Former Home Secretary Jack Straw has been reported as saying "I'm afraid I'm rather sceptical about the excuse that ... the police, is overworked and therefore can't change. With a given level of resources, some police forces, or some parts of police forces do very much better than others.
Some police officers, whatever they say, actually quite enjoy being in the police station in the warm. We are dealing with human beings, but we are also dealing with the kind of discipline and culture in the police service."
Usually, I do not have much time for Straw but in this case I think he is absolutely right. The UK police force is the last home of 'Spanish Practices' and successive governments have failed to make them competent and accountable. Many forces are badly managed and provide a home for the lame and lazy.
For as long as I can remember the police have had two alibis for their poor performance.
Willie Whitelaw was Home Secretary from 1979 to 1983.
"He boasted how after any security lapse, the police would come to beg for new and draconian powers. He laughed and sent them packing, saying only a bunch of softies would erode British liberty to give themselves an easier job. He said they laughed in return and remarked that 'it was worth a try'. Now the try always works." Link
Of course, Whitelaw was a more formidable figure than some recent Home Secretaries. Wikipedia describes his war record "He commanded Churchill tanks during the heavy fighting in Normandy during the Second World War..his was the first Allied unit to encounter German Jagdpanther tank destroyers. The battalion second-in-command was killed when his tank was hit in front of Whitelaw's eyes, and Whitelaw succeeded to this position. He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions."
Such a man probably felt contempt for a group of men who had spent the war safe in the UK in a reserved occupation.
By comparison Labour Home Secretaries, such as David Blunkett [former clerk] and the pathetic Jacqui Smith [former teacher], have been like rabbits facing stoats, and have failed to confront the police to bring about the reforms that are needed.
Standards are woefully low, accountability is minimal and much spending is wasted.
For example, a high percentage of the police budget is spent on pensions because of the force's absurdly generous pension arrangements.
The other alibi for police incompetence is that they are over burdened by unnecessary paperwork. For example, the number of forms they have to complete when they stop and search someone.
Straw addresses this argument by pointing out that all police forces have to complete the same paperwork, but some are much better at doing it. "And it is the ones who are the less efficient and who have the wrong approach to the public who fall back on this 'Oh, I'm overworked' [argument]. He said while some officers would claim it took four hours to fill in forms, good police officers will take an hour to fill in the same forms because they want to get out and catch criminals."
He could also have mentioned that the London Metropolitan Police used Section 44 powers to stop and search over 57,000 people, and all this effort produced an arrest rate of 0.6%.
Hampshire Police conducted 3,481 stop and searches under Section 44, but arrested no one in connection with terror.
Evidence of overwork? I don't think so. Evidence of incompetence? That's more like it.
Finally, it was disappointing to see the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats rushing to the defence of the police. In this case Labour got it right and they got it wrong.