The changes in Policing


Some years ago there was quite a debate about whether we were a police service or a police force. In the past it was a lot clearer we were there to enforce the law so we were a force. Now the mission of policing has changed so much it is not so clear. In addition to what most would see as our core role of dealing with crime police have always had a duty to protect the public from harm and be there to assist people in immediate need of help. Now, however this role of protecting the vulnerable dominates our work so that investigating crime has become a subsidiary activity. So while recorded crime has halved in Greater Manchester over the past ten years the overall demand on policing has not reduced because this other aspect of our work has filled the gap.

It feels to us that the number of vulnerable people we have dealings with is increasing, as is the complexity. I have written before about the impact of mental health cases on policing but we are also very much concerned about vulnerable young people and at the other end of the spectrum the number of elderly people there are concerns over. We have a growing awareness of the problem of people trafficking and vulnerable people trapped in abusive relationships. Each one of these cases involves a real human being in distress invariably with complex needs. In trying to protect a vulnerable person we obviously have to accept their rights and wishes and they understandably may not wish to take the sort of drastic action which may ensure their safety in a high risk situation. So policing more and more has become one of the caring professions tackling a wide range of social problems.

This change in the nature of our work creates many operational challenges and makes risk identification and management one of our key activities. The situation is made more difficult by the funding pressures not only on GMP but on all the agencies we work with. The growing number of elderly people needing care is probably the biggest challenge facing public services as the potential cost will eclipse other priorities. All this is happening at a time when the public’s expectations are growing and where there is less public tolerance of agencies failing to protect. When a tragedy occurs there is an understandable cry for someone to be held accountable and certainly no suggestion that with lower public spending risks that tragedy may increase. If anything agencies such as the police are expected to provide a higher standard of care.

I would argue that this is the context in which the debate about public protest needs to be seen. The particular protest we are dealing with now is that involving drilling on the Barton Moss site in Salford. The drilling is fiercely opposed by some who see it as a precursor to fracking on the site. They feel very strongly about the issue as many do and a group of protestors are camped out on the site and are joined every day by others. There are approximately 800 lorry movements to get on the site to enable the drilling activity to take place and the main aim of the protestors is to try and prevent these deliveries from happening.

The role of the police in this situation is to facilitate lawful protest, to allow others to carry out lawful activities such as delivering to the site and to prevent a breach of the peace. We do not take sides. Police should never make a judgement about the worth of any protest, it is our job to achieve this balance between the right of the protesters and the rights of others who want to go about their lawful business.

This policing of this protest has cost more than £800,000 so far. Some people probably believe that this is funded directly by the Government but it is not it comes from our normal budget. This is where my dilemma as the head of a caring agency comes in. This is money which could have been spent on more operations to protect vulnerable people or reduce crime. We have a considerable number of crime investigations which we struggle to staff and calls we cannot get to as quickly as we would like and the money spent on policing protest has to be seen in that light.

Now others would argue that this it is not right to make this link. Protest is a fundamental human right and crucial to the health of a democracy. Therefore the police should always treat it as a high priority work that enables protest to take place. GMP have given a very high priority to the Barton Moss protest but it does mean that other areas of policing have suffered. British policing does not have a standing squad of officers to deal with these events. We are not like the French who would just call the CRS (their riot squad) out of their barracks to police an event such as this. GMP has the Tactical Aid Unit which is there to provide additional help to local officers with unusual incidents but they still have lots of other things they could be doing. The majority of the officers we have used on the protest have been local neighbourhood officers who have been called off their beats. As a police leader who has to cover all the various demands on policing yes I wish there was a way for a protest like this to be carried out and a crucial area of public policy to be debated without the need for police officers to be there at all.

The protesters at Barton Moss are clear that theirs is a peaceful protest. They will peacefully obstruct the passage of lorries on to the site for example and this will bring them into conflict with the police officers trying to allow the lorries to pass along the road at very slow speed. I expect GMP officers to show restraint and use the minimum of force but there is no easy way to remove someone from a position that they are resisting being moved from and it creates the conditions where emotions are raised and where injuries may occur when there is lots of pushing and jostling going on. On some protests where one clearly defined group is organising the protest the police can negotiate with the organisers to agree a route and the way the protest will be conducted but there is no obligation on protesters to do this and on Barton Moss such an agreement has not been possible. I understand that some protesters want to portray the police as taking sides and in effect defending the current system but I repeat we do not want to there and we are trying to balance the rights of all involved.

The site at Barton Moss is open to the public as a footpath and anyone can see the operation taking place and observe the police action. Members of the media are there every day and the protesters themselves film everything we do. I am talking to the Police and Crime Commissioner about how we can strengthen independent oversight of what we are doing and the tactics we use because we have nothing to hide. We would rather not be there and just feel stuck in the middle between the businesses involved and the protestors and also mindful of the rights of local people and other people who would like to use our services.

Some years ago there was quite a debate about whether we were a police service or a police force. In the past it was a lot clearer we were there to enforce the law so we were a force. Now the mission of policing has changed so much it is not so clear. In addition to what most would see as our core role of dealing with crime police have always had a duty to protect the public from harm and be there to assist people in immediate need of help. Now, however this role of protecting the vulnerable dominates our work so that investigating crime has become a subsidiary activity. So while recorded crime has halved in Greater Manchester over the past ten years the overall demand on policing has not reduced because this other aspect of our work has filled the gap.

It feels to us that the number of vulnerable people we have dealings with is increasing, as is the complexity. I have written before about the impact of mental health cases on policing but we are also very much concerned about vulnerable young people and at the other end of the spectrum the number of elderly people there are concerns over. We have a growing awareness of the problem of people trafficking and vulnerable people trapped in abusive relationships. Each one of these cases involves a real human being in distress invariably with complex needs. In trying to protect a vulnerable person we obviously have to accept their rights and wishes and they understandably may not wish to take the sort of drastic action which may ensure their safety in a high risk situation. So policing more and more has become one of the caring professions tackling a wide range of social problems.

This change in the nature of our work creates many operational challenges and makes risk identification and management one of our key activities. The situation is made more difficult by the funding pressures not only on GMP but on all the agencies we work with. The growing number of elderly people needing care is probably the biggest challenge facing public services as the potential cost will eclipse other priorities. All this is happening at a time when the public’s expectations are growing and where there is less public tolerance of agencies failing to protect. When a tragedy occurs there is an understandable cry for someone to be held accountable and certainly no suggestion that with lower public spending risks that tragedy may increase. If anything agencies such as the police are expected to provide a higher standard of care.

I would argue that this is the context in which the debate about public protest needs to be seen. The particular protest we are dealing with now is that involving drilling on the Barton Moss site in Salford. The drilling is fiercely opposed by some who see it as a precursor to fracking on the site. They feel very strongly about the issue as many do and a group of protestors are camped out on the site and are joined every day by others. There are approximately 800 lorry movements to get on the site to enable the drilling activity to take place and the main aim of the protestors is to try and prevent these deliveries from happening.

The role of the police in this situation is to facilitate lawful protest, to allow others to carry out lawful activities such as delivering to the site and to prevent a breach of the peace. We do not take sides. Police should never make a judgement about the worth of any protest, it is our job to achieve this balance between the right of the protesters and the rights of others who want to go about their lawful business.

This policing of this protest has cost more than £800,000 so far. Some people probably believe that this is funded directly by the Government but it is not it comes from our normal budget. This is where my dilemma as the head of a caring agency comes in. This is money which could have been spent on more operations to protect vulnerable people or reduce crime. We have a considerable number of crime investigations which we struggle to staff and calls we cannot get to as quickly as we would like and the money spent on policing protest has to be seen in that light.

Now others would argue that this it is not right to make this link. Protest is a fundamental human right and crucial to the health of a democracy. Therefore the police should always treat it as a high priority work that enables protest to take place. GMP have given a very high priority to the Barton Moss protest but it does mean that other areas of policing have suffered. British policing does not have a standing squad of officers to deal with these events. We are not like the French who would just call the CRS (their riot squad) out of their barracks to police an event such as this. GMP has the Tactical Aid Unit which is there to provide additional help to local officers with unusual incidents but they still have lots of other things they could be doing. The majority of the officers we have used on the protest have been local neighbourhood officers who have been called off their beats. As a police leader who has to cover all the various demands on policing yes I wish there was a way for a protest like this to be carried out and a crucial area of public policy to be debated without the need for police officers to be there at all.

The protesters at Barton Moss are clear that theirs is a peaceful protest. They will peacefully obstruct the passage of lorries on to the site for example and this will bring them into conflict with the police officers trying to allow the lorries to pass along the road at very slow speed. I expect GMP officers to show restraint and use the minimum of force but there is no easy way to remove someone from a position that they are resisting being moved from and it creates the conditions where emotions are raised and where injuries may occur when there is lots of pushing and jostling going on. On some protests where one clearly defined group is organising the protest the police can negotiate with the organisers to agree a route and the way the protest will be conducted but there is no obligation on protesters to do this and on Barton Moss such an agreement has not been possible. I understand that some protesters want to portray the police as taking sides and in effect defending the current system but I repeat we do not want to there and we are trying to balance the rights of all involved.

The site at Barton Moss is open to the public as a footpath and anyone can see the operation taking place and observe the police action. Members of the media are there every day and the protesters themselves film everything we do. I am talking to the Police and Crime Commissioner about how we can strengthen independent oversight of what we are doing and the tactics we use because we have nothing to hide. We would rather not be there and just feel stuck in the middle between the businesses involved and the protestors and also mindful of the rights of local people and other people who would like to use our services.

Sir Peter Fahy
Chief Constable
Greater Manchester Police

2 thoughts on “The changes in Policing

  1. A.Williams

    Hmm!! Just read your article – what can I say (well plenty actually, but…) why don’t you stop playing with words and just get on with the job. I don’t want my local police playing nursemaid all the time at the expense of solving crime!! I have lived in my house for a long time and have never seen any of the local “bobbies” either in my road or in the town!! I would guess the fact that I’m not what you call a vunerable person means I – probably like many others – am of no importance to you whatsoever. Great innit!!!

    Reply

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