Youth dominates the beat

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The Independent Online
Criticism that police officers on foot patrols are inexperienced is inevitable because most beat constables are young and still learning the job, writes Jason Bennetto.

Many experienced officers believe the reports of yesterday's leaked Audit Commission study have identified some of the weaknesses in the system but have underplayed the advances.

All officers spend the first two years of their probation working on patrol - usually on eight-hour shifts - when they are not in training school or on a specialist unit.

Once they have completed their probation period they can join a specialist unit, such as the CID or traffic division. It usually takes at least an extra three years to gain further training and qualifications before they can move. A decade ago, officers would be expected to serve much longer in uniform before they could leave the beat.

"The vast majority of officers on the beat are now made up of the young and relatively inexperienced," one policeman said. This change, some officers believe, has led to a lowering of the priority being given to patrol constables.

To help redress this, the police service is increasingly forcing officers to go back on general patrol for a year before they can take up another specialist role. There is a much smaller group of officers who through either choice, or lack of ability, spend their career walking the beat.

In the first two years, the probationary officer will learn how to carry out searches and how the law works, but most of all how to deal with people.

Patrols are increasingly given specific tasks and targets. Kent has piloted the greater use of intelligence-led patrolling, in which constables are sent to areas where their superiors believe crimes are most likely to be committed.

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