Those of you who work in HR will be familiar with the psychological contract for everyone else here’s a condensed version of it when applied to employer, employee relations.
It is defined as ‘…the perceptions of the two parties, employee and employer, of what their mutual obligations are towards each other’. These obligations will often be informal and imprecise: they may be inferred from actions or from what has happened in the past, as well as from statements made by the employer. Some obligations may be seen as ‘promises’ and others as ‘expectations’. The important thing is that they are believed by the employee to be part of the relationship with the employer.
So what’s that got to do with our boys & girls in blue? A similar contract applies between the police and the public. Something which seems to have escaped the attention of Sara Thornton, head of the National Police Chiefs Council this week.
The Chief Constable said that we shouldn’t expect a police officer to turn up to a domestic burglary. Because of budget cuts police needed to focus on real threat and harm such as terrorism, cyber crime and sexual offences which are on the rise.
If her intention was to spark debate then she has hit the mark. But in reality is it a feasible stance to take? Whilst acts of terror and national sex abuse scandals are a sad reality. None of these will happen to the majority of people in their lifetime. But most people know someone who has been burgled or subjected to constant anti-social behaviour. These things are also more likely to happen to people in their lifetime.
The fear of terrorism as such may be high but for most what’s going on in their own neighbourhood and town can be a cause of much more fear. This is what chief constable Thornton has forgotten, we pay for the police and we give them considerable powers. In return we expect support and protection. That is the psychological contract between police and public.
At the inception of the police force Sir Robert Peel set out Principles by which the police would operate. The first two sate that: “The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder as an alternative to the repression of crime and disorder by military force and severity of legal punishment”. Secondly that “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behaviour and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.
The police are under pressure from cuts and serious crimes but when planning where to deploy limited resources chief constables need to have Peel’s principles and the psychological contract with the public firmly in mind.
Luckily some common sense prevails in the head of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspectorate of Constabulary Sir Tom Winsor. Who had made it clear that “It is unsustainable for any police force to decline to attend and properly investigate crimes of a serious nature, such as burglary or domestic violence.”
Let’s hope that view prevails and support our police forces in retaining it.