Peter Walker is a former Deputy Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police. He now owns SuperSkills, a Construction Training Business in Thirsk.
When I first heard Labour’s policy announcement about police officers a week ago today, my ears pricked up for obvious reasons.
As the morning interviews wore on and Diane Abbott got into increasingly convoluted explanations of where the money was coming from to pay for the “10,00 police officers”, it became apparent the top line figure was dreamed up as a good catchy number, but there was no substance to underpin it.
By five in the afternoon, when Iain Dale was asking the Shadow Justice Secretary (one of an increasing number of people desperately trying to explain Abbott’s gaffe) about the numbers on LBC, he had worked out the money didn’t include training and equipment costs and the total amount allocated (even if it existed) would pay for only three years before running out.
It may have escaped Abbott’s attention that most police officers serve for a tad more than three years, but I remember when Labour tried this stunt back in 2001 and many Chief Constables didn’t bother recruiting the “additional” officers in the numbers the Government expected, because after three years the money would revert to coming from Force budgets.
I know people have said they get fed up with the “chaos and confusion” line, but I challenge anyone to come up with a better way to describe this complete shambles.
Abbott and the Labour Party have exposed not only their inability to create and articulate a policy announcement, they have exposed yet again a complete misunderstanding of policing and how the workforce has changed to meet the policing needs of the 21st century.
She cited the Police Federation as saying there is a need for more officers to work in communities tackling the rise in knife crime. However, the Federation also oppose changes to the use of stop and search, arguing this has caused the increase – but Abbott has been vociferous in her antipathy to stop and search for decades.
Similarly, she referred to the rise in recorded crimes of violence – forgetting she has campaigned for greater attention to be paid to domestic violence by the police and it is this which has provided much of the statistical increase.
Don’t get me wrong – on both issues she has campaigned about, Abbott has been right to do so. There is no doubt young black men are disproportionally targeted by blanket “stop and search” campaigns. Similarly, police response to domestic violence has been poor in the past. It is her policy response that we must judge her by as Shadow Home Secretary, and merely trumpeting the recruitment of new police officers is an ill-informed approach.
Over the last seven years, the Conservative-led coalition and subsequent majority Government have introduced sweeping reforms to policing: the National Crime Agency providing a comprehensive response nationwide to the most serious crimes, Police and Crime Commissioners driving changes at a local level, reduction of bureaucracy, more effective use of technology, enhanced use of police staff carrying out investigations.
The tactical environment has also fundamentally changed, with the increased risks of online fraud for everybody, and of online grooming, whether by paedophiles or extremists, to young people in particular. It is fair to say children are at far more risk of being victims on the internet than on the street and Chief Constables are more likely to need great technology experts meeting these challenges than merely deploying more uniformed police patrols in the local shopping precinct.
None of this is to say that uniformed police, whether warranted officers or police staff in a community support role are not a fundamental part of the framework for community engagement, crime prevention and detection. The day to day patience, diligence and bravery they demonstrate is part of our great nation’s fabric.
But there is more to policing than “dog whistle” policy announcements. Diane Abbott has demonstrated she can’t do maths. I suspect she hasn’t got a clue when it comes to dealing with wider law and order issues either.