Volunteer police bid 'a slap in the face'
Wednesday 04 May 2011
Hundreds of the country's most experienced police officers who were forced to retire under a legal loophole are being encouraged to return to Britain's second largest force as unpaid special constables.
Six retired officers, all with more than 30 years experience with West Midlands Police, said they had been sent letters asking them to return in similar roles but as volunteer special constables.
Martin Heard, who was forced to retire at the end of March after 32 years with the force, said he was shocked when he was asked to consider coming back to do the same job for free.
Two weeks after being forced to leave, he said, "I had a letter through the post from the police, my former employers, asking me if I'd consider coming back and doing the same role as a special constable, as a volunteer".
"I was shocked. On one hand they're saying they don't need me, and then they're asking me to come back in the same role," he said.
Mr Heard, whose work in the All Saints area of Wolverhampton earned him the "Copper's Copper" award last October, now plans to start work as a delivery driver for a catering company in his home town of Bromsgrove next week.
He said he was "devastated" at being forced to leave the force.
"It was a bit of a kick in the teeth really," he said.
Tony Fisher, who was forced to retire as a detective specialising in tackling robbery, said the cost-cutting move was a "slap in the face" after 33 years in the force.
The former detective constable is among up to 630 officers from the force who could be affected by the controversial plan as part of efforts to save tens of millions of pounds in the wake of Government spending cuts.
"We've had a letter to apply to be a special constable," he said.
"I was a detective for 26 years and I just don't see how that role fits in any way as a special constable.
"It's a bit of a slap in the face to get rid of you and then say do you want to come back for nothing.
"It was adding salt to the wounds."
He added it was "soul-destroying to spend your life seeing things improve and then see all the systems (that have been) put in place go", but admitted the force was "between a rock and a hard place".
At least 13 police authorities have chosen to implement regulation A19, a power which says officers who have served 30 years or more can be "required to retire" if their retention would "not be in the general interests of efficiency".
But Britain's most senior police officer, Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, has said the controversial provision was a "horribly blunt tool" which he "hopes" not to use.
A total of 3,260 officers with 30 years experience or more could be affected by plans to implement regulation A19 of the Police Pensions Regulations 1987, according to figures released by Mrs May last November.
The police service needs to cut its wage bill after the Government said funding would fall by 20% over the next four years.
At Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, Labour leader Ed Miliband accused David Cameron of "broken promises on policing".
Mr Miliband told MPs that on the eve of last year's election, Mr Cameron had said that any Cabinet minister coming to him with proposals for cuts in front line public services would be sent packing.
And he added: "2,100 experienced police officers with over 30 years experience are being forcibly retired."
He cited Mr Heard as he explained the beat officer was forced to retire from the force in Wolverhampton, only to be invited to return as an unpaid special constable.
The early retirements were being forced by Mr Cameron's decision to cut police budgets by 20%, said Mr Miliband, adding: "It's his choice. Why doesn't he defend it? He knows he can't defend his broken promises on policing."
Mr Cameron responded: "Decisions about police numbers will depend on the decisions made by individual chief constables in individual parts of the country.
"The point I would make is that we see in case after case that there are far too many police officers in back-office jobs doing paperwork and carrying out corporate development work who should be on the front line.
"Responsible chief constables are getting these police officers out on the front line to fight crime and crime under this Government is falling."
He accused Labour of "complete and utter hypocrisy" over police numbers, as then-Home Secretary Alan Johnson admitted ahead of last year's election that he could not guarantee that numbers would not fall in the event of the party remaining in power.
"The question is not 'Should the budget be reduced?' Of course the budget has to be reduced," said Mr Cameron.
"The question is 'Who is going to cut the paperwork, who is going to get rid of the bureaucracy, who is going to trust the local managers to make sure we get police on the front line?' These are steps we are taking and steps his (Mr Miliband's) government never took."
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "You couldn't make this up. The idea that the experienced officers are being forced out because of the scale and pace of the Government cuts - and then being asked to come back in a voluntary capacity because their experience is still needed.
"It just shows we still need the skills of these police officers.
"It's bad for them, it's bad for communities and it's bad for crime."
Ms Cooper went on: "Is this the Government's idea of Big Society - doing policing by volunteers?
"This shows the Government's plans are a joke and are putting communities at risk.
"Chief constables across the country are being put in an impossible position. Special constables play an important role, but they should support full time police officers, not replace them on the cheap."
Former Pc Ian Rees, who was forced to retire after 34 years, added he also received a letter asking him to go back to work for free.
"It's a bit disappointing because, quite honestly, having been told to go and then being invited to come back and work for nothing wasn't particularly nice," he said.
Mr Rees, of Chelmsley Wood, Birmingham, went on: "The force is in a tricky situation, but the only reason it's in a tricky situation is because of the Government cuts.
"If we hadn't had 20% over four years, front-loaded, then we wouldn't have been in the position of getting rid of officers - and I include myself in that."
A total of six officers from the West Midlands force met the Home Secretary and Labour leader today to discuss their concerns.
Later, the officers said Mrs May refused to accept responsibility and blamed chief constables instead.
In a joint statement, the six officers said: "Theresa May listened intently to everything we had to say and all of our concerns but she didn't take responsibility, instead she washed her hands and put all of the blame on Chief Constables who have been left to manage the cuts.
"She said that the police service had not been singled out for cuts and that there would be no reduction in standards."
But a Home Office source said: "Regulation A19 has been in place for several decades.
"Police forces started to cut the number of officers and staff well before the general election. That is why Alan Johnson, who was then Home Secretary, said he could not guarantee police numbers, and it's why Yvette Cooper admitted the same in an interview just last week.
"We have a comprehensive plan to protect the frontline and cut crime, by cutting red tape, reforming police pay and sharing procurement.
"Until Labour support us in taking these important measures, they will have no credibility on policing whatsoever."
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