I recently had the opportunity / privilege to speak quite candidly with a very senior police officer about a number of the issues facing the policing community all over the country – not just us down on the ground floor, but also those in the upper echelons of the crime fighting world.
Much discussion took place regarding the cutbacks, and how detrimental they are to our ability to keep the public safe if we continue to work to the same system. I explained that in my view policing is not essentially an over-complicated role in its own right, but has been deliberately made so over a number of years in order to justify the existence of others – empire building if you like !
If you go right back to Peel’s Principles (and you can read my previous post about them by clicking here) then it’s obvious from day one that the purpose and role of the police has always been to keep the peace, preserve life and property, and prevent crime and disorder.
However, a whole multitude of other roles and tasks have, over the years, been craftily and sometimes very sneakily stuck on to us with odd bits of blu-tac and sticky tape, until we have got to the point where no matter what the problem is, and who is intentionally responsible for dealing with it – virtually every other part of the public sector is allowed to down pens (especially at 4pm on a Friday), go home without care or recourse, safe in the knowledge that whatever happens, the police will sort it out – we are after all, the service of last resort ….. and we are free at the point of use !
I then explained that if we had leadership strong enough, and brave enough, to join together and say “You know what, that’s your job not ours, you sort it …” we could easy relieve a great deal of pressure from our already over-stretched resources, and then by default, any direct cuts to our service would be far less impactive.
Of course, I was politely informed that ‘it isn’t that simple’ …. but in reality that’s exactly what it is !
More so, if we didn’t have to jump through multiple hoops as we do now just to obtain the slightest bit of information that would help our enquiries, things would be a lot simpler, quicker … dare I say it … cheaper. No I won’t, I hate that word – I meant more cost effective.
If only it were as simple as CSI where some Armani wearing catwalk model can wipe a cotton bud on a road surface (without gloves or a face mask to prevent cross-contamination I may add !!!) and in seconds have the offenders name, address, photograph, driving licence number and complete copies of the last twelve months shopping lists appear on a screen in front of you – if you seriously sat down and explained to a member of the public what is actually involved in submitting a sample for forensic analysis and the time and money involved, they’d think you were deranged and probably call the little men in white coats !!
We also talked about the current round of changes taking place in the police service nationally, and specifically about the extent and effects of massively reducing the amount of money being spent on policing. Simply, as a bobby on the beat trying to do the job of keeping the public safe, how are we going to do it without some fundamental changes into the things we do and the way they are done ?
It seemed, yet again, I was looking at things far too simply – probably too simply for my own good.
Apparently, as I was informed, there are Working Groups for this, and project groups for that; we currently even have management focus teams to oversee and report back on what the other think-tanks and workgroups are doing – it seems to me that we have more committees than crime-fighters at the moment !!
Alliances are the buzz word of the day. Every force had been told it has to ‘align’ with a neighbouring force to consider ways to save money further. This is not a bad thing of course – as any person working in a buying office will tell you – economies of scale have great benefits. They will also tell you that given the police service is essentially a national organisation, the phenomenal advantages of national purchasing quantities would reap outstanding, nay eyewatering savings – and then ask why we haven’t been doing it that way for years !!
The reason is fairly simple – because, over a number of years, individual police forces have built up a beer belly sized middle management structure, full of those mini-empires, none of whom particularly want to speak to each other for fear that if anyone notices they work better as a group, someone might be for the chop. In fairness it’s a similar picture across much of the public sector – and why the NHS has more pen-pushers than it does doctors and nurses !
Take for instance the subject of police cars. In the Chaos Constabulary and in most other forces round the country, officers on the ground have long since argued that of reasons of practicality if nothing else, estate cars are a far more useful tool than hatchbacks. Just imagine for a moment all of the equipment carried in the boot of your average police panda – not the big shiny Traffic or Response Cars or the Armed Response Vehicles, but your average chug around town diesel panda car.
There’s traffic cones and warning signs for the scenes of RTC’s, first aid and water safety/rescue kits, fire extinguishers, property seizure kits (bags of all shapes & sizes, tags and seals), shovels & brooms and much much more. Also crammed into that boot space is all the electronics for the police radios, the emergency warning equipment (lights and sirens), data recorder and goodness knows what else. Imagine trying to cram all that stuff into the boot of your Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra hatchback and see what happens !! And that’s before you consider the kit bags and paperwork that the one or two officers using that vehicle will be carrying !
The net cost increase per unit at replacement to upgrade from a hatchback to an estate is only a few hundred quid (I’m told unofficially it’s less than £600). If you assume a typical non-metropolitan force has 100 pandas, we are talking a total upgrade cost in the region of £60,000 – less than the cost of the Chief Constables’ shiny top of the range Jaguar or Range Rover !!
I mention estate panda’s as an example as this exact scenario has been the subject of an ‘ongoing working group’ in Chaos land for some three years or more now. If, by chance, you also want to talk about exchanging the old-school spinning bits of plastic on the tops of these pandas with modern, more effective, and more visible LED lightbars, that’s a different committee altogether !!! and the two don’t talk to each other !! – that’s done through one of those management focus team thingies !!
Now I don’t know how many panda’s each force genuinely has, but based on my simple figure of 100 – multiply that by the 43 police forces and suddenly someone would have a lot more bargaining power when they walk into their local garage (colloquially speaking) and ask for a price on 4,300 identical specc’ed vehicles.
I then commented that it seemed to me to be a case of ‘The Golgafrincham Theory’ which, to my great surprise, the senior officer smiled and told me ‘you’re probably right’. I don’t know if I was more taken aback they I had been agreed with, or that this person knew exactly what I was talking about.
For anyone (and I can’t believe there is anyone left out there) who isn’t familiar with ‘The Golgafrinchan Theory’, it goes like this:
The planet of Golgafrincham has (or rather had) a mysterious and ancient history, in which the most mysterious figures were The Great Circling Poets of Arium. The planet, over time, developed a problem – a problem with population and especially a problem with inhabitants that, whilst serving no real useful purpose, had managed to manoeuvre themselves into the central band of society and comfortably sit there, happily discussing and conferring, but not actually doing anything productive.
To eradicate this problem, the descendants of The Great Circling Poets of Arium made up several tales of impending doom about the planet. The tales varied; some said it was going to crash into the sun, or the moon, or conversely that the sun or the moon were going to crash into the planet. Others, of a more realistic nature, said the planet was to be invaded by twelve-foot piranha bees, and still other great thinkers decreed the whole planet was in danger of being eaten by an enormous mutant star goat.
These tales of impending doom allowed the Golgafrinchans to rid themselves of an entire useless third of their population. The story went that they would build three massive Ark ships, leave Golgafrincham before the impending doom actually doomed upon them and transfer the entire planetary population to another similar planet, where they could start all over again – a sort of massively excessive reset button.
Into the A ship would go all the leaders and scientists, notaries, important people and other achievers. Into the C ship were supposed to the people who made things and did things, and into the B ark would go everyone else, such as hairdressers, management consultants, marketing guru’s and telephone sanitizers.
They sent the B ship off first full of promises of how the others would follow behind, and of how important they, the pioneers of the B-Ark were to the future existence of the Golgafrichan race. The occupants of the B-Ark were, of course, so self indulgent; so believing of their own invented doctrine that they were the most important members of the Golgafrichan society that they could not be done without that they fell for this hook, line and sinker. Certainly they had utilised their best efforts to position themselves such that they could portray the image to all of those around that without them in place, society as the planet knew it, would collapse.
Having successfully sent the B-Ark ship off first, the other two-thirds of the population stayed on the planet and were perfectly able to continue living full, rich, fruitful and happy lives until one fateful day when they were all wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone handset showing that out of all those people on the B-Ark who thought they were essential in their own minds, only a few were actually needed !
My contact at this point, probably mistakenly, admitted that they were very aware of, and frustrated by, the vast number of people in the middle of policing organisations who, for their own reasons, fail to pass on, or deliberately block out, information from the ground floor which by rights, those at the top should be kept fully aware of, but because of alternative reasoning or peoples own agendas, stalls at a crucial stage.
It’s only when things go wrong and fingers start getting pointed (normally as far downhill as they can of course) that these issues come to light but by then of course, it’s too late, and that’s where the blame game comes in.
“I’m fully aware that people don’t always tell me what I need to know but rather what they want me to know or they think i want to hear … and I will stamp that out, it helps no-one” were close as dammit to the words used.
The point here being that if we continue to waste time, money and effort on a lot of middle men (and women) who in reality cost us a lot, don’t achieve much and cause problems, then they are no more than a continual burden of cost that has to be removed elsewhere along the chain. And because of the way the chain is fixed, it’s far easier to take links off the bottom that from where it’s screwed to the wall at the top !
If, by the way, you would like to learn a little more about the Golgafrinchan peoples, please watch the very rare video below, shot by a BBC film crew who just happened to be filming and inter-planetary documentary on the plight of their race, and we on board the B-Ark as it neared its final destination ….
Before you think I’ve gone completely barmy, the planet of Golgrafricham and it’s problems are featured in The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe; the second instalment of The Hikers Guide To The Galaxy five book trilogy by the late, great Douglas Adams. You can buy the books, kindle copies and DVD’s from Amazon by clicking here.