. This puts officers and proper public service at considerable risk of failure that is avoidable.

I recently listened to a large private company explain their plan to deal with austerity effects which are causing them enormous changes. They concluded that they needed to invest heavily in training and specialisms to ensure efficiency and customer service to survive. Ironically this is the opposite of the MPS plans.

We are, of course, a make-do service. Nonetheless, we should be doing better than this even with austerity. All future change programmes please take note as the old adage is true fail to plan and you plan to fail.

Dennis Weeks is the Deputy General Secretary of the Metropolitan Police Federation. You can follow him on Twitter @fedsec2.

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