Today saw the launch of Essex Police Federation’s campaign #cutshaveconsequences; billed as ‘telling the truth about policing’ in the county.
Within hours the dedicated website and short film had clocked up thousands of hits and they keep on coming. It seems the truth about policing is a truth people want to hear. And this, for me, is why the campaign will run and run.
In the past, the Police Federation has fallen into the trap I feel the fire service, amongst other organisations, is in danger of walking into: making it about them. I have worked for the police service and continue to work within the police family. Friends and family members are in the job. I’m no policing expert but I have seen how hard cuts are hitting officers personally.
Yes, the starting pay for an officer may be less than the salary some fast food outlets offer. Yes, some are experiencing real hardship and seeking urgent financial support. Yes, many will work for longer and receive a smaller than expected pension at the end of that loyal service.
But, these are not messages that will gain traction with the public. Essex Police Federation clearly understands this.
Over the next three months they will highlight the consequences of cuts to the force policing budget and the true meaning of those cuts to the public. This isn’t about police officers; this is about the people they serve. The messages within the film, which explains the depth and variety of cuts so far (fewer dog handlers, a non-existent mounted section and a third fewer traffic officers) will echo across social media, adverts and activity at public events. But to what end?
I do a lot of work with charities. If this was a campaign highlighting funding cuts in the third sector there would undoubtedly be a stronger call to action. There would be petitions to sign, posters to display in windows and letters to MPs to download, particularly in the run-up to a general election. However, politics has no place in policing and the decision to pitch the campaign as ‘awareness-raising’ – giving people information they can use it as they see fit – is the right one.
In my view, there are a couple of negatives. I would have liked to see links to the dedicated CutsHaveConsequences site from the main Essex Federation website. The decision not to do this may be deliberate but doing so would ensure those visitors who haven’t seen the campaign publicity are exposed to it. The second negative is a little trickier to resolve.
I am aware of debates around whether it should indeed have been ‘the centre’ (i.e Police Federation HQ) leading such a campaign. This debate will rumble on but I hope it doesn’t detract from the opportunities the folk at Essex have created for every force to highlight how the public in their area will be affected by budget cuts.
Essex have put their head above the parapet and their Bobbie-less boots on display. I hope many more forces follow suit.