Dismissing the concerns of staff will not have a happy or safe ending

In the same week that HMIC raised a ‘red flag’ about the state of British policing, a 13-year veteran of Devon and Cornwall Police published her resignation letter as she left the force. The future for policing has never been more concerning.

Laura Beal, published her letter of resignation on Facebook, receiving more than 3,000 likes, shares and comments – many from current and former police officer colleagues, echoing her concerns and wishing her well. Laura highlighted the perilous staffing levels – with just two officers often covering mid-Devon: with a population of 79,500 people across more than 200 square miles.

Laura’s letter – and her subsequent media interviews – evidences a love for policing that has been placed under enormous strain from a mixture of budget cuts and a lack of support. On the BBC’s Newsnight (see below), Laura was asked if she would consider returning to policing in the future. Her answer should ring alarm bells: “It’s too broken”.

The appalling level of support provided to police officers in the UK must be improved. When I attended the annual IACP Conference in October, I spoke with leading authorities on the subject of supporting officers and their mental health – from across North America. The best forces in the world do not limit counselling to “six sessions” or make officers wait months to be able to talk to someone. Furthermore, they are actively and openly preparing for the sort of unimaginable events that can wreak such havoc on the emotional wellbeing and mental health of first responders.

Sadly, in England and Wales, many forces and their HR directors appear to have procured – apparently generic – employee assistance programmes with little consideration for the suitability of such programmes to police officers who do a job like no other. For many observers, it seems forces are merely ‘ticking the box’ when it comes to employee welfare. The fact that some do not even provide a 24/7 crisis line speaks to a police service organised by and arranged solely for the benefit of those who work a 9-5 in a comfortable office, complete with parking space.

Some will seek to dismiss legitimate concerns on the basis that those raising the issue are “weak”, “washed out”, “failed” or otherwise deficient.  Indeed, as one senior NPCC chief officer remarked: “dry your eyes” or find another job. To do so is a mistake. The individuals being lost from policing – that are choosing to leave – are some of those who care most for it and are most proficient at it. They talk of a love for the job, a love for their chosen career, and they convey a sincerity of purpose and mission that one would be a fool to ignore.

It’s not just Laura Beal. This week also saw Angelina Dawson – a former Detective in the Metropolitan Police – describe why, after ten years, she had to leave her “dream job” as a detective. Simon Davison, a former Flying Squad Detective in the Metropolitan Police, also recently left – describing the “decimation” of CID on Boroughs in the capital.

If the legitimate concerns of hard-working, dedicated police officers are not taken seriously then the future is a bleak one – and a less safe one. The response from Devon and Cornwall Police to Laura’s letter was at once both predictably defensive and disappointing. It will reinforce, for many who remain, a sense of ‘the Job’ continuing to talk the talk, but failing to walk the walk:

Being a police officer is not easy. It requires skills and personal resilience which are often unique to the role. We are a supportive Force and will always assist an officer needing help or guidance

When I took the decision to resign from the Met, it was – like so many others who feel compelled to resign – with a heavy heart. My trust and faith in the Job had been eroded away – to breaking point – and when you no longer feel safe or supported in your work, if you can move on, you will. You owe it to yourself.

When I was invited to give evidence to the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Panel, I was asked to identify the number one challenge for the Met and the next Commissioner. I told them: supporting the people, the workforce. I reiterated this in a piece for Policing Insight (also available here) – and I repeat that point again today.

They're expecting too much and there's no support for mental health

Laura Beal, former Police Officer

For many observers, it seems forces are merely ‘ticking the box’ when it comes to employee welfare.
If the legitimate concerns of hard-working, dedicated police officers are not taken seriously then the future is a bleak one.
Rory Geoghegan
Rory Geoghegan
Rory is the Founding Director of The Centre for Public Safety and has experience in frontline policing, public policy and consulting. Read more about Rory Geoghegan, follow him on Twitter @RoryGeo and connect on LinkedIn. We also encourage you to subscribe to our email updates.

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