Updated: Oct 16
(Above is one of the video diaries I made following a training session. You can watch more video diaries on the YouTube Channel)
After working over 200 frontline hours in two months as a Special Constable, and almost 200 hours of training, I am stepping aside from this eye-opening role to now focus my attention on campaigning for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Bedfordshire at the May 2021 election.
Though I applied to become a volunteer Police Officer long before I knew the incumbent was not going to be seeking re-election, having the opportunity to get stuck in and working alongside our truly remarkable police officers has revealed things I could not have known otherwise. The training was intense, the pass/fail assessments were more intense, and the actual job of working as a police officer was beyond intense. Nonetheless, I would highly recommend this to anyone who genuinely cares about making a positive impact on the lives of others, protecting the most vulnerable and being at the forefront of fighting crime. To find out more about becoming a Special Constable, click here.
Policing is not for the faint hearted and the challenges of safeguarding our communities in the 21st century is something many do not fully appreciate. So, when I read of uninformed people using the pejorative 'ACAB' epithet or talk about 'defunding the police', I wince, having had the experience of the last few months.
The truth is, we do not need to defund the police. We do, however, need to defund the serious organised crime gangs who prey on our young and most vulnerable. We need to defund the organisations who aim to sow seeds of discord and anarchy within our communities. We need to defund groups and ideologies that exist purely to terrorise us. Instead of defunding the police, we need to re-fund the police so that they have the tools, resources and backing to do their job. For when it's all said and done, and speaking from first-hand experience after being on the frontline dealing with mind-boggling crimes, the police are often the first and last line of defending those things which we all value the most - our life and liberty.
Of course, I see more clearly now than ever, the reasons why accountability, constant learning and effective oversight are essential. In Bedfordshire, we have one of the best police scrutiny panels as well as the independent advisory groups. With any power must come commensurate accountability for the exercise of such powers. No group or body should possess powers as do our law enforcement officers without there being a transparent and effective check on those powers. One of my campaign pledges is to lead an open and transparent policing area where accountability and constructive engagement is what we do. This is good for policing and the policed.
With that caveat, I can attest to only seeing officers demonstrate impeccable empathy towards victims of the most awful domestic abuse incidents, or exceptional duty of care for someone who was under arrest for causing bodily harm to another while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. On other occasions - I saw officers show kindness in dealing with parents whose loved one had gone missing or was having a mental health episode. All these were done, irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity.
Invariably, I and the officers I worked alongside filled roles of medical practitioners, parents, social workers, arbitrators (very often) and on occasions - road sweepers. Far removed from what you might see on TV, policing in the 21st century is not primarily about blue-lighting it or foot chases after gun-toting criminals. Much of policing is trying to deal with mental health, alcohol/drugs related cases, domestic incidents, missing persons and concern for welfare. Also contrary to what some might have us believe, I suspect most officers do not spend much of their shifts doing Stop and Search. Instead, they're being called to cases such as the ones above.
But this is not getting easier and is why we must have a more joined-up, multi-agency approach to policing. It is also another reason why a greater focus on prevention and addressing reoffending is so crucial. It is my view, that there may never be enough police officers around to adequately deal with the societal impact of drugs and alcohol abuse, or weaknesses in the core pillars of society such as family and parenting. There aren't enough prison spaces to address these issues, so we must simply do better at preventing those at risk of sliding off the rails from doing so, while supporting those who are off the rails to get back on track. There is no other viable option. This is why I hope the Home Office will continue to fund programmes like the very successful Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit we have established in Bedfordshire.
I am very heartened to see the level of investment now being returned to frontline policing by this Conservative government. Bedfordshire Police's budget has increased from £102m in 2010 to over £120m in 2020/21. More officers are coming through, but this also presents some challenges. Covid will likely also place pressures on funding over the next few years so, we will have to keep working to not only attract new officers but also to retain the ones we have. This is why we need an urgent review of the police funding formula which under successive governments, has left Bedfordshire Police poorly funded compared to areas with similar challenges. Being on the frontline myself as I have been over the last two months has demonstrated to me why we need this issue resolved once and for all.
Our police officers are ordinary men and women, who are being asked to do extraordinary things under extraordinary circumstances - with great success. We should salute each and everyone one of them. I certainly do.