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Metropolitan Police Federation


Chair's Blog: Time To End Policing's Culture Of Fear

We have heard from Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley this week that the brave officers who were attacked in Hainault admitted they have been worried about getting into trouble for the heroic way in which they dealt with this horrific incident.

This culture of fear in policing has got to stop. These officers risked their own safety to face down a dangerous attacker – their first thought should not be that they are going to face a lengthy and potentially life changing misconduct investigation for their actions on that day.

We are currently facing a crisis of confidence within policing. We need to find a balance between maintaining accountability – because police officers have to be accountable for their actions – and protecting our colleagues who do their job sometimes in extremely dangerous circumstances.

Many experienced frontline officers are now questioning the very fundamentals of policing. Is the standard police hold (taking hold of someone's arm) no longer acceptable when effecting an arrest on suspicion that someone has committed a crime? The questions being asked by experienced officers now are as fundamental and basic as that. As a consequence, the police are being reduced to a crime reporting service and proactive policing is rapidly disappearing.

People who live in London don’t want that. I live in North London and my community want our streets to be kept safe so our kids can go out without us having to unduly worry about them facing someone with a knife. At the moment they’re getting a police service that is not confident to proactively do the job and take knives off the street. The rules have changed so much now that officers simply don’t know where they stand, and this is being driven by too much external political interference.

We also heard from the Commissioner about the shrinking police service in London. Within a year, there will be 310 police officers per 100,000 Londoners, compared to 342 in March 2023. And he says this trend is only going to get worse.

For what the job entails, the money – certainly for new recruits and young service officers – isn’t worth the risk that's attached to it. The attrition rate in the first five years is poor, an awful lot of officers leave in that time. Also keeping officers in the job is tricky when they become more skilled and more attractive to industry outside.

Partly it’s because there’s no longer the 30-year police pension scheme, which used to be a hook that kept people in the Job. If you could retire after 25 or 30 years, once you went past that 10, 15-year point that pension hooked you in and made leaving more difficult. Officers’ attitude was “well I only have to do another 10 years and then I can retire and perhaps go and do something else”.

It was that continuous hook that kept you in the Job, but since the pension system was overhauled that hook is no longer there, so it’s much easier to leave for a better salary without the hassle and risk of being a police officer. In London, the private sector is much better paid than the police; you can drive a train and get £60k a year. There are so many professions out there without the risk, scrutiny or restriction on your private life that being a police officer entails.

You also have to think about morale and what it’s like to be a police officer. If you look at all the surveys, morale is through the floor. Replacing Legally Qualified Chairs with senior police officers to preside over gross misconduct panels, is perceived by the workforce as senior leaders trying to buck the system by intentionally introducing bias into proceedings. Legally Qualified Chairs were brought in to specifically make the system demonstrably fair, but now the workforce don’t believe that there is a fair process that will exonerate them if they’ve done nothing wrong.

There is no quick fix to any of this. The damage was done as far back as Theresa May and Tom Winsor who were warned at the time that their changes to policing would have severe consequences. It’s very difficult to fix something that has taken years to get to this point. The IOPC and CPS will keep doing what they do. The whole misconduct process is becoming more and more politicised.

PFEW are currently asking the membership whether or not they want them to pursue industrial rights, and specifically collective bargaining. If members agree that this is what they want PFEW to pursue, collective bargaining would be an important first step in securing a fair pay mechanism to replace the deeply flawed PRRB.

However, we believe the only long-term solution would be a full Royal Commission on Policing. In the meantime, a proper, well evidenced pay rise is essential to have a positive effect on recruitment and retention, particularly within the MPS.

The majority of police officers join the Job because they want to do good; they want to be a positive influence for society, they want to help people, they want to care for victims of crime and lock criminals away.

It’s real shame that life is being made impossible for these altruistic officers who simply want to do the Job to the best of their ability. Unfortunately life inside and outside of the Job is simply being made impossible.

Officers are understandably leaving a profession that they love for their own wellbeing, peace of mind, for their family’s wellbeing and to have a half decent standard of living free from the restrictions and undue scrutiny that comes with being a police officer.