I am often asked where all my officers are. People wonder why they don’t see them on patrol.
Let me clear up a few myths: they’re not hiding in the police station, drinking tea. If officers are in the station, it’s because they have necessary paperwork to complete because of an arrest they’ve made or enquiries that need use of the phone or internet.
But I keep saying that crime is down, so what are they dealing with?
Well, recorded crime is down, but that doesn’t mean there’s no crime. Also, as I have said before, a lot of what we deal with isn’t crime. A lot of our activity doesn’t show on any performance chart but is still really important.
Here’s an example: one thing that we deal with on a disappointingly regular basis is searching for teenage children that go missing from residential care.
Last year in South Holland we dealt with over 230 missing person reports, which is about four or five a week. This may not sound a lot, but sometimes the enquiries are really protracted and can go on for days. Across the country, police deal with 327,000 reports of missing people a year, the equivalent of 900 per day. Two thirds of these involve children.
There are many children in care across South Holland. Some are in foster-care; others are in residential care where they have dedicated staff looking after troubled children. Any parent of teenagers will already be familiar with the challenges of looking after young people in their teens, but children in care have additional emotional turmoil or difficult histories. Children in care are three times more likely to go missing overnight than children living with their birth family.
One thing I will never accept is that because a child is “streetwise” or has gone missing before, they are at less risk. Sadly a child that thinks they are streetwise is far more likely to put themselves at risk of exposure to alcohol, drugs and sexual exploitation.
Many of our missing teenagers end up in Peterborough or other cities. Last week’s conviction of two men and three teenagers from Peterborough for the rape and sexual assault of vulnerable young girls is a stark reminder of the dangers to young people that are on our doorstep.
So, when a child goes missing, we put every necessary resource in to finding them. These children usually don’t want to be found, so we have to spend a considerable amount of time tracking them down and ensuring their safety.
This is just one example of hidden police work that means my officers may not be visibly on patrol but the work they are doing is vitally important.