Officer warns of low police morale

LOW morale, not enough officers and a failing justice system are among the sentiments of rank and file police in Suffolk, a serving officer said today.

LOW morale, not enough officers and a failing justice system are among the sentiments of rank and file police in Suffolk, a serving officer said today.

The experienced officer did not want to be named, but spoke out amid a backdrop of crushing financial pressure from the government for the constabulary to slash millions of pounds from its budget. Crime correspondent COLIN ADWENT reports.

A police officer's view from the street:-

“I still love the job as much as I did when I first joined, but things have changed and not necessarily for the better

We see many times in the course of our careers all that is wrong with society and how inhuman people can be. Often a smile or joke can be a release valve.

It seems more and more that we are not allowed an opinion or a sense of humour.

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One thing that I have noticed more than anything is morale. I have never seen it so low. I talk to officers with five to six years service counting down the time they have left and that should not be.

My opinion for it being so low is down to a number of things; staff shortages, excessive workloads, a feeling of being let down by a seemingly uncaring senior hierarchy, the inability of the service in general to stand up for itself, and being let down by the judicial system.

I can say hand on heart that the vast majority of officers I have worked with over many years have been professional, caring, keen, and take great delight in locking up the bad guys.

On staff shortages, if you read the headlines from certain quarters they say we have no staff shortage problems.

If the general public really knew that almost on a weekly basis and in some case daily, major towns have no officers to deploy to incidents as they are tied up on jobs or stuck in the custody areas.

It is not uncommon for officers to be drafted in from other areas leaving them short of cover, with specialist departments being used to backfill.

Ipswich custody is regularly filled so that detained persons are taken to either Lowestoft of Bury St Edmunds. If this is the case then two officers are sent for escort and booking in.

Then the amount of time the booking in process takes, and then if that person is deemed as at risk he/she is put under constant supervision with a police officer.

That means yet another officer down. You don't have to be brilliant at maths to see what the consequences are especially when I have known up to three constants on the go at the same time.

Officers who take crime reports are then allocated them to investigate. Obviously the more serious and involved are taken up by CID. As you can imagine an officer is not just given a couple to sort out but the list can be quite extensive.

The problem is that the list will continue to grow as more and more are allocated to that officer. With all the best will and dedication in the world some are not going to be investigated perhaps as fully as they could be.

This is not because the officer does not care. With time restraints and supervisory pressure, workloads must be trimmed. And I think you can guess the consequences.

The fact that a lot of offenders do not go to court is not down to the individual investigating officer or the service. It is down to the government department charged with prosecuting of suspects at court.

They too have pressure to increase their conviction rates, so if they are not satisfied that there is a more than good possibility of a conviction they drop it straight away.

This is despite all the paperwork submitted, numerous interviews, and sometimes compelling evidence in the officers' eyes - and, most important of all, the expectations of the victim.

It does seem to be that before long they will only take on the guilty pleas.

Do I feel that we at times let the victim down? Yes. But we are not entirely to blame, the system is.

I believe the system is squarely on the side of the offender rather than the victim.

The younger and persistent offenders I come into contact with have no fear of the system or its punishments.

They look on young offenders' institutions as a holiday camp where they get free food, free games, free gym membership and are even allowed to keep together with their friends. They do what ever they like, when they like.

As police officers we are paid a good wage, and I for one have enjoyed every minute of it. I love my job and the satisfaction of getting a good result for the people who we serve.

I feel the senior hierarchy needs to back us more and listen, not just preach.

Yes, like all organisations or firms money is tight and cuts and financial savings have to be made, but not at the expense of the officers on the beat who are the backbone of the service and the ones getting the flak day after day on the streets.

We are the ones that have to face the job and all it entails face on and not from the comfort of a desk.”

The view of Suffolk Police's assistant chief constable Gary Kitching:-

This officer has raised some interesting and critical points.

I would like to reassure officers that we do understand some of their frustrations. Many of the concerns the officer raises about policing are also concerns that I share and we are taking dramatic steps to address these issues.

Over the last year we have been working on a series of changes, which we believe will lead to less bureaucracy, improved response policing and a greater ability to investigate crimes.

The changes, which are just starting to be introduced, reflect what officers have asked for - a greater emphasis on common sense policing, professional judgement and discretion, and most of all less paperwork.

We believe this will make our officers feel better able to do their job to the best of their ability, will provide our residents with an even more efficient and effective policing service, and will offer an even greater visible policing presence in local communities.

The first of many changes to be introduced is a new Crime Investigation Bureau, which was launched in Suffolk on September 7.

This is a team of officers who carry out an initial investigation into crimes that have previously occurred.

Prior to the introduction of the bureau, officers would travel back to a police station and input the details of a crime on a computer.

The CIB will give them more time to patrol local communities and respond to crimes taking place there and then rather than spending some of their shift sitting at a desk.

Coupled with this is the introduction of shortened crime reports, which are being rolled out in the autumn. Officers will be given discretion as to when to input a shorter report for less serious offences.

The shortened crime reports will reduce the amount of bureaucracy officers are faced with each day - freeing up their time considerably.

Officers are also about to start using 'restorative practices' - another initiative to reduce bureaucracy and deal swiftly with minor crime.

Where an offence has taken place officers will be able to use their professional judgement based on their discretion, policing experience and skills to resolve the incident.

For example, while taking the victim's wishes into account, an officer may decide to give an offender words of advice, or ask them to give an apology to the victim or to pay compensation, rather than go through the court process.

The re-introduction of professional judgement and discretion will give officers a new freedom to act and resolve situations, in accordance with the wishes of victims, where they currently may feel disempowered.

These are just a few of the changes which will help Suffolk Constabulary to provide a policing service fit for the 21st century.

We are revolutionising the way we work to improve the service we provide. New practices will also allow us to manage an increasingly challenging financial landscape, which is proving difficult to predict.

Expectations and demands have never been greater at a time when we are likely to have fewer resources and we accept that change and uncertainty will impact on staff morale.

Suffolk is a very safe county and I know our officers and staff are determined to ensure it not only stays that way, but becomes even safer.

All of us are passionate about the service we provide and Suffolk people can continue to have trust and confidence in their local police force.

Paula Abrahams, Chief Crown Prosecutor's response:-

All cases referred to the Crown Prosecution Service from the police have to meet two tests which are set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors before we can authorise the charging of a defendant.

The first and most important test that we have to apply relates to the evidence in the case. Every case is considered on its own merits and must pass the evidential test before a prosecution can be authorised.

If there is not sufficient evidence to raise a realistic prospect of a conviction then, no matter how serious the case is, it cannot go ahead. We can only rely on the evidence presented to us by the police.

If the evidential test is passed we will then go on to consider whether or not it is in the public interest to prosecute a case. In doing so, we take into account a number of different factors, but generally speaking the more serious the offence the more likely it will be in the public interest to mount a prosecution.

If there is not sufficient evidence to prosecute a case, or we do not consider that the public interest merits a prosecution, then we will always explain our decision making in writing to the police.

It is also worth noting that there are a substantial number of cases that do not require CPS authority before charging a defendant.

I would stress we work very closely with the police in Suffolk and there are clear mechanisms in place for police officers to challenge CPS if they think that we have not made the right decision.

In the last six years we have only received a handful of such challenges. The percentage of cases going to court has substantially increased over the past seven years.