Bobbies: the ‘Swiss Army knife’ of British Policing

Wenger Swiss Army knife, opened.
Swiss Army knife

When people hear the words Swiss Army most will usually think of knives, it’s a fact that was recently highlighted on the BBC Today Show (see here). For my part I probably fall into that category however I also think of British Police Officers…

The original Swiss Officer’s and Sport Knife and predecessor of the Swiss Army knife was originally patented in 1897. Since then Victorinox, which now makes 35,000 knives each day, has continuously developed it’s business to match customer demands. Just like the British police service, contrary to much of the financially driven political rhetoric.

The company have supplied the Swiss army with knives for more than 125 years, that’s nearly as long as Bobbies have been protecting and serving the public. Today Victorinox also produce many other products in addition to their knives, they have updated their portfolio to meet changing expectations, as have the British police. The Swiss Army knife adapts to remain a cutting-edge tool, the police have done the same but it serves various political and personal agenda well to suggest or imply british policing is stuck in the dark-ages. Not so!

Loosely continuing the knife analogy BBC Today also asked (see here): “Is the brain like a Swiss Army knife?”Apparently Professor Nancy Kanwisher, of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, is leading research to ascertain if  the brain is like the Swiss Army knife i.e. is it a mass of different tools or a single general purpose tool?  I would add a further observation to that – A British Police Officer was just like a Swiss Army Knife. That is until politicians and senior officers damaged the flexibility and overall worth of the tool as a valuable resource for the public.

Years of specialisation in specific roles and, to a certain extent, increased demarkation between remits and responsibilities have effectively created a less useful resource. One that is less able to meet the differing requirements in what is often, a fast-moving and changing environment of critical demand.

The creation of a multi-tiered service, with extremely reduced experience of specific tasks outside a limited remit, has in real terms, reduced the overall flexibility of a valuable resource. Management and allocation of that resource to specific tasks has become far more problematical than was previously the case.

Many will say that a one size fits all ethos is no longer appropriate, especially in an age of increased requirements of professionalism. The same people will suggest; increased demands in areas requiring greater levels of technological and investigative skills are required. That may be so and yes, there are differing demands today than was previously the case.

International hi-tec crime, narcotics and terrorism et al are all challenges facing police today however; the largest proportion of police work is still and always will be, the mundane and routine. The burglaries, the petty theft, road accidents, domestic disputes, violence and anti-social behaviour. It all happens 24/7, despite reams of manipulated crime statistics and suspect public confidence surveys, or even cleverly created police PR campaigns around one-off ‘special’ operations suggesting any different.

It’s the stuff that impacts upon you and I as citizens and rightly, the stuff that we all want dealing with in an expedient and efficient manner. Unfortunately this often isn’t the case now, mostly thanks to the changes that UK policing has endured over recent years. Which in turn, is probably also the predominant root cause of the (mostly disguised) increase in petty crime, drunkenness and mayhem we see in our communities up and down the country, on a far too regular basis.

Politicians would all do well to remember; the flexibility and convenience of a Swiss Army Knife as a tool of convenience in difficult and urgent situations should never be underestimated. At least you have a chance of making running repairs until the specialist tools can be deployed.

You can’t replace the quality of a Swiss Army Knife with an inferior product just because it costs less; at some point that replacement is likely to result in a catastrophic failure. A failure that presents danger for all around but in particular, the user is also likely to get injured!

Note: We may be in the early stages of understanding the brain scientifically however; perhaps it’s time for some research into what actually goes on in the grey matter of our politicians!

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