I have been reading about of some new schemes a initiatives to be introduced by PCC’s to increase police visibility. At first glance they seem like a sensible approach. If it looks like there are more police on the streets, the public will feel safer and it may act as a deterrent to ne’er-do-wells. However, when you scratch the surface and look at what these ideas really mean and why they are being considered, it becomes apparent that our police resources are stretched to breaking point and every effort is being made to divert the public gaze away from this.
I have encountered two examples of these crazy innovations in the last week. The PCC for Staffordshire wants to put police livery on unmarked cars to give greater police visibility, and give the impression that there are more police vehicles in circulation, and therefore more police officers available to the public.
This is a ridiculous idea for all sorts of reasons. Firstly, the fleet garage can supply ‘police’ stickers and flashy lights, but the last time I checked they do not have a secret store of officers to place in every car. Police officer numbers are falling and increasing the number of marked cars is not going to change that.
Secondly, unmarked cars are usually that way for a very good reason. It is very difficult to work covertly or stealthily, when you are driving round in a shiny blue/yellow/ white/ silver/orange/red car with POLICE emblazoned on every panel. You might as well send every criminal a text message 10 minutes before you arrive, giving them the heads-up.
A fair proportion of unmarked cars are used by PCSO’s or other police staff without any police powers or training. If the situation arose, and it frequently does, that a member of the public flags down a marked car expecting help from a police officer, they may be surprised and dismayed to find the driver cannot help them. This will not improve confidence in the police! This idea also has no regard for safety of the PCSO or staff member might find themselves faced with a dangerous or difficult situation they are not trained, nor should be expected to deal with.
The second proposed scheme is to reinstate police boxes to towns and villages – yes, like the tardis! I almost laughed out loud when I read that, until I realised it was a serious suggestion.
The PCC for Northamptonshire has put this idea forward suggesting this it will provide a focal point for communities and information exchange. Police boxes were historically used for Bobbies on the beat to report back to the station in the days before personal radios. I would suggest this idea is a step backwards by about 50 years. Why not take our radios away and give us all capes and whistles, while you’re at it?
These boxes may provide a ‘focal point’ but there won’t be an officer tucked inside 24 hours a day, so it’s not really a solution. As far as information exchange is concerned, perhaps the PCC for Northants isn’t aware, but we do have the Internet. I’ve heard it’s quite good.
Perhaps these police boxes will be like the Tardis. Beyond the small exterior will be a hidden world where police officers are queuing up at the door, ready to burst out into action at the first sign of trouble. Complete fantasy? Yes it is.
These ideas are deceitful and misleading, giving the public the impression that there are more police than there actually are. It is another case of papering over the increasing number of cracks appearing in police resilience. This optical illusion undermines the credibility of the police service, puts officers and staff at greater risk, and misleads the public. If this was being considered in isolation I might humour the idea, but when taken in context with other cheap shortcuts, it is a worrying prospect. I am referring here to outsourcing to private companies, increased use of specials and volunteers, and single crewing, to name a few.
I’m not criticising the PCC’s. I think they have taken on an impossible task and are trying to conjure something from nothing. Many of them also lack any experience or knowledge of operational policing. The problem lies in the deep cuts to funding and the blind reforms being rushed in without much forethought. I just wish those at the top would be honest about what is going on. It is good to maintain public confidence in the police, and I wouldn’t want to undermine that, but these gimmicks and cut-price measures aren’t fooling anyone.
Over the next few months you may see the following schemes introduced to your local policing strategy:
- Set up a ballot system for members of the public to enter for the chance to have their cars marked up as police cars for a month
- Use an elaborate set of mirrors in public order situations to increase police visibility by 30%.
- Every officer adopts an imaginary crew mate.
- Inflatable officers to be deployed in areas suffering from anti social behaviour.
- Virtual police officer projection app for iPhone and Android. Need a police officer? Simply project one onto the nearest flat surface.
- Dress lollipop ladies, milkman, postman and traffic wardens in police uniform.
- Going on holiday and need police to keep watch on your house? Series link Road Wars on your Sky box and leave it playing on repeat.
- Place cardboard cut-outs of police officers in shop windows – Oh, hang on. That’s already been done!
Courtesy of PC Bobby McPeel