Last week the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) published complaint statistics for 2009/10. And for senior officers – indeed for the public at large – they make uncomfortable reading.
For the second successive year the number of complaints increased by eight per cent, to record levels of almost 58,400, but within that headline figure there are trends that should give us all pause for thought.
Almost 50 per cent of all allegations related to rudeness, incivility and neglect of duty.
Cops nowadays: Almost 50 per cent of all allegations related to rudeness, incivility and neglect of duty
Even the interim Chair of the IPCC, Len Jackson, felt compelled to comment that ‘the number of rude and late complaints ... will require forces to develop an open dialogue with the public’. That is Whitehall code for: ‘This has got to change!’
No one who cares about the maintenance of law and order in this country could view these figures with anything but concern – they expose worrying issues that we ignore at our peril. It is not a trivial point of manners but a reflection of the extent to which policing has changed for the worse in this country over the past 25 years.
I witnessed these changes as they began in the late Eighties and as they accelerated over the Nineties and the past decade.
For 35 years, until I retired in 2001, I served in two forces and at the Home Office, at every rank from beat PC to Deputy Assistant Commissioner and HM Assistant Inspector of Constabulary.
I believe that we are now feeling the delayed impact of more than two decades of poor decision-making in policing.
Changing times: A policeman in the 50s helps a young child post a letter
Once upon a time the general public could confidently expect courtesy from their local constabulary. Particularly in the years following the Second World War, an easy accommodation emerged which had its roots in the continuing respect for authority figures that was the prevailing attitude of the time, and in recognition of the fact that civil society needed effective policing as crime rates soared.
This contract with the public lasted until the early Nineties when, under the dual pressure of economic and social change, a new generation of chief const¬ables and commissioners, who saw policing as a ‘business’ rather than a vocation based upon service, decided that things had to change.
The new policing, enthusiastically supported by successive Home Secretaries, was about targets, response times and ‘measurable perform¬ance’, lifted straight from the MBA syllabuses of the best univers¬ities.
Beat patrols on foot in uniform were not part of this brave new world; unless effectiveness could be measured and converted into a ‘bottom line’ cost it was of no use, and had to be scrapped. Police discretion was submerged under a tsunami of directions, guidelines and data-gathering.
Then 9/11 happened and it was decided that the police service was on the frontline in the ‘war on terror’. Almost overnight, we all changed from citizens to suspects. Terrorism legislation and spurious ‘officer safety’ policies led to the militarisation of policing and the greatest change in attitude that had taken place for a century.
Police officers, the majority quite young – the average age of an operational PC is under 24 – have been trained to believe that they are continually under physical threat and must therefore be continually on their guard. It is clear that a significant minority of officers see the public as their enemy and as a potential hazard to be dealt with aggressively.
There is no doubt that standards of behaviour and civility, across the whole of Britain, have changed for the worse over the past quarter century. Courtesy and good behaviour have been abandoned by many in our modern, ‘me’ society.
It is clear that a significant minority of officers see the public as their enemy and as a potential hazard to be dealt with aggressively
The police are products of that society; they attend the same schools, live in the same communities and have the same attitudes and prejudices as the best and the worst of us. But police officers should be held to a different standard of behaviour.
This change in attitude has to be set alongside the simultaneous withdrawal from day-to-day street patrolling that has taken place.
Once all young officers would spend their first few years getting to know local communities and local people by patrolling designated beats, tightly supervised with disciplinary sanctions by their sergeants and inspectors. That has been abandoned. Now new recruits, fresh from training which emphasises the primacy of their own safety over that of the public, learn from those senior to them, who also know no better.
A concerned officer recently gave me this extract from a force training programme – the tone is chilling. It says: ‘What the public consider rude is usually just no-nonsense commands and attitude. Unfortunately, when you try to reason with people, they take advantage. Therefore, when you need immediate compliance, you must use stern, unambiguous commands that require no interpretation on the part of the person being talked to. Through experience you must learn to command and dominate ALL interactions.’ The emphatic block capitals were in the original training notes.
So it is hardly surprising that of the 58,399 alleg¬ations of misconduct recorded by the IPCC last year, 11,576 were of rudeness and incivility. It is also deeply worrying and one would expect that the senior leadership of the police would be as concerned as you or I.
Bad rep: The police have never been held in lower esteem than they are today but David Gilbertson says the situation is not irretrievable
The official response from Deputy Chief Constable John Feavyour of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) , to his credit, acknowledges that a problem exists and encourages the public to complain if they consider that an officer’s conduct has been unsatisfactory so that ‘appropriate action’ can be taken. Sadly there is little evidence to show ‘appropriate action’, which should mean minor disciplinary sanction by middle managers, is ever effective.
I know from experience the default position for too many junior officers is to ‘close ranks’ and deny that anything improper has occurred.
The police have never been held in lower esteem than they are today but the situation is not irretrievable.
Firstly, there must be assertive leadership from those at the top. Most ACPO officers are educationally and socially quite different to their personnel yet they see it as their role to be cheerleaders for their officers rather than critical leaders.
Supervision and the main¬tenance of discipline, lost arts among today’s sergeants and inspectors, need to be relearned.
Lastly, and most importantly, there should be a programme of return-to-uniform foot patrols for all officers during the formative years of their careers to rekindle the skills of talking to people and appreciation of the value of mutual respect.
We are all better served if our police are approachable and courteous rather than granite-faced bullies.
Many officers, throughout the UK, want nothing more than to do the best they can for the public they serve, and are often embarrassed and disgusted by the behaviour of boorish colleagues.http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1361052/DAVID-GILBERTSON-Why-police-rude-Because-trained-be.html#ixzz1FAcFioFy