Dr Graham Hill, a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, believes that the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary needs to define a very clear career path for detectives.
Sputnik: What problems could arise for Britain as it tries not only to police the streets after 10pm but also tries to tackle serious crime, with a lack of specialist manpower?
Graham Hill: Well, I think the COVID-19 crisis is going to cause some serious problems in the world of the detective because they rely on limited resources. In my experience, when there is an emergency or a major incident, which COVID-19 clearly is, then resources get moved from one place to the other. So, I think what you're going to find [is] these forces are going to be moving detectives from one role into another role and what's going to happen is that's going to affect the service that the public gets in terms of who turned up for their burglary and who investigates their crime.
Sputnik: On the subject of staffing numbers for investigative detectives in Britain, why are we seeing such a drain in talent for this vital position?
Graham Hill: Well, I think the dwindling number of detectives has happened over the past 10 years or so. I think what you're seeing is that as police forces are given more and more responsibility, and they become the 24-hour go-to service, then they have to decide how much resources they put into crime investigation. They clearly need major crime investigation for serious crimes and they put detectives into those roles but the detectives that work in divisions across the United Kingdom are often the detectives that are going to come out to the robbery or the burglary, and they are going to be the people that work long hours; their overtime has been cut gradually, and the stress related to being a detective is very different to working as a uniformed police officer on a shift. So uniform officers on shifts are able to pass their work over to the oncoming shift whereas detectives don't have the ability to do that. Their hours are dictated by the type of crime they're investigating. So, it's a different type of policing, with inbuilt stresses, that a lot of officers have chosen not to take up as a career path.
Sputnik: How can we expect the Government to tackle this issue? Will we see a recruitment drive for those specialist roles?
Graham Hill: Well, the Government has made noises about direct entry as detectives into the police service. I know that the Police Federation and a lot of senior officers in the police service have decided, or are of the opinion that, that probably wouldn't be a good move. Before you become a detective you really have to learn your craft as a uniform officer and then progress to the role of the detective. I think what you're going to have to see is greater numbers of new recruits coming into the police service but what the Police Service and the Police Federation, and the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary need to do is to define a very clear career path for detectives.
If someone comes into the police service, does two years as a uniformed patrol officer, and then decides that they want to become a detective; they have to have a clear route to becoming a detective and then a clear route to becoming a senior detective. That isn't available at the moment and it's not enticing enough. Also, the status of the detective has been eroded over the years, so that it doesn't have the prestige it had maybe 20 or 30 years ago. They need to re-establish that to entice more recruits into the roles. The issue is about the funding that police are given by central government. I don't think there's going to be any immediate change, and I don't think there's going be any immediate change in numbers, but what I think there needs to be [is] a change in the mindset of senior management within the police service. They have to change the way the role of the detective is seen by younger, newer officers within the police force.