Boris’s announcement that he will use the military to back up the police has quite rightly raised alarm across the political spectrum, and I think shows signs of confusion in the senior ranks of the government.
Firstly, I accept that there are not enough police officers to do the job, the consequence of more than a decade of Tory cuts to the police service.
Secondly, what the police do has changed and their priorities are very distorted from traditional British policing. “Hate Crime”, social media, protecting and not enforcing the law on minority ethnic groups, the suppression of any but far left views and promoting Gay/Trans “rights” are now the police priority, not law enforcement.
The police are way out of touch with the public mood and respect has plummeted. They struggle to enforce the unpopular and arguably ineffective Covid regulations. No wonder they are seen as needing help. But is the military the right answer?
My policing experience of working with the military is mostly around the Fire Service strike of the 1970’s. There is no doubt that the military are superbly well organised, have good command and control and effective communication systems. All useful attributes in certain circumstances where a specific requirement must be met. This was illustrated in the early Covid response when they were used to distribute PPE across the country in the absence of an effective NHS system. They are also useful when lethal force is required as they have capabilities well beyond normal policing.
But can they “backfill” in general policing roles? I think not, but there is an assumption behind that statement that doesn’t stand up. The assumption that police officers are sitting in offices and available to be deployed on the street is no longer true, if it ever was. The pressure put by successive governments of both parties on police forces to be more efficient led to wholesale civilianisation of “back office” policing roles to the point that virtually every police officer is on a front-line operational role. One side effect of this has been the increasing level of “burn out” amongst officers. Operational policing is incredibly stressful, and the office roles were often used to give some respite, just like rotating troops from the front line. This doesn’t happen anymore and combined with the shortage of numbers some forces are now warning that their officers are exhausted from continual 12-hour shifts and cancellation of rest days. The thin blue line is at breaking point. So, it is a myth that more police officers can be released for front line duty. Those posts are occupied by civilians who cannot be forced onto the front line.
So, what can the military do? Everyone recognises that the Covid rules are a nightmare to enforce. Even the most experienced bobbies struggle and the sight of police officers arresting people for not wearing a mask is a public relations disaster. Do we want our soldiers tainted by similar images? I don’t think so.
I will also throw another pebble in the pond. In recent months I have seen the police respond in a rather brutal and heavy-handed manner with some veterans who have been protesting quite peacefully. The veterans have sustained injuries at the hands of the police. I am not sure that serving soldiers are going to feel too well disposed towards the police, it might be a bit of a toxic mix.
I conclude there is no role for the military in supporting the police at the moment. They might be better deployed on the South Coast beaches in support of the Border Force who are obviously not up to the job. They might also be needed very urgently if the threat of insurgent terrorism continues to escalate beyond random murders by illegal immigrants.
Retired deputy Chief Constable
Law and Order Spokesman