PCC Blog 93

I met two recently-recruited police officers in Maltby last week.

They were spending ten weeks with the neighbourhood team as part of their probationary training. We were walking through the town from the Model Village to Coronation Park talking to residents and councillors about issues of anti-social behaviour. Both officers had made significant career changes. One told me about her former desk-based job in IT and how very different her life had now become. Both were pleased with the switches they had made.

One of the residents we met said being a police officer was ‘more like a vocation than a job’. ‘You wouldn’t do it just for the money,’ she explained. You had to really want to do it and get satisfaction from knowing that you were keeping communities safe. How else could you cope with the unsocial hours or some of the unpleasant situations you found yourself in or the disagreeable people you had to deal with?

Her remarks made me wonder whether this is the reason why some new recruits are dropping out so quickly? They were looking for a job not a vocation.

Police forces across the country have been recruiting at speed to ensure that the target of 20,000 new officers is met by 2024. Ministers have been quick to say that forces are on target. But recruiting is one thing, retention is another. The tap may have been turned on, but is the plug securely in place? We are not hearing so much about that. And there are some worries.

I am sure that in any big and swift recruitment exercise some will leave if they haven’t understood fully what a job entails. Many years ago I trained as a teacher, taking a one-year course at Bristol University (PGCE). In the second term we had a placement in a comprehensive school. My friend on the course left after one day in the classroom: his idealistic understanding of human nature met the hard reality of a group of Bristol teenagers and it was all too much. He took a job in an education department instead – and no doubt did a lot of good and saved everyone a lot of grief.

So what is an acceptable drop out rate in a probationary period in a mass recruitment exercise? My guess would be about 10% – though I may be influenced by the fact that in South Yorkshire out of 715 recruited, 69 have left – 9.7%. This is not far from the national average of 9.1% – 2,567 out of 28,173 recruited. (As well as the 20,000 new posts, 8,000 more have had to be recruited to fill posts left vacant by those who leave early and by officers retiring.) Clearly, though, there is a financial cost to this if people are paid and trained, don’t continue and have to be replaced.

And in some other force areas the figures are alarming: 19.3% have left in Northamptonshire, 16.8% in North Yorkshire, 16.1% in Cambridgeshire, 16% in Thames Valley and 15.7% in Bedfordshire. In contrast, only 3.9% left in Cumbria.

We know the reasons some have given for their premature departure. According to the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire, some left after their first self-defence class, shocked by the violence they might have to face. Others left because they realised they would have to work weekends!  One 19-year-old never came back after three days – reason unknown. While this should, perhaps, have been sorted out before the recruits even joined, at least the individuals – and the force and public – were spared years of doing a job they didn’t really care for. The last thing we want is unhappy officers with many years ahead of them.

But what I don’t think we know yet is how many of those who are leaving are women or from ethnic minorities. We saw this uplift in police numbers – and ministers saw it – as a chance to improve the representation of minority groups. We need to know, therefore, that those groups are not over-represented in those leaving and that they are not leaving because there is something about police culture that they still find unacceptable.

Spring cleaning in Maltby

As I walked with the neighbourhood police team down Morrell Street in Maltby and entered Coronation Park from the lower side, I was appalled by the sheer amount of litter in the street and in the park. This is not a police matter, of course, but because of the partnerships we have on the Local Criminal Justice Board (LCJB) and the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), both of which I chair, I think we can help spruce up this part of Maltby.

The Probation Service – who are partners on both the LCJB and the VRU – run a scheme for offenders who have to do so many hours of service in the community as part of their rehabilitation. So, I have asked the VRU officer who deals with Rotherham matters, Rachel Fletcher, to find a way of bringing a team to Maltby. This will help the Probation Service find unpaid work for the offenders, it will help the offenders complete what is required of them and it will help tidy up this part of Maltby – three good outcomes.

I think it helps policing too because the failure to deal quickly with things like litter and graffiti creates a sense that other anti-social acts are also acceptable. It leads to further run down and these are the conditions in which anti-social behaviour and crime start to flourish. (The academics know this as the ‘broken window effect’.) So, I hope Maltby notices a difference soon and the Town Council can think about how it might prevent this happening in the future.

Wise before, not after, the event

A colleague told me about the speed awareness course she had recently completed after being caught on a police camera breaking the speed limit. It had made a profound impression on her, especially the part where the instructor was showing how long it takes for a driver to register a hazard ahead, to apply the brakes and to stop. She realised that she had not been driving as safely as she should have been for many years. She was now determined to drive not just within the speed limits but more appropriately, given the conditions on the road.

I’m sure the road users of South Yorkshire would be glad to hear this, but it did seem to me that if a speed awareness course really can have this impact, we are using them at the wrong moment in a driver’s career. They should be something everyone goes through before their driving licence is finally granted.

I am often shocked at the young ages of some of the men – and it is usually men – who are involved in road traffic collisions across the county as a result of speeding. Perhaps this is one way of reducing the number of those collisions. It must surely be worth trying.

Stay safe and well.