Some 22 years ago this week I was sworn in as a new constable. This has given me cause to reflect on what has been a period of momentous change for the police service.
When I became a constable in 1992 John Major was Prime Minister and Michael Howard was the Home Secretary.
As I made my first arrests, the Queen announced that 1992 was her “annus horribilis”.
In this age of social media, texts and tweets, my children are amazed that when I went to police training college at Ryton-on-Dunsmore, my only way of keeping in touch was a weekly letter in the mail and nightly queuing for the pay-phone. It was a time when unleaded fuel cost 43p a litre (but was still advertised in gallons). Inflation was 3.7 per cent and interest rates were 6.75 per cent.
No one could have predicted the implications of a barrier-free Europe with the introduction of the European Union in 1992. And in the long hot summer, there were riots in several British cities. Additionally, police authorities were undergoing significant change.
So, Constable Tyner joined the police at a time of austerity and political change... no change there then.
When I joined in 1992, the police didn’t deal with common assaults. A common assault is a minor assault, usually pushing or shoving or a minor slap, where there is no visible injury. We didn’t deal with them and we didn’t record a crime. That kept the crime figures down!
If we were called to an incident of domestic abuse where the lack of injuries was consistent with common assault, then we told the victim to see a solicitor to take out a private prosecution.
I compare that with the service we now offer to victims of domestic abuse. Every assault, however minor, is recorded as a crime and investigated. A risk assessment is carried out every time we attend an incident of domestic abuse and support mechanisms are put in place.
If there is evidence of a crime we will always arrest. Victims of domestic abuse are much better served today than they were in the ‘good old days’.
Some aspects of policing remain unchanged: mainly the drunken behaviour on a Friday and Saturday night. But there genuinely is much less violence and disorder than there was when I was a bobby on the beat. I think what’s different is that much more is reported by the media so there is an increased awareness of what’s going on.
Of course, when I joined no one had heard of social media. There is a negative side to the easy communication that exists today. Every day we receive complaints because someone has been called a rude name on Facebook.
A positive aspect of social media, though, is how we use Twitter to let people know what we are doing. I should stress that we don’t put all our activity on Twitter. For example the work of our detectives and of our emergency response teams doesn’t make it on to Twitter.
But we do tell you, in real time, where our Community Policing Teams have been patrolling and what they have been dealing with. I used to hear people say ‘I never see a police officer’. Well now you can ‘see’ us online and learn about what we are doing. Anyone with access to the internet can follow us on Twitter. Our Twitter names are @spalding tyner and @spaldingpolice.
Twitter may not suit everyone, but what is encouraging is that a younger part of our community that would not normally engage with us are talking to us online through Twitter. This can only be a good thing.
Of course, if you are not in to technology, you can still talk to us the old-fashioned way.
One huge difference between policing in 1992 and today is that nowadays people are much more willing to hold us to account. Every area of South Holland has a community policing panel that meets on a regular basis. These are local panels run by local people, not the police.
You can apply to the chair of the panel to become a member or you can simply attend as a member of the public. These panels set the policing priorities for their own area. Quite simply, they tell us what we should be dealing with in their village, town or their estate. This could be speeding vehicles, cyclists without lights, anti-social behavior outside a local shop or street-drinkers in Spalding town centre.
Objectives are set and the local police have to report back at the next meeting. I think it’s brilliant that we are held to account in this way.
We are also challenged, in a less formal way, through the online pages of the Lincolnshire Free Press and Spalding Guardian. Although it is national police policy that I can’t engage in conversation with anonymous commentators, I do read the comments and use them as a barometer of public feeling.
It is frustrating sometimes when comments are put on by people that are not in possession of the full facts. When we don’t get things right, sometimes there are operational or legal reasons why I can’t say more. That’s frustrating for all of us.
However, it is obvious that when people comment about current policing issues it’s because they care about their town and want it policed correctly. In that respect, we all want the same thing.
So while I might long for the younger, fitter, 1992 version of myself, and we might all long for a return to the police numbers of the 1990s, neither of these things are going to happen.
But what we have got in South Holland is the best ever team of better trained, professional, multi-skilled police officers, PCSOs and Special Constables serving you. So no, I don’t long for the good old days.