Looking for the detectives

by Mark Rowe

Where have all the detectives gone? asks our regular contributor, the retired policeman (and former detective) Jim Gannon.

For some time now there have been concerns expressed about the dwindling numbers of front-line investigating detectives, available in those remaining operational police stations across the country. We are all aware that the forced finance cuts in public services have seriously affected both our prisons and police, but quite how that really reflects itself in criminal investigation departments (CID) we can only guess. That is however until quite recently when information highlighting the shortage of operational detectives in the Metropolitan Police got into the public domain.

As a young police officer one aspired to become a detective doing what some described as ‘real police work’. The chosen few from the rank and file officers were not every officer’s cup of tea. The challenge of becoming a good detective was not the choice of the majority of officers who preferred working in the many roles performed by uniformed officers.

New Scotland Yard

New Scotland Yard was renowned for the quality of its investigatory officers and the training they received and in my days of being a young detective, they sent senior officers to head murder investigations in a large proportion of police force areas. I considered myself privileged to have been able to attend the Metropolitan Police Detective training school, based then in Chelsea where the cream of the Met CID from New Scotland Yard and the City of London Police provided instructors. It was therefore with some sadness that I learned that in a time of rising crime that the Metropolitan Police of all forces has allowed itself to create around 700 detective vacancies and has asked officers due for retirement this year to stay on in service and assist with the mentoring of untrained junior detective officers, due to the shortages.

Alarming facts

The recent revelation comes only a few months after it became known that the Met announced plans to employ inexperienced special constables in the role of part-time detectives as they battled the challenge of maintaining its criminal investigative capability in the face of ever increasing crime rates. While the Met probably have the largest number of trained detectives in any UK police force they are also facing the biggest challenges in crime investigation. The Met is not however unique, as other forces are in a similar position, not helped by the fact that uniformed officers generally no longer aspire to become detectives with the extra responsibilities, extended working hours and often challenging working conditions and all for little variance in pay and conditions.
Numbers of operational detectives in CID offices across the country dealing with the day to day crime like theft, burglary, assault, indecency and fraud have been significantly reduced even though crime has steadily risen over the last two decades, despite what we are being told by the pundits. In one office where I was stationed for three years we had one Detective Inspector, three detective sergeants and twelve detective constables. In recent years that office was operating with one detective sergeant and four detective constables with crime figures off the scale since my day.

Office for National Statistics (ONS)

The cut in police officer numbers is not helped by the ONS crime statistics released in January for England and Wales. These indicate a soar in reported crime from six million to over 11.5 million. Whilst a proportion of this is no doubt down to the inclusion of computer misuse and the wider scope of fraud, one cannot ignore the other aspects of crime including violent crime with murder and manslaughter rising 22 per cent; the highest recorded for five years.

Cautioning offenders

If you have not read the feature on organised retail theft in February’s edition of Professional Security (page 64) then make sure you do, as it highlights concerning issues about retail theft and how the police are administering cautions for high value shop theft. This is totally contrary to what police cautions were intended for. West Midlands Police strategic crime analyst Nick Foster gave accounts where police issued cautions for multiple offences involving shoplifting £1000 of products and where an offender caught with £4k value in goods yet his home address was not visited or searched by the police. While we have to acknowledge that organised travelling criminals make it difficult for the police with either having no permanent address or just temporary accommodation addresses, there has to be some joined up thinking about how to deal with this increasing threat to retailing organisations.

National Business Crime Solution (NBCS)

If you recall we used to have a very active organisation the British Retail Consortium’s Action Against Business Crime (AABC). This organisation disbanded when grant money dried up. Whilst there are moves now to re-establish national business reduction organisations so they are more effective, it appears the main hurdle to overcome is the sharing of intelligence and the speed in which police officers attend premises where shoplifters and shop fraudsters have been caught by security personnel or staff. The response time for such cases is obviously important for all concerned and needs to be addressed. All of this is of course finance driven that is why we seem always to have to return to square one.


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