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article imageOp-Ed: The folly of policing on the cheap

By Alexander Baron     Sep 5, 2011 in Politics
The police are wasting enormous sums of money by using uniformed officers for “backroom” jobs, we are now being told. As usual, the story is not that simple.
Let us assume for the moment that some police officers are on the take. Let us also assume that some efficiencies could be made, and that resources are not always used in the optimum manner. This is not much of an assumption; anyone who thinks otherwise should read up on Operation Napkin.
That being said, the current calls for “efficiencies” have absolutely nothing to do with policing – good or bad. It is not the police who have got us into this mess, it is the banksters. The government is seeking to shave hundreds of millions of pounds off the police budget to pay for money their chums in the City have squandered.
On the BBC’s Breakfast news programme this morning, one of the claims made was that one in twenty police officers is carrying out backroom jobs that could be performed by non-uniformed staff – who are paid at a lower rate. Doubtless this is true, and other economies could also be made, but these are false economies.
The person who came up with these claims and figures is Blair Gibbs of the Policy Exchange think tank, an organisation that describes itself as “an independent, non-partisan educational charity. We work with academics and policy makers from across the political spectrum. We are particularly interested in free market and localist solutions to public policy questions.”
No doubt these are laudable goals, but what Mr Gibbs and his gang appear to be forgetting is that policing is an emergency service, and that it is an unfortunate fact that emergency services often appear to be overstaffed, but cutting down on costs and especially manpower just as often turns out to be a false economy.
It may be for example that there have been no fires in a particular area for the past three years. Fine, let’s close the local fire station. Then next time there is a fire, before enough firefighters can be made available, a twenty million pound industrial estate has gone up in smoke.
Try that with a hospital, Mr Gibbs and his team come in and find there are fifty empty beds. Shocking they think, so at their whim the beds are removed to another hospital, or perhaps sold at auction, and the nursing staff cut down. The following week there is a major incident, and people are dying for want of treatment.
The fact is that when you are running emergency services, you have to pay people at times to sit around and do nothing. They are paid simply to be there. Common sense alone dictates that neither firefighters, nor doctors, nor police officers can be utilised every minute of every shift. Policing is not a production line job. How can a report like this have been produced in the wake of the riots? Police need to be there, sometimes they need to be in the backroom, and one in twenty is only five percent, that is not a major “loss” in anyone’s books. A serious investigation may utilise literally hundreds of officers, or even hundreds of detectives.
Ironically, Mr Gibbs wants to have his cake and eat it, because while he is attacking the police for wasting money he is attacking the CPS for not spending enough. Some 20,000 criminal cases were said to have been dropped by the CPS last year in spite of the prosecutions being tenable.
According to Mr Gibbs: “The CPS needs to explain this worrying rise. Too many cases are dropped because the likely sentence would not justify the prosecution costs but that does not make it OK. If the evidence is there, the case should proceed — unless there are exceptional circumstances.”
Fine. A man is accused of stealing a tin of peaches from the local supermarket; he protests his innocence and insists on his right to trial by jury. The CPS can spend £50,000 on a trial they may well lose, and which for a guilty verdict on a man of previous good character would probably result only in a nominal fine, or alternatively they can drop the case and use their scarce resources to prosecute “real” criminals.
Now who is wasting time and public money? More to the point, who paid Mr Gibbs to produce his facile report?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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