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Viewpoint: that was the Response Week that was

A week dedicated to recognise the work of response officers will not paper over the cracks says Chris Hobbs.

Viewpoint: that was the Response Week that was

Date - 3rd July 2023
By - Chris Hobbs
3 Comments 3 Comments}

It was the day of trooping the colour and, whilst walking along Birdcage Walk, I was somewhat surprised to be hailed from the other side of the metal barriers.

I looked to where the, ‘Hi Chris,’ had come from and saw a grinning PC who I shall refer to as ‘Tony.’ What followed was an eye-opening account of the life of a response officer on the streets of London. Tony had been in the Met for more than twenty years and polices a challenging part of London. He is clearly one of those PCs that every front-line sergeant and inspector would regard as ‘gold dust’ given the level of his experience.

He went on to describe the current situation endured by Response on his borough. It mirrored the stories that I heard from across the Met but was all the more depressing coming, face to face, from an experienced practitioner.

Whilst the Commissioner’s intention to remove the burden of most mental health incidents from the shoulders of police was welcomed, there was some doubt as to whether that could be achieved. Tony recalled one occasion when their response capability was ‘wiped out,’ as they had 14 officers ‘tied up,’ at hospital ‘minding,’ section 136’s.

Minimum strengths were clearly a concept that had faded into oblivion and Tony’s views merely mirrored those from across the Met and across the country. I replied by saying that I couldn’t understand how senior officers on boroughs/Basic Command Units could countenance a situation where their officers could be out on the streets with dangerously low levels of cover and ‘back-up.’

It was a shock to hear Tony state that he simply couldn’t name any officer in his senior leadership team and hadn’t been able to for some time. He never saw them although he did concede that a superintendent did visit the other day when he was enjoying a period of leave.

The CPS, ‘carrying investigations,’ and vehicles

Predicably Tony was less than happy about the CPS and the fact that absurdly, Met Response officers are also expected to ‘carry’ crime investigations. Given their workload in responding to 999 calls and dealing with the aftermath of those calls, which can include bureaucratic paperwork, this imposition is clearly unfair, both on the officers and those crime victims.

Tony also pointed out that, in recent times, they have not had enough vehicles as the maintenance contractor was about to be ‘de-contracted,’ therefore there was a less than speedy return of those vehicles. Problems too with re-fuelling. One ‘card’ between many, debts to BP or a lengthy trip to a police garage to re-fuel.

Every so often, our discussion was interrupted by members of the public asking for advice and directions to which Tony responded with polite, good humour which was clearly appreciated.

Tony is a priceless Met asset and will be one of a number of such ‘assets’ unappreciated by their own senior management. Whilst those at the top of Met promise to improve their lot, the waters are muddied by constant references to the ‘hundreds’ of officers the Commissioner wants to rid the force of.

Response week; a morale booster?  

The concept of a Response Policing Week was unquestionably designed to boost the morale of PBR (Poor Bloody Response Aka Poor Bloodied Response) officers. In fact, the week has only served to prompt expressions of both frustration and anger from those ‘at the sharp end.’

One of the best known and influential twitter accounts is that of ‘Brick Cop,’ who performs miracles with Lego turning them into figures and scenes linked to policing. His references to the challenges faced by response officers reflect the sorry plight of those on the front line.

In fairness, most forces have, during the week, utilised social media to illustrate the work carried out by their response officers yet, given the hostile attitude of most media outlets, these unsurprisingly achieved little traction from the national press and news channels.

Even had national media coverage been achieved, that would have done little to appease many disgruntled response officers and indeed will have done little to halt the haemorrhage from the police service of relatively experienced front-line officers. There is already concern that ‘newbie’ officers are having to be partnered with those whose own experience is limited.

Surveys and crime figures

There are still those who will claim that crime is reducing and quote figures provided by the England and Wales Crime Survey.

However, such surveys and police crime figures do not paint the full picture. The ‘walk in, help yourself, walk out theft from shops which is becoming ever more frequent, won’t appear in most crime surveys. However, the last Retail Crime Survey which includes periods of lockdown, makes depressing reading and perhaps best illustrates the view that that there is a Tsunami of lawlessness that just might, one day, totally overwhelm the depleted and struggling forces of law and order. It is worth remembering at this point that France has around 100,000 more police officers than we have in the UK.

In addition to unrecorded retail crime, the issue of unrecorded knife crime linked to youth gangs is one that police ‘comms’ and anti-police activists choose to ignore. Details can be found on gang news-bulletins and gang/youth You Tube ‘documentaries.’ 

Many of the incidents referred to in relation to the scoreboards will never be reported to police and won’t appear in the crime figures.

Those responsible for violent crime that doesn’t actually result in death, have every chance of getting away with it. Figures quoted suggest anywhere between 65% and 80% of London stabbings remain unsolved. Whilst the ‘solved’ figures for murders appear to have reduced with cuts from a nine-out-of-ten success rate, they still remain at just below eight out of ten despite the above-mentioned cuts to the homicide teams.

Logic suggests that allocating the same level of resources to a non-fatal stabbing or shooting as to a murder would result in a similar success rate but, quite simply, resources are not there.

One of the complaints common to most response teams is that they are constantly being weakened by demands elsewhere within their force. Over recent months, various groups, politicians and organisations have stated that police need to do more in respect of; domestic violence, sexual offences including rape, burglary, grooming gangs, stalking, harassment, human trafficking, retail crime, missing persons, county lining, moped crime, hate crime, fraud, e-scooters, rural crime, knife crime, anti-social behaviour and catalytic converter theft.

These demands will frequently become an issue for the response teams either directly or indirectly; the latter because officers will be deployed to units set up to deal specifically with those problems thus leaving those response teams dangerously short of officers.

In addition to Response Policing Week, the Met have, in fairness, acknowledged the efforts of their PBR and other front-line officers by presenting them with a coin. The reaction has been mixed, with some officers pointing out the huge stresses and strains being placed upon them because their teams simply do not have enough officers. However, the statement by the Commissioner in respect of low police pay and his officers having to attend foodbanks has been welcomed.

When I was a new PC, Ealing Borough was divided into two divisions; Ealing and Southall. Between the two divisions, at least 21 police vehicles would be patrolling Ealing and responding to calls during each eight- hour shift. At the end of each shift there might, and I stress might, be several calls to hand over.

These days the incoming shift or team, could be handed over somewhere between 60 and 80 outstanding calls. The number of vehicles covering the whole borough would be a fraction of the numbers all those years ago, yet the demands would be far greater.

The thin blue line patch confusion  

As Response Policing Week began to draw to a close, an old controversy was resurrected concerning the banning of the thin blue line Union Jack patch which is sported by many Response and other front-line uniform officers. Initially, there was speculation that a permanent ban would be applied and there was no clarification from the Met. Press Bureau later produced some vague ‘lines’ when asked which referred to officers having to adhere to the Met’s uniform dress code policy.

As the issue rumbled on, it became clear that the ban referred specifically to Saturday’s Pride event and made reference to the fact that ‘thin blue line,’ patches had become associated with ‘far right’ and ‘anti-trans,’ organisations in the US. The order emanated from ‘Silver;’ an unnamed senior officer who would have significant responsibility for the policing operation on the day. This instruction would have been approved by or, indeed, instigated by ‘Gold,’ who would be in overall operational command.

Despite what was becoming a twitter storm across the Saturday, there was still no comment or statement from Met Comms clarifying the situation. By Sunday, the Mail on Sunday, generally regarded as a ‘police hating,’ publication, had the story and splashed it across their front page. Herewith another PR disaster for the Met despite the outstanding policing, which I witnessed during the Pride event. 

Perhaps the most telling comment of all came from Chief Constable of Essex who clearly articulated why officers wear the TBL patch.

Much more needs to be said and done.

There is so much more I could include in this piece (days off cancelled, canteen culture, supervision, recruitment, retention, lack of information when on cordons, mental health, uniform, aid issues, poor Met ‘comms’)

The subject of response policing surely, in the absence of a Royal Commission, needs an in-depth examination. Whilst I would take issue with certain aspects of the recent HMISFRS report, they, surely, under the stewardship of the respected former Merseyside Chief Constable Andy Cooke, would be best equipped to carry out such a review.

In the meantime, the abuse of the goodwill and dedication of those Poor Bloody Response officers continues. The Federation contemplates a poll in respect of industrial rights; the media continues to trawl the UK for ‘bad news’ police stories whilst ignoring acts of bravery, kindness and life-saving interventions that occur across the UK on a daily basis; senior officers continue to allow their officers out on the streets in such dangerously low numbers which should attract the attention of those organisations responsible for health and safety.

What a sorry state of affairs. 

Chris Hobbs is a former Met Special Branch officer 

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paul webb - Mon, 03 July 2023

Yet again a brilliant article that will not appear anywhere in the MSM.
His points are clearly made and sadly will not be acknowledged by the current crop of brain dead diversity at all cost senior officers. The banning of the union flag with the thin blue line badge sums up the attitude of a lot of the cretins at the top.
The system is broken and is holding on by the skin of its teeth.
A royal commission on the entire justice system is way over due. No major political party would dare to let one exist as it would show how the country has descended into a lawyer controlled cess pit that the two major parties have been responsible for in the past 40 years.