Relations between the British Transport Police and LU station staff have been somewhat strained of late. There’s a widespread feeling on the job that the BTP don’t take staff assaults seriously. This feeling was exacerbated by the news, reported in Tubeworker last month, that BTP officers conducted a covert operation at Piccadilly Circus, where they effectively spied on staff and undertook acts of antisocial behaviour in order to “gauge staff reaction”. Despite this less-than-collaborative relationship, many station staff feel like we should have more BTP officers on our stations.
Meanwhile, mainline train companies have been trialling wearable body cameras for station staff, in an effort to reduce assaults. There have previously been body-camera trials for LU staff too, including revenue inspectors and station staff at a few locations.
What to make of all of this? Are camera and more cops the answer to antisocial behaviour?
Tubeworker urges caution. As the Piccadilly Circus incident shows, the BTP can hardly be trusted to help us out, even when they are present. The police aren’t reliable allies. The police as an institution has a specific social role; when we strike, it's the police that come to restrict our ability to picket effectively. They're there to protect property far more than people.
We do want the police to respond quickly when called, and process our reports seriously and efficiently. But flooding our stations with cops will create a nervy, tense atmosphere for passengers and staff. If anything it could lead to more antisocial behaviour.
LU tells us it's our responsibility to de-escalate situations that could lead to assaults. Fine, but in that case we need to be supported in doing that by our employer - not via tokenistic workshops, but by improving our terms and conditions. We'll be much more level-headed if we're not fatigued from constant extreme shifts and lone working. The mixed messages from the company are starting to grate: they, rightly, tell us not to intervene with fare evaders, but are also now insisting we shepherd customers with Code 36s on their Oysters over to the POMs to top up, thereby potentially putting ourselves in danger. And remember, LU has consistently cut the number of Revenue Control Inspectors (RCIs).
Bodycams are a big risk, too. We’re railway workers, not bouncers. And do we want to expand a surveillance culture where all interactions are monitored and recorded? Issuing staff with wearable cameras would normalise assaults as part of the job. It says to staff, "you should expect to get assaulted; at least you can record it while it's happening".
We believe the key thing we need to reduce staff assaults is more staff. Having an increased staff presence makes us all safer, improves customer services (so the passengers are less pissed off!), and would reduce or eliminate lone working.