As an organisation, we must learn to say no

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ON THE BEAT: With Inspector Jim Tyner

It’s our own fault really. As a service we have always tried to do everything for everyone.

So communities (and other agencies) have an expectation of what the police will deal with. Most cops I speak to did not become police officers because they had a burning desire to be a super-hero mix of social worker, relationship counsellor, mental health practitioner and paramedic. Police officers, at heart, want to deal with criminals or rogue road-users.

And yet, in this time of reduced funding for all public agencies, we regularly find ourselves having to fill the gap in mental health and adult social care services.

My officers regularly take on the role of the ambulance service. For many vulnerable people, we are the ‘service of last resort’ at times of crisis.

While we are dealing with these types of incidents we are not able to be on patrol, targeting criminals in our communities. On nearly every shift, but especially in the evenings, when there is a peak demand, we run out of officers and have to prioritise incidents.

As an organisation, we must learn to say no.

The three new recruits we are getting are to replace officers that have moved on to other roles or retired. We are not likely to significantly boost our ranks any time soon. So we have to find another way of working. If there is too much work for the number of officers doing it, and I can’t increase the number of officers, we have to reduce the amount of work being done.

As an organisation, we must learn to say no.

Sometimes it seems that my officers spend so much of their time dealing with every Facebook falling-out, landlord-tenant dispute and neighbourly bout of mutual fence-rattling that genuine victims of crimes and anti-social behaviour too often get lost in the blur.

Added to this, we are regularly expected to fill the shortfall in other services. I am not criticising in any way the individual hardworking men and women of our partner services. I regularly encounter paramedics, fire fighters and council officers who are as passionate about public service as I am. What I’m writing about is the organisational culture of all agencies, including the police, which leads to a blurring of roles.

Here’s some examples:

* A man has collapsed in the street. He may be drunk or there may be a medical issue. There’s no ambulance available, so we’ll send an officer just in case.

* A report of excessive mud on a rural road. We’ll send a PCSO to assess it, to see if we need to inform Highways.

* A call from Children’s Services at 5pm on a Friday with concern for a vulnerable child. This is not a high-risk concern and social workers have known for hours about the incident, but they are going home now and passing the incident to us. So we’ll send an officer just in case.

*A lifeline activation at the home of an elderly resident at 2am. Every previous activation at the same address has been a false alarm or a medical issue. There is no ambulance available. So we’ll send an officer, just in case.

I wonder what would happen if I sent a report of a detained shoplifter to one of our partner agencies, saying: “We have no units to deal at present, can you please attend WH Smith, assess the incident, and let us know if we need to send an officer, and then wait there for our arrival.”

That organisation would, quite rightly, say no.

As an organisation, we must learn to say no.

Budget cuts are affecting everyone. But we allow the resourcing problems of our partner agencies to become our problems, because we lack the ability to say to other agencies: “No, that is not a police matter.”

We also lack the ability to weed out the calls from members of the public that we should not be attending. For example, we should be able to say to members of the public: “We are not here to sort out all your problems for you. I’m sure your neighbour is decidedly despicable but it is absolutely none of our business.”

Now, when I say this, I am very aware that the more vulnerable the victim, the more likely a crime will go unreported. This is true for domestic violence, sex offences, human trafficking and much more. It is a absolutely right that we put much of our effort in to helping the most vulnerable. But we cant do it all.

In saying we must learn to say no, I don’t say this because I want my officers to do less. Quite the opposite: I want them to do more. I want them to be more visible in their communities. I want them to be dealing with the issues you tell me cause the most concern, whether it’s street drinking, parking outside schools, speeding through villages or cyclists on the pavement. I want them to carry out more patrols to prevent burglaries and other crimes. I want them to do more to investigate those crimes that are reported to us. I want them to focus more on the care of people who have become victims of crime.

I want more, not less.

But we cant do it all.

As an organisation, we must learn to say no.