Belfast Telegraph

Memo to Matt Baggott: we need more police, not leaflets

By Lindy McDowell

Matt Baggott with his newly unveiled Ten Commitments sounds a bit as if he's copying strategy from You Know Who.

Like Moses down from the mountain, the Chief Constable will be delivering his new pledges on accountability not in the form of tablets of stone but in leaflets to be sent out to 750,000 homes over the next few weeks.

These will promise us (among other things) that in future every 999 call will be answered within 10 seconds and that police will arrive with those seeking non-emergency aid within 60 minutes.

Victims of crime will be updated within a 10-day period about how the subsequent investigation is progressing.

And (controversially, I think) police will make follow-up calls to people affected by crime and ask them to assess the officer who dealt with their case.

A bad report may even damage an officer's career prospects.

Mr Baggott assures us that this is not a propaganda exercise. It's about encouraging "confidence".

"This marks yet another move towards impartial forward-looking policing that people want more of," he says.

A comment which would seem to suggest that the Chief Constable feels the service he himself heads up currently does not entirely deliver "impartial forward-looking policing".

How much confidence does that engender in the ranks?

And how heartening is it for hard-pressed officers to hear that a bizarre Rate-Your-Cop assessment scheme is being set up by their own boss? Especially at a time when they have to deal with all those other well-documented horrors out there.

How much manpower will it take to cover the consumer survey? And will there be safeguards to protect officers against whom spurious complaints are made? (Surely fodder there for the industrial tribunals?)

Mr Baggott may firmly believe that an officer who carries out his or her role well has nothing to fear. But he has only to watch the likes of, say, Come Dine With Me to realise that people will hand out poor ratings for all sorts of reasons.

I have had some experience myself in recent years in dealing with the constabulary. In every case (I can't think of one where they weren't) the officers have been outstandingly professional and helpful. In some cases, they've even become personal friends (My husband gets a lot of threats; we give the PSNI a lot of business.)

The thing is though, what all we "consumers" want in the crime-solving department is results. The guilty brought to book.

And that is where it all becomes a bit more complex than rating the investigating officer marks-out-of-10 for doorstep manner.

More resources, less form-filling would strike most of us (including, I imagine, the cops themselves) as a good idea.

Those 750,000 leaflets (including postage) - how much will that little exercise cost? A quarter of a mill?

More? Think what that could finance on the frontline.

So who's doing the accounting on Matt's exercise in accountability?


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