There has been a significant change in police culture in the last decade, as a result of which a belief that crime can be reduced, has not only taken seed, but blossomed. In the early 1990's Chief Constables were defending performance with arguments that rising crime was a result of society's ills, the break down of the traditional family unit, and unemployment.
Initiatives such as 'Zero Tolerance' which was championed by the then home secretary Jack Straw, gave rank and file officers a self-belief that they had lacked for several years, however, there is a clear need for balance, and many managers opt for a style of 'positive policing' which is more in line with the ethos of policing by consent. The benefits of zero tolerance policing, as seen by the government, are challenged by some powerful arguments, and with the adoption of the Human Rights Act, those arguments become stronger. (Pollard 1997), (Jordan 1998).
Tony Butler argues that perhaps the Home Secretary should take the advice given by the Audit Commission to Police Authorities (Audit Commission 1994), when on the issue of accountability and clarifying roles, they urged Police Authorities to limit themselves to what they wanted the force to achieve, leaving it to the Chief Constable to decide how the force would achieve the objectives. (Butler 2000) Butler goes on to state:- "the people who are expected to deliver results are more likely to know how to achieve them than some person relatively distanced from the source of the problem" (p319)
It is clear that Butler, and several other chief constables are at odds with the current Home Secretary, on his plans for police reform. Comedy of Errors Successive governments have damaged police morale with short sighted reforms, from which the force is unlikely to fully recover. Following the Sheehy report, the majority of who's recommendations were ditched, the starting salary of new recruits was slashed by i?? 5000 and housing allowances scrapped. This was at a time when the employment market was on the up and competition was increasing.
The result was a recruitment crisis across the country, which was hardest felt and close to collapse in the Metropolitan areas, where suitable candidates could not afford to buy or rent property on police wages, and many officers were leaving for the same reasons. Short-term political fixes are damaging to the service and lead to confusion. Following the removal of several tiers of the rank structure, after Sheehy, this has now been reversed to some extent by the re-introduction of the rank of Deputy Chief Constable.
It was felt that the selection of Assistant Chief Constable (designate), by the Chief Constable, to manage the force in his or her absence, was incompatible with the open and competitive procedure for appointments made by the Police Authority, and could be an unintended obstacle to the career development of Assistant Chief Constables. (Police and Criminal Justice Act 2001). What's Next Two newspaper articles give an interesting insight into this government's plans for the police service. Tony Blair proposes a change to the traditional entry to the police service.
By allowing entry above the rank of constable from other professions (does he mean to introduce an officer class, staffed by ex military? ), he plans to shore up police numbers, and change police culture by fast-track promotion for outsiders to make the service more receptive to new ideas and management techniques. (Wintour and Hopkins 2001) Following the sacking of Paul Whitehouse, the Chief Constable of Sussex, Blunkett criticised police management, describing it [police management] as 'alarmingly weak'.
Rigorous performance indicators were the way to improve it, and eradicate the 'Spanish practices' with which policing is rife. (Rose 2001). This is not the tone of somebody who wants to engage in an open dialogue with officers to create an environment of co-operation to bring about change, as he stated in his speech to the Police Superintendents Association. (Home Secretary 2001):- "There is still more to be debated and negotiated. I have always approached police reform in a spirit of dialogue, not dictat.
I want to continue to work in partnership with the police service and police authorities so that we develop the reform programme together – as indeed we have so far. " (p3) The Home Secretary will continue with his program of reform, denouncing those who oppose him as having 'zero imagination' (Butler 2000), or worse, 'a miserable bunch of sneering cynics', as he allegedly called teachers when he was education and Employment Secretary. (White 1998). The police service has demonstrated over the last decade its willingness to change and modernise.
However, there is a limit to how long managers and rank and file officers will jump to the tune of politicians seeking to erode the independence which is cornerstone of British policing. The key to improvement is to ensure in the first instance that the police service operates in an environment which attracts the best candidates, with pay and conditions which will ensure that experienced staff remain, so that the community can benefit from the skills acquired. There is a danger that increased political interference could lead to a crisis faced by the Health and Education services, having to recruit from third world countries.
Worse still, it could lead to the loss of the public confidence which the police still enjoy. I will leave the final word to David Rose :- "Before he takes the gloves off, the Home Secretary ought to study the example of a tightly managed police force which hit its many targets for years. The Los Angeles Police Department was super-efficient but hated. With the bloody and destructive riots which swept the city after the televised beating of motorist Rodney King, it reaped the whirlwind it had sowed.
Benyon, J. (1994), Scarman and After, London, Pergamon Press Butler, A. J. P. , (1992), Police Management, Dartmouth, Aldershot Butler A. P. J. (2000) 'Managing the Future: A Chief Constables View', in Leishman, F. Loveday, B. Savage, S. (eds), Core Issues In Policing, London, Pearson Cleveland Police Authority(2001), Policing Plan 2001-2002, Cleveland Police Authority Freeman, M. (1981), 'Controlling Police Discretion', Poly Law Review, 6:2 Spring