In one of my earlier posts entitled ‘People respond to Incentives’ I rehearsed this argument made in the books ‘Freakonnoics’ and ‘Superfreakonomics’ by Stephen D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner. If you haven’t read them – you should.
In the context of policing, these incentives often include being selected for a specialism, being promoted or just pleasing your boss. Home Office targets were decided upon by civil servants with no understanding of (a) what achieving those targets actually entailed, (b) what unintended consequences might result, and (c) what might be ignored in order to prioritise the activity that is designed to achieve the target.
Some of the fallout of this approach was the Public Administration Select Committee in November 2013 where the cynical manipulation of police crime statistics was laid bare. The toothless tiger that is HMIC was engaged and still failed to deliver any meaningful narrative as to the root cause of this endemic problem. I’m sure it could not have been due to the fact that most HMIC Inspectors of Constabulary are only there on attachment from their force in order to further boost their ACPO careers. Why should a turkey vote for Christmas??
Nevertheless, the frontline officers responded stoically by just continuing to do the job to the best of their ability and largely ignoring the mixed messages sent out by senior officers intent on self-aggrandisement at the cost of victims of crime. It is these practitioners that actually provide the checks and balances to such bare-faced ambition – but things might be about to change.
The Police have been the service of last resort from the beginning; think of the times when you have been doing something that is very obviously outside of your official remit but you just get on and do it because its the right thing to do and/or nobody else will do it if you don’t! Similarly, enlightened supervisors have understood that this is vital to maintain public support and confidence. Whilst most other services will quote Health & Safety regulations and their Terms of Reference – cops just get stuck in and think about the consequences later.
The loss of 17,000 officers – with further a reduction of 35,000 officers by 2020 planned – is already having a significant effect on operational policing – and things will only get worse. The PFEW are dysfunctional to the extent of being unable to present a cogent counter-argument and whilst there are individuals who clearly understand the situation, they appear to be unwilling to rock the boat. The Superintendents Association has been quiet given the scale of things and ACPO are not even worth mentioning. Whilst I’ve never been an advocate of strike action – I’m beginning to believe that they need to get a bit more inventive rather than just bend over and take it.
Whilst all cops I have ever met have been staunchly against industrial action – that view was formed in the context of a reasonable relationship with the Home Office, a willing and able range of staff associations and the support of the public. Of those only public support survives.
So what will happen when the Home Office finally accept that you cannot do more with less – you can only do less. My guess is that they will invite tenders from large organisations to take on those functions that ‘the Police’ can no longer manage due to the cuts imposed on them. The employees of these companies will probably operate on zero-hours contracts, have no official representation and little or no training. They will wear a quasi-police style uniform and the Home Office will probably insist that anyone wanting to become a Police Officer must first serve their apprenticeship here.
The incentives that drive operational police Officers are different to that of senior officers. As twee as it might sound – operational cops still believe in offering a professional service to callers and victims. They see the meteoric career aspirations of those bright young things above them as shallow and laughable at best and at worse the mark of those that have betrayed their colleagues and the public alike. Worse still is the incentive of those organisations that will take over many policing functions (many of whom have ex ACPO officers as their directors) as their only incentive is profit!
Lines of demarcation between Police Officers and the ‘others’ will be jealously guarded by these organisations, as they will be paid in relation to how many calls they deal with rather than the quality of service they provide. Their failure to identify embryonic Critical Incidents or join up the dots in relation to linked incidents/crimes will undoubtedly result in catastrophe and adverse media coverage, however, the Home Office will bail out their private partners safe in the knowledge that a directorship will be made available when they retire from politics.
Is privatisation unstoppable? I believe that to a very large extent it is. There is neither the leadership from ACPO nor the appetite from the PFEW to take on the Home Office. Time to think the unthinkable…………….?