‘My blood ran cold’ are the police losing control of the streets?

Yesterday’s Guardian carried a column written by an anonymous Metropolitan Police Officer, in it he says he no longer feels safe going to work, feels he and his colleagues are being stretched beyond their capabilities, he does not feel valued and he is seeing colleagues quit from exhaustion and frustration.

While the piece in The Guardian talks specifically about the situation in London one retired senior officer from Sussex Police says the situation is no different among the men and women policing Hastings and other parts of the county.

Mark Ling was a Detective Chief Inspector when he retired from Sussex police in 2017 and at one stage of his career he was commander at Hastings Police Station.

Speaking to Hastings In Focus today Mr Ling said: “When I read the piece in yesterday’s Guardian my blood ran cold because I know that’s exactly the way our local police officers – many of them my former colleagues – are feeling too.”

The anonymous officer explains that it’s not just the reduction in frontline officers, brought about by government cuts, that is doing the damage to the service but the cuts to behind the scenes services. For example he cites cases where police officers are sent to help the mentally ill, often sitting for hours with people who are a danger to themselves, only to see them released, then reoffend the following day with the officers being back at square one.

“I know from talking to current officers and from the work that we have been doing in the Retired Officers Who Care group that was set up last year that those self same problems exist right here in Hastings, our police officers are being forced to become quasi-social workers,” says Mr Ling.

And Mr Ling knows officers under significant mental pressure because of the often traumatic nature of the jobs they are being sent to deal with and the relentlessness of the work they are doing.

With the current spate of knife crime in London Mr Ling says it’s not surprising so much of the focus of the national media is on policing in the capital but the issues raised by the officer writing in The Guardian yesterday are every bit as pertinent to the officers policing our home town.

“That piece could just as easily have been written by an officer from round here,” he says.

East Sussex County Councillor Godfrey Daniel has a special interest in local policing having been a candidate for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner in 2012, he told Hastings In Focus: “I am full of admiration for our hard-pressed police officers who, I believe, are well aware that that they are seemingly unappreciated by this Government.

“The police service has been so cut back that police officers on foot seem to be getting to be an endangered species and the public is very aware of that unhappy situation.

“Austerity cuts to policing have only benefitted crime and anti-social behaviour, making our community less safe and demoralising our hardworking police officers. This is not an acceptable state of affairs and personally,  I would want to see effective policing really valued by those in power.”

Some of the key points highlighted by the Metropolitan officer were:

*I’ve found myself many times kneeling on the pavement holding parts of bodies together…

*I have anxiety and PTSD…

*The system is broken…

*I do not feel safe policing London’s streets…

*Our duties are being stretched beyond our capabilities…

*Police officers no longer have faith

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He says: “There’s a saying in the police. It’s not sophisticated or clever, really, and it’s been passed down from generation to generation of coppers; it’s not new. ‘The job is fucked,’ they say. Only now, it doesn’t feel as flippant as it used to.”

“I have anxiety and PTSD… I do not feel safe policing London’s streets and, moreover, increasingly I do not feel that people in London are safe.”

“In the borough I am stationed in – much like other boroughs – where there is a population of about 250,000 people, there are on average ten police officers for the entire area to respond to emergency calls per shift.”

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“Attackers have pulled knives on me. My colleagues – friends – have been stabbed in front of me. I’ve found myself many times kneeling on the pavement holding parts of bodies together.”

“…a steep upturn in the amount of calls we attend that involve a blade or even a gun. I don’t mind admitting I’m scared going out on these jobs… I no longer feel we’re in control.”

“…there isn’t really time to recover. You’re expected to go straight out on to the next job, sometimes on the same night, even if a situation is debilitating. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an inspector or a sergeant who’s half decent, and asks how you are. Often you think you’re all right for a while. But it takes its toll eventually. I have PTSD from particular jobs – I get panicky, and I’ve had periods of intense flashbacks – but when I asked my GP about being referred for help, he said I had to go through occupational health. I’ve been waiting for more than six months.”

“Our annual leave is in lockdown because of the anticipation of a rise in violence after we leave the EU.”

“For years, people inside and outside the force have been saying that policing is on the brink of collapse. The mood now is that we are no longer on the brink. We have gone over the edge.”

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