Monday, 17 January 2011

Civilianisation at its best

It's been a while and I have been meaning to post a few comments regarding some current issues. I may get around to it yet.

I have previously criticised police forces for the apparent ambition to attain a 50/50 balance of police officers and police staff. Some forces have exceeded 50% staff. The argument has always been that police staff are cheaper and therefore we get more for our buck.  My argument has been that whenever we replace officers with staff we always have to employ more staff than officers and so there are no savings. I also argue that police staff don't understand the business of policing and cause inefficiencies because of this. I wanted to relate a couple of stories, in a light hearted way, to emphasise some of the problems. These are true stories from my force.

A former police officer, who is now running his own business, was fed up with the milk being delivered to his office being stolen. He got up early one day and waited and caught the offender. He marched them round to the police station which was only 200 yards away. The civilian at the front desk has been trained that if anyone comes to the police station to report a crime they are to be told to go to the phone in the front office put there for this purpose. The phone is a direct line to the crime recording bureau who take the details and give the victim a crime number, offer them victim support etc. The victim in this case repeatedly made the point that he wasn't just reporting a crime, he had the offender in custody. He got nowhere with the person on the desk and eventually rang the crime recording bureau. An hour after he first arrived at the police station, a police staff manager eventually realised that perhaps this was an exceptional case and a police officer would have to be dispatched to deal with the offender. The trouble was that there wasn't one at the police station and the victim had to wait another 20 minutes for a police officer to arrive from another town.

The second story is about a motorist who rang the police (rightly or wrongly) to report a problem in the road.

Motorist. "Hello, I have found a large hole in the road. It is dangerous and might cause an accident."
Operator "Hold on caller. I will put you through to someone who can help you."
The phone is transferred and answered. "Hello, lost and found property. How can I help you?"


  1. I've seen the same problem in California... civilains with little or no training who screw stuff up all the time.

    Even worse--- when the police dept has more supervisors and admin police than actual police officers. Where I used to work... at one event, we had the chief, 2 captains, 3 sergeants, 2 coporals, 2 detectives...and me- a lone police officer who everybody else was trying to tell me what to do.

  2. Some civillians just don't get it do they?

    Another false economy in civillianising too many posts is the resilience question. When inside posts or non operational jobs are filled by sworn officers, they can be told to get their helmets on and grab their 'monkeys and parrots' (military slang for kit) and get out their to help dealing with the latest, developing end of the world scenario. When the posts are filled with civillians, they can't be used for anything other than the job they are employed for.

  3. The problems you describe did not come about because those people are civilians, but because they are either idiots or poorly trained.

    I do worry, however, that our call centre is too civilianised - there are no officers at all in there, and call logs quite often display a lack of knowledge about what will happen next.

  4. Fuzzy et al,
    A quiet word - a police officer is a civilian (one 'l' as well) - the point you are making is about effective training. I know that some chaps who are now police officers were once in the army, but once you leave the army, you are on 'civvy' street....I hope the concept is not too difficult to understand.
    When you go on about 'civilians' it tends to be a bit serve the public who pay your wages.
    And that goes for the 13 police officers who regularly scoff their McDonald's breakfasts at the restaurant on the A4 near might be better to stick to the porridge or cereals in the future


  5. zorro,

    When I (and probably others) talk about civilians (see, I can learn)we are talking about folk working for police forces who are not sworn officers. Being a sworn officer and doing the work of a sworn officer gives one a certain insight and base of experience. Civilians do not get this insight. This could well be due to lack of training but that doesn't solve the problem that the lack of insight or police experience causes.

  6. Fuzzy,
    Yes, to an extent, police officers do get to see a variety of situations as do other law enforcement practitioners. I do not agree with the overuse of members of the public in the roles you mention. But, if our esteemed leaders want to pay peanuts they will get monkeys. I do though detect far too often in police officers a certain arrogance which has become exacerbated over the years, and a 'them and us' mentality. I guess those police dramas have a lot to answer for...


  7. zorro,

    To a certain extent, I think "Them and Us" does exist. One of the reasons for this is the situations created for "Us" by their lack of experience or the lack of their sutability for a certain task- not that this is "Their" fault. The balsm for this lies squarely with the Bean Counters and Ivory Tower dwellers that have created the situation where the civillians are put into a role that should really be filled by an officer. Another reason for the "Them and Us" feeling is the amount of crap we have to do to keep "Them" happy and get "Them" off our backs. Too much of the Tail wagging the Dog!

    Don't get me wrong. This member of the Fraternal Brotherhood (and Sisterhood) of "Us" has a lot of respect and gratitude for a lot of what the "Thems" do, it is just that some of the jobs have been wrongly civilianised, for example, I am a strong believer that the role of Jailer (Custody Sergeants assistant) should be filled by a Police Officer. By acting as Jailer, you deal with all the criminals in your area. You get to know them, you get to recognise them and you also get to build up a relationship with them that could save you, a colleague or a member of the public getting a good kicking one night.

  8. Shaking my head in disbelief here. It all sounds a bit Keystone Cops and I almost added a 'LOL' but it's not actually funny. It sounds as though police stations have become more like regular offices over there when they are *supposed* to be the hub of law enforcement, a place you can turn to in a crisis and know that someone will quickly come to the rescue. If the public are instead being 'fielded' in this way then this isn't necessarily the case.