After the Manchester Arena terror attack, Amber Rudd told the public: “We must not imply that this terrorist activity wouldn’t have taken place if there had been more policing … good counter-terrorism activity is because you have a close relationship between the policing and intelligence services.”
This kind of rhetoric may seem persuasive and eloquent but, as so often with politicians trying to avoid blame, it is untrue. It is untrue because it misses a key and huge fundamental point to the protection of our national security: community policing intelligence.
Police officers embedded in the community, there to help, there to listen, there to understand the community they serve. It is in the community where the best intelligence is learnt and gathered, from the people who notice a change in behaviour of their friends and neighbours, allowing early intervention and monitoring.
Theresa May’s cuts have removed these officers from the streets. The intelligence they brought in through local knowledge and community engagement has dried up and collapsed, and the local bobby known to all has gone, replaced by a reactive police “service” that is inadequate – as the press is always so quick to point out when mistakes are made and splashed all over their front pages.
“Cuts have consequences” – this was the tag line used by the Police Federation when the bones were being stripped from British policing. Now we see that this wasn’t “scaremongering”, as Theresa May, the then-Home Secretary told us. We are now seeing the very real consequences of these cuts – in the faces of the victims of this attack we see in our papers.
May told her audience at the time the police’s warnings “didn’t serve the public”. I ask now: has she served in the public’s best interest?
In my force alone, just to meet the service level agreements on officer numbers deployed to the street, shifts are being extended, rest days are being cancelled, and since the Manchester and London attacks more officers are required – officers who don’t really exist since the cuts. Many of my colleagues are working 18-plus days straight without any real rest to make sure the public are safe and protected.
The real questioned posed is can any random, lone wolf attack be stopped? With early intervention and the right attention: yes, possibly. Without information being fed into the police service and intelligence services about a particular subject from their community: of course not.
May was warned that her cuts would force paramilitary style policing in Britain yet she ignored this. The army is now deployed on our streets. More than 1,300 skilled firearms officers have been cut, recruitment of those officers is slow and our national security is at risk.
Officers know the risks of carrying a weapon. They know they will have little or no support from the Government if they are forced to fire their weapon and will face months if not years of investigations for trying to protect others. Would you join a job like this?
I chose to do this job not for the thanks – as there is little – but so people can lie peacefully in their beds knowing there is someone who would do whatever they can to make sure they are safe and protected.
My colleagues and I will continue to go forward when others run, but the reality now felt by officers around the UK, that we are too-often taken for granted and even perhaps un-liked by our Government.
We know if we get killed in the line of duty that the headlines will be gone in a day and our names will be forgotten. But we shall continue, we shall protect. Despite the obstacles we are continually confronted with to make our job harder, we keep going.
This article was written for the Independent by a serving firearms police officer who wished to remain anonymous
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