Posted 08 January 2013 - 10:53 am
Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect. Photograph: ITV
Ever since the plain clothes Criminal Investigation Department (CID) came into existence in the 19th century, detective work has been the most glamorous side of policing – to the outside world, anyway. High-profile detectives wrote their memoirs and were mythologised in the press. There was Fabian of the Yard and the Old Grey Fox, Slipper and Nipper and Cherrill and Leach.
In front of me as I write is Detective Days, published in 1931 (and stolen, by the look of things, from Clacton-on-Sea library about half a century ago). It is the memoir of Frederick Wensley, former head of the CID at Scotland Yard.
"Official hours meant nothing to me," Wensley writes of his work, recounting how he had pursued a suspect for "highway robbery". He also recalls the great day he made the transition from one side of the service to the other. "I was a detective at last. I doffed my uniform that night. The next time I wore one was 34 years later."
Such accounts of detectives' derring-do were common back then, and a sign of a simpler time in policing life. Now detectives are under greater pressure than ever before, few are known to the public by name and fewer still write their memoirs.
There is, according to the National Detectives Forum which advises the Police Federation on the issue, currently a shortage of around 5,000 detectives across England and Wales. The trend is worrying, says Dennis Weeks of the Met police, who runs the forum, and it is one that appears to be growing.
To become a detective, you must have spent at least two years in uniform, and then pass the necessary exams. Further training and exams lead further up the ranks through detective sergeant, inspector, chief inspector, superintendent and so on.
Whether it's Inspector Morse or DCIs Taggart, Tennison or Barnaby, the television detective is never short of a gripping crime to solve or a grubby collar to feel. So why is there such a shortage of real-life detectives in the police; why are some leaving never to return, and others not being replaced by their uniformed brothers and sisters?
When the subject was discussed at the Police Federation conference earlier this year, a variety of explanations were offered. Detective sergeant Alicia Moore of Hertfordshire constabulary suggested that lots of paperwork, a lack of teamwork and no clothing allowance were three key reasons for the shortage.
"Throughout the country," she told the conference, "detectives are starting to retire, cuts are being made and policing pledges [to the public] are flavour of the month." Other detectives have noted that their chief constables are responding to political and media pressure to have lots of "bobbies on the beat", which means that there is less incentive at the top of the service to encourage officers into detective work.
"There'll always be some villains getting away with it, that's the nature of the beast," Weeks told the Today programme yesterday, "but to catch the optimum amount, there needs to be a good investment in detective officers, in police officers. The level of investigation, the degree of evidence that's required, the nuances of that evidence that need to be met, have all increased, and I don't think that police numbers have increased with that pace."
"[Detective work] has never been more complex, never higher risk and never more subject to critique from lawyers, the criminal justice system, politicians and the media," says John Grieve, one of Britain's most respected detectives and a former director of counter-terrorism who retired from the police seven years ago.
"The legislation is much more complex, too. I have great doubt whether I could hold down the job now. I have enormous admiration for the people who do and I think they do an incredible job. It's not like on TV. It's much more physically and emotionally draining than that, and it all takes much more time."
The stress factor was noted last year by Dr Michael Chatterton, who conducted a survey for the Police Federation entitled Losing the Detectives. The report quoted one officer who said he had been ill for months but did not take time off because he did not want to let his team down: "Last November I was virtually at saturation point and I almost had a panic attack because on my desk I had a couple of murders, a couple of violent disorders, a paedophile job and I thought – where the hell do we go with all this? You work through it because you've got your team around you, but you are so close to breaking down . . . You don't think you're getting stressed because you're working to that stress level all the time."
Another detective said they could point to a handful of people in their office who were "on the borderline of becoming ill due to workloads and stress". And others blamed the new police culture and its "rigid and bureaucratic approach to targets and performance management" and an oft-expressed frustration when cases were discontinued.
In the past, of course, some officers had their own reasons for not wanting to become a detective. The former commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Paul Condon, has said that many officers in the 60s declined because, at that time, the CID at Scotland Yard was so riddled with corruption that it was hard as a young officer to avoid being tainted. Life on Mars wasn't the half of it.
Those days have largely gone, but while police in uniform have their own pressures to deal with, their hours and shifts are more clearly defined and the high-tension, stressful events usually balanced by the mundane and routine. Overtime is also more available than to detectives, who are encouraged to take time off in lieu instead. (A detective's hours may be dictated by the nature of a crime – they can hardly clock off in the midst of a murder investigation.) Some officers also say they prefer the camaraderie and teamwork of uniformed life.
And yet, many young officers still very much fancy their chances at being a detective. Even if the jobs cannot be solved quite as swiftly as Morse, Taggart and Barnaby (three murders an episode and home for tea and scones with the wife) somehow manage, it can still be, as one detective I spoke to described it, "the best job in the world".
'The job can be very disheartening' A detective speaks
Morale is quite low at the moment and there can be a lot of frustrations. If you have an emotional investment in the job, and you know that the public see you as the frontline of the judicial system, it can be very disheartening when cases you have been working on don't end up in court. I could tell plenty of horror stories about cases that should result in charges but don't.
One of the problems with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is that their performance indicators – what they are judged on – are how many of their cases result in a conviction. This means that a lot of the cases that should go in front of a jury and have a fair crack of the whip in court are dropped because there is that possibility of failure. That can be very demoralising.
There is also a general feeling that if you want to advance your career, you are more likely to do that in uniform. In the past, you could move faster up the ranks that way. You could be seven or eight years becoming a detective constable but you could be a sergeant in uniform much quicker than that. Also, if you are in uniform, you can have 12-hour shifts and four days on, four days off, whereas detectives work eight-hour days.
I don't think that the way detectives are portrayed on television has much to do with it one way or the other. The last time I saw The Bill, I thought, "Bloody hell!" It was laughable. There are a lot of very bright people doing the job but it is hard work. You'll never get rich but there are so many different sides to the work. I would 1,000% rather be a detective than in uniform.
The detective requested to remain anonymous.
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Posted 08 January 2013 - 11:59 am
We have very few detectives at the moment, but we also have very few everything at the moment. Going to CID is still seen as a good career choice, but the antisocial hours payment drops off as you are often on days and the spp is gone, or not gone maybe, so it costs.
The problem is that the goal posts keep moving, or just being deleted, time and time again. I was going to be a Sgt in the next couple of years, exam willing, but now there are not only no promotions (except for the chief inspectors butt polisher) they are planning to cull as many sgts posts as they possibly can. Meaning that to even do a sgts exam at the moment is pointless.
To apply for another post is to put yourself up in the firing line and not wanting to be where you are. So even if you dont get your role, you are put into any other they feel like using. So looking to change departments is dangerous and once you have gone, you may never get back.
So in summary, we dont have enough of everything, other than paperwork, crime is going up and there is nothing we can do but try not to get hurt.,
Posted 08 January 2013 - 04:08 pm
I was always under the understanding that lots of suspects get charged and successfully get convicted?:/ If this isn't the case then obviously that must be rather demoralising for that certain detective. It's a big shame that some people might be put off by this and because of this, don't bother applying for the role. It does seem like a rewarding role though and I am very surprised hearing that there is a lack of detectives!
Posted 08 January 2013 - 04:18 pm
One of the benefits of my role on the front line. I rarely see a victim or deal with a case for more than a day. I dont get invested in cases which are either tragic events befalling people or idiots stabbing each other and wasting my time and energy for months.
Posted 08 January 2013 - 04:22 pm
To be honest, I have always been more interested in the front line rolls
Posted 08 January 2013 - 05:57 pm
We too are short of detectives. Why? There are so many, many reasons for PC to choose to avoid the CID route.
In my area, the shift pattern has changed. We now must work two weekends a month. That's ok, but when you consider many of our cases require us to attend Crown Court, this often means that any rest days during the week have to be worked.
The complexity of the cases often means a lot of overtime with no warning; a serious offence is reported (such as rape), and it means we work until such time that we can even manage a break, let alone go home. If we finish at 3am, we still have to be back at work by early morning.
Workload is heavy - and as putting together the full file for the trial can take several days to achieve, and unless you're a detective, or have been involved in serious and complex cases, the full file can't be fully appreciated.
What incentives to work in CID? A satisfaction that when a suspect either pleads guilty or is found guilty, means a custodial sentence. To me, that's a reward for my hard work.
Posted 08 January 2013 - 06:08 pm
Posted 08 January 2013 - 07:11 pm
Posted 11 January 2013 - 09:21 pm
I think to be a DC you have to be more than a little 'job pissed' To be constantly off late when a body is brought in when your team is dealing with prisoners and the huge workload with lots of time at court means its really not a job for someone with family commitments. I have worked on crime squads and in the main office as one of those PC's who wear jeans and trainers (it was usually a suit Byrne you cock) There were a few times I looked round the office and realised that everyone else was divorced and had a pretty sad personal life and I thought, "this is not really me".
So I went off to a neighbourhood team...
If the job ever un-######s itself I would consider it as there are far more opportunities for developement as a detective.
Posted 14 January 2013 - 10:48 pm
Its not glamorous, it can involve anti-social hours, it does bring higher levels of expectation, it can knacker relationships but its still the best place to work. Locus protection or enquiry team, door to door co-ordinator or crime scene manager, community reassurance or SIO, no contest every time. It can take over your life but only if you let it.
Posted 15 January 2013 - 03:21 am
In the US most officers also prefer patrol to investigations. It is a different mindset and requires a different set of skills.
Posted 10 February 2013 - 11:07 pm
A friend of mine who is a constable is training to be a detective.
I think he would be really good at it because he is a good person and he is really good at paperwork and organising things.
GO DARREN GO DARREN GO DARREN...............................LOL
Posted 13 March 2013 - 01:11 pm
I did 6 years in CID before getting made up to Sgt in uniform. DC's have it tough, long hours, poor work life balance and in my force SPP's etc were geared towards uniform. If you then factor in a shift pattern that goes 6 days on 4 days off you can see why noone wants to be a detective. In addition the new pay conditions are for uniform to make money
, not CID.
Posted 19 April 2013 - 01:21 pm
Those of you who have seen my thread of "The police - not a job worth doing" will know my feelings on the matter.
I'm a DC on a very busy station. Currently I'm on a bulk crime sorta department - burglary/robbery/similar etc...
It is a tough job. I did 4 years uniformed, front line policing. It was SOOOO much more fun and (to be really frank) easier.
I think I'll probably do 2-3 more years of this and then move on as I don't think I could be a DC for any longer. The overtime, stress, the pressures are too much at times and not really worth it.
Posted 04 June 2013 - 01:48 am
Investigations require a different skill set. A different personality. It is less action oriented and more cerebral. The paperwork, well that is the key to getting a conviction. The better the case is documented the better it will do in court.
Posted 13 June 2013 - 07:58 am
I cant comment on the national picture however in my force they are saying as thing stand they expect to loose or will have lost a third of their detectives. i don't buy into the argument uniform is easier its a wide sweeping comment that doesn't take in account so many variables we have detectives working on certain teams who work set hours in excellent working conditions never off late selective in what they investigate likewise the revised pay and conditions are there to reward shift workers.
Fairly recently CID had their shift patterns changed as a result no doubt of someone newly promoted on the top corridor this is one of the big issues more weekend working, on paper shorter working days but more of them and rota thats so complicated its hard to follow.
The problem we have be it in uniform or CID is the bosses gear everything to the demands of politicians local or national along with local self interest groups they no longer take staff welfare, working conditions and best practice into consideration as long as they can go to a public meeting and say look what Ive done.
Standards in uniform policing have dropped over the years quality of work, files is low self generated work hardly happens these people dont have the mind set to make it as detectives yet they get into the role putting more pressure on those already working to capacity
its not until someone decides to review the way the police operate and redefine our role and clearly set out what we should be doing that things will change and that is not going to happen anytime soon
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