Policing is never out of the headlines at the moment. It is under the spotlight on a regular basis like many public services.
The work affects everyone and touches people’s lives. Police officers also have significant power and control so it is understandable that every action and decision made is subject to intense scrutiny.
Working in a comms and public relations role for the police is always going to be tough due to the profile it has and the 24/7 nature of the work. But it is one of the most rewarding roles I have ever had. Police communicators provide a frontline service, supporting investigations and helping with the detection and prevention of crime.
There are many stories of how comms activity has directly improved people’s lives, including when missing people are found through social media appeals and victims come forward because they have seen publicity and feel confident to speak to police. In Surrey a missing woman was found; she had collapsed and would have died without the information coming in from a Facebook appeal. In Greater Manchester a vital witness to a serious crime came forward after an appeal on social media. In Thames Valley a victim of hate crime came forward after publicity for Hate Crime Awareness Week.
Behind all these examples there is a police communicator or team working to get results.
But we are facing a recruitment crisis and filling vacancies is proving to be problematic.
Teams have been subject to cuts for the past five or six years as the squeeze has been put on public sector finances.
Set this against the public sector pay freeze and growing public expectations have added to the problems.
Forces around London also face additional pressures because of the high cost of living in the south of the country.
Many police forces are carrying vacancies and are now trying different ways to attract talent, bringing people in at entry level with a plan to train and develop them for other roles.
Some are using apprentices or volunteers to boost teams. It is important that we develop our existing staff but also encourage new people to join.
Working in police comms also brings challenges caused by perceptions of the role. Policing can be seen as hierarchical, risk averse and traditional. This leads to many people thinking comms roles are restrictive, where you are effectively told what to do. It couldn’t be further from the truth.
We need to change the perception of police communicators otherwise vacancies will mean work doesn’t get done. But is more than that: criminals will not be caught, victims will not get justice and it will impact on public confidence.
With the additional workload pressures on police officers and a reducing workforce, there is nobody to carry out the work if there are empty seats within the comms team.
Amanda Coleman is director of corporate comms at Greater Manchester Police