Jacqui Smith warns ‘police bashing’ could deter talented candidates

Jacqui Smith has failed to rule out that ongoing “police bashing” in the wake of the G20 protests will deter talented candidates from applying to become police officers.

The home secretary told Personnel Today she “hoped” police officer recruitment would not suffer as a result of the public outcry over the Police Service’s handling of last month’s protests, where officers were caught on camera allegedly hitting innocent protesters; hiding their badge numbers; and apparently allowing plain-clothed officers to carry batons.

But Smith was reluctant to say that intense media pressure and increasing scrutiny over officers’ roles would have no affect on police hiring.

When asked after her keynote speech at the Police Federation annual conference today whether forces would find it hard to recruit new talent while enduring intense media pressure, Smith said: “I hope not. But that was part of the reason why I said very clearly [in my speech] that I hoped there wasn’t going to be police bashing, that I felt, never mind only the G20, that actually we have the best police force in the world in this country.”

She added: “I hope so [that people will apply]. I believe they will.”

But Smith pointed out that officers had difficult and sensitive jobs. “When on a small number of occasions things go wrong they should be properly investigated.”

In her speech, Smith praised the ‘behind the scenes’ work of the thousands of officers deployed at the G20 protests.

However, she used the chance to warn officers to behave appropriately when under pressure.

“Let’s be clear about this. Even under pressure, it’s vital that the professional standards you prize so highly are upheld. Badge numbers should be visible. Where there has been wrongdoing or cause for complaint, we should let the processes we have in place take their proper course,” she said.

Police job cuts

Smith also rejected claims that police officer numbers had fallen over the past three years, stating a 2.7% increase taking the total figure to 140,000. She had secured funding to maintain policing levels for 2010-11, she added.

If police officer jobs were being cut in some forces, as many delegates had complained, it was down to the decision of chief constables choosing to spend money in other ways, and not pressure from the government.

“It is not my job to tell individual officers in each force how to spend their money,” she said.

Other issues raised by delegates after Smith’s keynote speech included the removal of several police expenses and allowances, at a time when MPs’ inappropriate expenses – including the home secretary’s – have been exposed.

Smith said officers should get the expenses and allowances they needed to carry out their jobs properly, and reiterated MPs’ needed to “change the way we do our allowances as parliamentarians”.

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