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Does 2020 policing fit The Bill? How modern-day law enforcement compares with its presentation in classic TV drama

  • The University of Law (ULaw) analysed major changes in the police service over the past ten years and envisions what could be next
  • New complex and social problems, a rise in cyber enabled crimes as well as new crimes such as revenge porn, trolling, malware, online scams and many more have changed policing.
  • There has been a substantial investment to tackle cyber enabled crime

Marking a decade since the end of the iconic police drama, The Bill, ULaw has analysed how modern-day policing has evolved, envisioning what may come following what has been a landmark year for law enforcement.

The show went through hundreds of characters, including four main Superintendents of the fictional Sun Hill Police Station. During this time, viewers saw some truly unforgettable story lines including drug busts, child abduction and high-profile fraud cases around the infamous Jasmine Allen Estate in Canley. 

While all this may still happen also in real life, a huge number of criminal offences and their detection now often lies in different areas requiring different measures.

Rise in cyber enabled crime, data protection and digital policing

There have been some landmark law changes that have impacted British society since Sun Hill Station closed its doors. Positively, we have seen legalisation allowing same sex marriages (2013) and notable rises to minimum national wage each year as part of employment law. Another big change came in 2018 with the introduction of GDPR.

The General Data Protection Regulation was introduced in place of the previous Data Protection Act to provide significantly more protection of people’s data, due to an increase in cyber enabled-crime which doubled across a five year period from 13% in 2015 to a quarter (25%) of all UK businesses falling victim to this type of crime by the end of 2019.

The cyber-security industry has received huge levels of investments year-on-year, in order to tackle the growing security threats from cyber-crime, with the UK cyber security sector estimated to be worth £8.3 billion last year.

This type of crime wasn’t seen on The Bill, whereas now, ten years on, the police have had to ramp up their investment in software and hardware as well as training officers to fight this type of crime.

This shows a new focus in the type of crime needing to be addressed.

Another change that has taken place is the rise of online bullying. Never did viewers see police called to apprehend internet trolls on the old TV show, but nowadays this is a common problem in society, with some reporting that 43% of children fall victim to this type of offence.

Uniform and presentability

At the time the uniforms in The Bill were an exact match of what you could expect an officer to wear in real life, but the past decade has seen changes in what to expect of an officers’ appearance.

Back in the Sun Hill days we’d never have seen the likes of PC Tony Stamp sporting a beard, but now male officers are permitted to have well-kept facial hair whilst out in public, whereas in 2010 they were expected to be clean shaven.

The acceptance of visible tattoos has also changed, with officers being allowed to display tattoos, following a public survey in 2016 that deemed they were unoffensive. Yet the position of visible tattoos such as on necks and hands is up to the discretion of individual police constabularies.

Commenting on what could be next for the force, Jennifer Schmidt-Petersen, Programme & Student Lead for Policing at ULaw, said:

“This year has seen new laws introduced in ways we’ve never seen before, with some legislation being passed almost overnight and police given emergency powers to help tackle the pandemic. Aside from this however, the introduction of the Policing Vision 2025 in the last few years has set out the plan for policing over the next decade.

“The Vision explains how a modern police force can evolve to tackle issues such as terrorism, cyber-bullying and cyber-crime. These types of crimes call for a service that is specially trained and able to tackle increasingly sophisticated crimes. It’s because of this we developed our Professional Policing degree which provides students with the experience and education to excel in the modern-day police force. The degree covers key areas of policing such a digital policing, response and community policing, investigations and counter terrorism. It also provides optional modules in key and related areas such as forensic and criminal psychology and cybercrime.

“The consistent fall in the number of police officers has been notable. However, a clearly mapped out vision, alongside the Government’s pledged investment in recruitment over the next few years, has opened more avenues for people to seek a career in policing. With the option of a specialist policing degree now in place, it’ll be interesting to see how UK law enforcement grows and evolves by 2030.”

Find out more about ULaw’s Professional Policing course