Today’s columnist, Neil Bowles: A strange time for policing

party goers out on the last Friday before Christmas - Mad Friday.'' / Chris Fairweather
party goers out on the last Friday before Christmas - Mad Friday.'' / Chris Fairweather

The Christmas period is a strange and busy time for policing. The season of peace on earth and goodwill to all? When does it start? When does it finish? It happens every year like clockwork, but it seems that some managers are taken by surprise every year.

By this I mean instead of planning resources to cover the busy periods, well in advance, some do it last minute and cause disruption to well-made plans of our members.

Don’t get me wrong, we are a disciplined service, aware that our job is 24/7, 365 days a year.

We do have conditions of service and Police Regulations that determine our hours of work. We still have to have a fair work-life balance.

This is best achieved by knowing well in advance what shifts you are working and when you are off, then you can plan events with your families, just like anyone else.

Towns and cities switch on their Christmas lights at various times. Sheffield had theirs this year on November 23, whilst Manchester had their event on November 7 – just two days after Bonfire Night, the end of another busy period for emergency services!

We then have the American import of ‘Black Friday’, thankfully without much problem this year, unlike 2014.

We move on to ‘Mad Friday’, the last Friday before Christmas, the traditional factory/office close down for the holidays. This is a big drain on policing resources to cover the night economy throughout the county.

We must remember that 99.9 per cent of people hit the pubs and clubs to have a good time, we have to pick up the pieces of the 0.1 per cent that cause mayhem through drink-related crime.

Then of course comes Christmas Eve and the festive period. It’s traditionally a family time, members gather together over the three or more days, tensions rise, and we get a lot of domestic violence issues, especially on Boxing Day.

Then there is some respite,before facing the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

This is probably the busiest few hours of the whole year. In town centres throngs of people are walking from bar to bar, go outside to hear the bells or see the fireworks at midnight.

The mood is celebratory and looking forward to the New Year, but then come 1am the mood visibly turns. Happy drunkenness turns to nasty drunkenness, and all hell breaks loose for the next four or five hours. We soon run out of cops! More calls are made on the 999 system in those few hours on January 1, than perhaps a normal couple of days.

Talking of resources, you could have knocked me down with a feather when the Chancellor gave his Budget Statement last month and said: “The police protect us and we are going to protect them. There will be real-term protection for police funding.”

But then the Home Secretary corrected that feeling, saying there will still be cuts! But we are in a better place for the future than we could have been. We are still 900 officers and 800 staff less than eight years ago however.

So when you are out celebrating or considering what to do with turkey leftovers the day after Boxing Day, please spare a thought for your local ‘bobbies’ (and all emergency service workers). I wish you Merry Christmas and happy New Year.