Until recently senior officers throughout the country said police forces could manage the budget cuts, unlike their counterparts in the armed services. I remember Generals, Admirals and Air Marshalls, all going public and saying cuts to their budgets would be catastrophic for the security of the UK. Guess what? Their monies have been ring-fenced in the latest budget.
Sadly this has not been afforded to the police - the other half of the security equation and a vital part of the armoury in keeping communities safe.
Recently a number of chief constables have spoken out about the effects of the cuts. I was heartened to read in The Star our chief constable, David Crompton, is not planning on abandoning the victims of burglary, or ignoring cultivation of cannabis - unlike other chief constables. However, the fact remains policing is facing an abyss, with worse cuts to come in the next five years than we have endured to date.
It means in South Yorkshire there will be fewer officers on the streets and in CID; fewer PCSOs in the neighbourhood and fewer staff to provide support to the so-called frontline. If you are ringing for help we will take longer to answer.
We already have a review underway of non-emergency 101 calls - and officers simply won’t be able to get to see you as quickly as they once could.
Such delays not only damage the vital relationship between the public and police in terms of the perception that officers ‘don’t care’ if they don’t attend an incident, but also damage crime prevention and intelligence gathering. How can officers help if they are not around to be told? And how can you talk to us if we are unable to pick up the phone?
Traditionally-recorded crime is already rising, let alone ‘hidden’ crimes such as human trafficking, child sexual exploitation, fraud and cybercrime. Sadly your chances of being a victim of crime are increasing with every reduction in service.
One reason The Police Federation was created was to look after staff welfare. Fewer officers and staff means longer hours and fewer breaks. The inability to get time off will lead to burnout and breakdowns. Sickness absence is increasing. This will have a knock on effect and there will be even fewer to cope with more work.
Complaints against officers are rising, and the Federation is advising more members than ever through disciplinaries. Studies have shown officers who are stressed and tired make mistakes – we are only human after all.
This is where the cuts hurt the most - all the officers I know joined because they wanted to make a difference; because they care about their community and because they truly believe in the role they play in society. They want to be able to give a victim of crime the care and attention they deserve. They want to provide a service to the communities they work in and are proud to serve. They don’t want to turn people away or not be able to help – it goes against everything they have trained for.
We are thankful for the support we get from the public who understand what a difficult job officers have. When you ask for help, we want to give it, but with the best will in the world, it simply will not be possible to police in the same way we once did.
Chancellor George Osborne, has written to public sector workers asking how we can do more for less. The simple answer is we can’t..
* Neil Bowes, Chairman, South Yorkshire Police Federation