• Dom

Wayne Couzens, Cost-cutting and Terrorism

I posted this earlier on my Facebook page. Occasionally you see a gap in the national conversation (if you can call it a conversation) and feel obliged to say something others appear to have missed. And, for the record, I'm not in the business of making excuses for the Met. Not my circus. Not my clowns. Not any more.

Anyway, this is what I wrote:

Long post. Grab a brew. Apropos Wayne Couzens, and how he ended up in the Met so easily... funding cuts and Terrorism. Bear with me.

The background to the Couzens case is a jigsaw with lots of contradictory parts, and I'm quietly confident this is one of them. And I'm not really surprised, given the quality of the media commentary surrounding Couzens, this point hasn't been made. Maybe because it's a fairly technical issue, not easily explained in a shrill sentence or two. But let me explain, in case you're interested.

There are three categories of civilian police forces in England and Wales;

Home Office Forces: The Police you see on the streets dealing with everyday stuff. There are 43 of them, and they're geographically organised. As the name suggests, their governance is via PCCs and the Home Office.

Ministry Forces: There are three, who provide specific policing functions to *National* government. They are the CNC (Civil Nuclear Constabulary), the MDP (Ministry of Defence Police) and the BTP (British Transport Police). The only one that really provides recognisably policing services to Joe Public are the BTP - the other two provide largely armed 'security policing' to government premises. Let me be blunt - most Home Office police don't see 'Ministry' officers as real police, although BTP get more of a pass given their public-facing role. Wandering around a nuclear power station or submarine base with a gun isn't 'policing'.

The Others: Municipal police services like Ports police, parks police and weird and wonderful anomalies like the Mersey Tunnels police. I mention them only in the interest of completeness.

It used to be officers from Ministry forces weren't allowed to transfer to Home Office forces without undergoing the full recruit training package. Why? Because their roles and training were different. Home Office police also received better pensions (although no longer), to reflect the significant difference in their roles.

Wayne Couzens, who'd been a part-time, unpaid, volunteer in Kent Police, joined the CNC and was engaged in security patrol work. He wouldn't have had a probationary period where he was supervised dealing with the public - unless opening the gate for staff at Dungeness counts.

In 2008, UK PLC ran out of money. Come 2010 and the new austerity government, Home Office forces needed people, on the hurry up and cheaply. They also, *crucially* needed more firearms officers to feed the counter-terrorism machine - especially the Met in London who are responsible for the GSZ (Government Security Zone). All CNC and MDP officers are trained to use guns. MDP, for example, is the largest armed police force in the UK.

Quite possibly to expedite this, the old rules around Ministry police officers joining Home Office forces were relaxed - especially for firearms officers like Couzens. This not only saved money, but filled empty slots, allowing politicians to talk about increased police numbers.

And so, after a brief spell as a response officer in southeast London, Couzens was quickly transferred to what I knew as the DPG (Diplomatic Protection Group), where the work wasn't wildly different from his old role at CNC (although I guess a nuclear power station is less toxic than Westminster). I'm sure the overtime incentive also played a part (Couzens was £29K in debt when arrested and living off of payday loans... as a former professional standards officer I can tell you financial problems are the most common red flag for bad cops). DPG officers usually joined for one of three reasons - to study for promotion, for the money, or for a break from response policing.

As an aside, I was also around when Met vetting systems were overwhelmed by the sudden expansion of staff (when PCSOs were joining the Met in the mid / late-2000s we had at least one convicted rapist slip through the vetting net). Vetting is a whole different topic, even more arcane than cross-force transfer procedures.

And yes, there are many other reasons why the Couzens affair is deeply disturbing. The culture inside 'security policing' is one of them (guns, overtime dependency, steroids, boring work, wannabe machismo, sexism etc), but the question still needs to be asked; who at the Home Office decided armed security guards from quasi-police forces should be fast-tracked into the mainstream? I'm sure, in case there's a public inquiry into all this, the shredders are going into overdrive at Marsham Street.

Outliers will always exist, and systems are imperfect - but would a creature like Wayne Couzens have got through six months of proper training in a Home Office force followed by 18 months probation on the street dealing with the public? I don't know, of course (lots of bent Old Bill have), but I suggest it would've been better than the way he did finally inveigle his way into the Met.

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