by Andrew Rosthorn
Britain’s pioneering online police training website closes down next week, a victim of cuts imposed by the coalition government in the aftermath of a vast financial crisis.
In the riot-battered twin cities of Manchester and Salford, the chairman of the police authority has proposed cutting the police training budget “in its entirety”.
Yet Sir Denis O'Connor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary for England and Wales, had warned the Home Office before the riots that almost half the 57 police forces in the United Kingdom are inadequately trained and prepared to police major political protests.
Councillor Paul Murphy, chairman of the Greater Manchester Police Authority, facing budget cuts of £134 million over the next four years, axing 1,400 officers and 1,600 support staff, revealed that his authority had spent £400,000 on police training sessions for officers and civilian staff who failed to turn up.
The force had offered 61,950 training places between April 2010 and March 2011, but only 48,702 training places had been taken up. Non-attendance was running at 21 per cent.
Cllr. Murphy commented that
‘Perhaps we over-provide training. What I suggest is that we reduce the training budget for Greater Manchester Police in its entirety, because it’s not needed.
‘We need to do something as an authority, because just waiting for you to come back with another report saying that we’ve not met the target again isn’t acceptable.’
Senior officers of the force had blamed the high non-attendance rate on bad winter weather, operational problems, sickness, court attendance, injuries, and special ‘days of action’.
The well-regarded internet-based training system Police-Training.co.uk, run since 2001 by Atkins Advantage System Solutions of Epsom, Surrey, and JH1 Associates Ltd. of Sandhurst had helped thousands of police and police community support officers follow individual e-learning packages to pass their training examinations.
The system had run night and day with online courses for Student Officer (IPLDP), Sergeant (OSPRE Part 1), Inspector (OSPRE Part 1) and Investigator (NIE - Phase 1 of the ICIDP) examinations for study at home, in the police station or in the classroom.
Students could simulate police examinations with multiple choice questions and explanations for answers with ‘automated knowledge checks’ to gather random sample questions.
The system closed to new subscribers in January and shuts down on August 31 ‘due to cutbacks in UK police training investment’.
In June this year, just six weeks before the widespread rioting in London, the city’s Metropolitan Police rescinded the applications of 2,000 would-be officers who had already passed the recruitment stage for a career in the world’s second oldest police force.
The riots came after Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, had announced that he planned to reduce the 33,000 Police Officers in the capital by 455 over the next three years.
When the 2,000 recruit applications were rescinded, a Met spokesman said: "We are just not accepting further applications at this time. This is because there are many fewer officers leaving the Met than expected.
"We are personally contacting each candidate to explain that we have many more candidates than vacancies. This will not always be the case.
"However, it is unfair to keep individuals in the recruitment system when there is little prospect of them being able to join in the foreseeable future."
After the first three nights of rioting, the Metropolitan force was cruelly exposed as seriously undermanned on the night of Monday, August 8, when the 6,000 officers on duty proved unable to overcome the looting and arson. One night later the Met managed to assemble 16,000 officers for riot duty in the capital, by drawing reinforcements from as far away as Wales, Wiltshire, Sussex, Lancashire and Greater Manchester.
But on that same night, August 9, thousands of rioters looted the city centres of Manchester and Salford. Rioting, looting and, eventually, murder occurred in several large English cities.
Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan of Greater Manchester said more than 1,000 officers had been deployed but "overwhelmed" by the number of rioters: "Last night's shameful destruction saw some of the worst scenes I have ever witnessed as a police officer.”
Valentina Soria, research analyst on Counter-terrorism and Security at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in Whitehall noted that the worldwide coverage of the London riots had ‘focused on the police's handling of the disorder and what the potential repercussions for the delivery of Olympic Games security would be in a year’s time. Thus the world's attention is now on London for all sorts of wrong reasons.
‘Coincidentally, representatives from several National Olympic Committees had been scheduled to convene in London during these days to assess pre-Games logistics and arrangements. And although members of the International Olympic Committee swiftly pointed out that they have total confidence in the UK authorities' ability to deliver on their promises for safe and secure Games, there is little doubt they will be watching anxiously to see how this crisis will be solved.
‘According to Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steven Kavanagh, the Met's forces were stretched beyond belief during the Monday night disorders. This is a statement which highlights how, from the outset, police officers quickly found themselves to be under-resourced to deal properly with what was unravelling.’
On August 10, the Prime Minister told an emergency sitting of the House of Commons that his coalition government would not abandon plans to impose 20 per cent budget cuts on the police.
He said these were ‘totally achievable’ without any reduction in visible policing presence.
"What we are saying, over the next four years, we are looking for cash reductions in policing budgets. Once you take into account the fact there is a precept, that helps fund the police, [the actual cash reduction of 6 per cent over the next four years] is totally achievable without any reductions in visible policing. A growing number of police chiefs are making that point.
‘Today we still have 7,000 trained police officers in back office jobs. Part of our programme of police reform is about freeing up police for frontline duties. That is why I can make this very clear pledge to the House. At the end of this process of making sure our police budgets are affordable we will still be able to surge as many police on to the streets as we have in recent days in London, in Wolverhampton, in Manchester. I do think it is important people understand that."
Four days later, Dr Timothy Brain, the former Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, now senior research fellow at the Police Science Institute of Cardiff University, published a paper, Police Funding (England & Wales) 2011, claiming that 29,700 police officers and civilian staff would have to be made redundant by 2015 to achieve the 20 per cent cost cuts.
The report states that
‘Ministers expect the brunt of such losses to fall in the so-called back office, but with as many as 16,000 police officer posts going, there is little prospect of the frontline being unaffected. Coincidentally, 16,000 officers were needed to restore order to the streets of London last week.’
‘The growth in police officer numbers since 2004/05 has been principally to enable neighbourhood, or community, policing. It is likely it will be in neighbourhood policing where the greatest impact will be felt. Police services and officers' morale are both likely to suffer.’
The Association of Chief Police Officers has predicted 28,000 job losses, the Opposition Labour Party estimated 30,000, and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary suggested 34,100, since more than 11,000 posts had already been lost.
After police officers from Wales were sent to assist in riot control in England, Gary Bohun, the chairman of the South Wales Police Federation said,
"The government is planning to cut police officer numbers by 16,000 officers in the next four years. The thin blue line is not only thin, but anorexic and in places entirely opaque."