Former Suffolk police officers call for Royal Commission following station closures and job cuts announcement

Felixstowe Police were first in the county to get walky talkies in March 1967

Felixstowe Police were first in the county to get walky talkies in March 1967

Two former senior Suffolk police officers have called for a Royal Commission to address the complexities and boundaries of modern-day policing.

John Saunders

John Saunders

Ex-Chief Superintendents Les Jolley and John Saunders gave their perspective on the challenges facing Suffolk Constabulary following last week’s cost-cutting announcements by the force.In order to make £5million of further savings towards a total of £20.5million by 2020 the constabulary is to shed 68 police community support officer posts, along with the full-time equivalent of 35 civilian posts. In addition it is to close 15 out of the county’s 18 police stations to the public.

Twenty-six police officers are also expected to leave by April 1 and will not be replaced.

This means there will be around 160 fewer officers (a decrease of 13%) than there were as at March 31, 2014. Mr Jolley and Mr Saunders said forces across the country have had to make drastic savings. This, in their words, has resulted in the reduction of trained/experienced officers and support staff, radically restructured service provision, and an inclination towards response policing.

Following last week’s announcements of cuts to the county’s police service John Saunders and Les Jolley, both retired chief superintendents from the Suffolk Constabulary, argue the case for a clear mandate for the future of policing and that the time has come for a Royal Commission

Les Jolley

Les Jolley - Credit: Archant

Here in their owns words, they tell us why:

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Frequently you will hear retired people bemoaning: “It wasn’t like that in my day.”

They overlook that their predecessors also identified the challenging times of past eras but often allied them to good times.

The control room at Ipswich police station in Civic Drive, Ipswich, in June 1968. The latest equipme

The control room at Ipswich police station in Civic Drive, Ipswich, in June 1968. The latest equipment included an ash tray and a typewriter

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In his description of Britain (1577), William Harrison wrote “Times change and we change with them”.

The recently-published changes that will be made to the policing of Suffolk raise issues for us all, not least the question of exactly what the future of policing is.

As a couple of retired police officers, it is not our intention to attack those who have the unenviable task of modernising policing or providing adequate resources in a climate of austerity.

We believe that policing is not a role that sits in isolation in today’s complex picture of public service, political direction and community requirement and that everyone should engage in the discussion.

Police stations will close to the public

Police stations will close to the public

There is a certain air of grandeur when one thinks of a Royal Commission, especially in regard to policing. Some picture it as a reminder that the Constabulary are servants of the Crown and they should therefore serve the public in a better way; others see the opportunity to enhance conditions of service.

We believe it demists the obfuscation that builds up over time – it re-sets the parameters and direction that the politicians, public and police have pulled apart for a variety of reasons.

Events leading up to the last Royal Commission in 1960 included concerns surrounding wide-scale corruption, the governance of forces, accountability, complaints and remuneration for officers.

Its interim report identified the need for increased pay; the final report focused on the size and structure of forces and greater involvement of central government.

The Report by Willink was introduced to Parliament in 1962 by the Home Secretary: “I look on the Royal Commission’s Report as opening a new chapter in the long and famous history of the police.

“My intention is to shape our whole police service to meet the needs of the future and in keeping with that idea and that purpose I suggest that we might repeal a good deal of out-of-date police legislation which hangs over from Victorian times.”

How well has that statement survived now that over 50 years have elapsed and how fit for purpose is the modern police service?

Has it sufficiently adapted to social change, technological advance, volume of crime, civil disorder, terrorism, political direction, internal accountability, austerity?

How optimistic can we be that the past ideals are sufficiently resilient when facing the future?

One can argue that the police service has much in common with other components of the public sector which over the years have battled for fair remuneration or have been pushed and pulled through the whims of politicians and business gurus who have extolled the cyclical virtues of ‘going large’ followed by, ‘no it isn’t, small is better managed’.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary down the years magnetically controlled the actions of Chief Police Officers – ‘do what they say’ was key to survival and a report endorsing efficiency.

Make better and more economic use of police officers was the mantra heralding the advent of non-warranted staff and the creation of specialist departments to take on the complexities of human, technical and financial resources.

Monitoring and measurement structures were brought in to assess performance and promote accountability. Targets, objectives, performance indicators, response times, activity analysis became new verbiage. Fundamentally, what gets measured gets done irrespective of the subsequent skewing of behaviour which often detrimentally impacts the quality of service being delivered.

Response times create constant strain on resources, many are unmet by the police or ambulance service.

The volume of matters reported exceeds the ability to deliver an acceptable level of service – crimes are ‘screened out’, patients left untended, the needs of the mentally ill largely ignored, our prisons struggle to control a drugs culture, the prospect of a prompt reply to a tax query or other public concern is rare.

Serious shortcomings are identified – road deaths occur without discovery, children in care suffer abuse – inquiries conclude ‘it must never happen again’ but it does.

Procedures for Home Affairs Committees, inspection and assessment consume time and apply pressures to officers, those in the teaching and nursing professions.

Complaints rise, disciplinary action is more prevalent, sickness and stress increase. Excuses are proffered.

Changes to regulatory control occur.

Police Authorities are ousted in favour of elected (15.1% national turnout in 2012) Police and Crime Commissioners who will ensure a more ‘business-like’ delivery of policing.

Their efforts are laudable in collaborating in procurement, sharing premises, amalgamation of separate systems.

These reflect an enforced yet positive and valuable reaction to the ongoing financial cuts.

They also portray the attributes of creativity, partnership and a willingness to embrace change.

Alongside this is the cost: millions of pounds across the country and significant staff employed to support their role, whilst at the same time announcing intended closure to the public of police stations and the slashing of jobs.

However, there is little evidence of the ‘backroom’ roles in the PCC’s offices being subject to collaboration or cuts and in some instances the benefit being brought by PCCs should be seriously questioned.

The appointment of a Chief Inspector of Constabulary with a non-police background has some advantages and can continue the scrutiny exercised by his predecessors but again there is no indication as to what degree his office has borne cuts.

Our lives are now driven by the quest for instant results as opposed to embedded success.

Politicians have a limited tenure in which to demonstrate that they are what the electorate voted for. Football managers are judged by whether the money shelled out by the rich has paid immediate dividends. Bankers, supermarkets, chief executives are on a tightrope to deliver or step down.

We live in the ‘instant and material’ world – the media expects to report events as they happen and to keep the subject live only until such time as a new story emerges. At home we are no longer satisfied with furnishings that last a lifetime – we crave different colours, textures and styles.

We expect more from less, we are unforgiving when it is not delivered, we readily tread the path of litigation. We enjoy the benefits of new technology.

We are more accepting of equality and diversity unless it means that as individuals we are under threat of losing what we have.

We can not understand why the police service seems biased against certain sections of the community, why their senior ranks are disproportionately ethnically represented (although we seem to accept this situation within the private sector or the Government).

So is the police service a special case and does it merit a Royal Commission?

Are the police different and do they need their future direction to be better signposted?

Unquestionably this must be the case.

We cannot go on with shrinking numbers pretending that policing can be accomplished as in days of yore.

Once again it is time to go back to defining what society needs and expects (different issues) and to clarify the modern relevance of prevention, reduction and detection.

We may anticipate the disappearance of routine foot patrols – is there scope for drones and extended CCTV to act as a replacement?

Is there preparedness amongst society to accept such intrusion to daily life?

Should we expect the police service to patrol our streets to keep them safe or should they merely react to incidents as the ambulance and fire service do?

Should we sacrifice the potential benefits of having officers on patrol who carry out a preventative and information/intelligence gathering role, particularly in a climate when the public seeks to be reassured by high visibility?

If we continue to have an expectation that police should patrol our streets, we need to evaluate the benefits and dangers of officers patrolling alone, to ensure they can go safely about their duties.

Can more be done by returning to the days of people having individual responsibility and galvanising community spirit?

The chemistry of an increasing population and an inadequate social structure to accommodate will increase our daily problems. It is wrong to expect the police to solve such issues as substance misuse and mental illness when the authorities having primary responsibility for those are also subject of budget reductions and struggling to meet the demands placed upon them.

In its efforts to meet the budget reductions, the police service has already discarded many officers and support staff having experience.

It will take time and training for the new breed to take their place as and when recruitment is again permitted.

Do we really need to recruit people who can be cloned as traditional officers or should we be seeking those who can crack cyber crime or paedophilia without being Jack or Jill of all trades?

Can the executive roles in policing be better undertaken by those with a background in industry – apart from having a senior operational head? Is it essential to have a ‘police-trained’ person?

What to do when civil disorder arises, terrorism becomes more manifest or in VIP protection – is it time for this to be transferred to our military?

What offences should merit police attention?

What should fall to the private sector and civil remedies? What should be decriminalised?

We need to again re-state the need for confidence in our police, to once again have a law-enforcement organisation that is the envy of other countries.

Within our own county we need to be clear what policing our Council Tax is paying for.

It is because policing comprises such a mixed bag that we need a constructive debate which embraces the views of true community representatives and does not rely on political sway. We can predict a different policing future but now is the time to examine what shape it is to be and to come clean so that police officers and staff know precisely what is expected within a defined remit and resource capability.

Only a Royal Commission can achieve this.

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