The Home Affairs Select Committee has urged the Government to prioritise policing in the Autumn Budget and the next Comprehensive Spending Review, warning that without any additional funding for policing, there will be “dire consequences” for public safety and criminal justice.
In the wide-ranging ‘Policing for the Future’ report looking at the changing demands on policing, the Home Affairs Committee finds that forces are struggling to cope in the face of rising criminality as a result of falling staff numbers and outdated technology as well as a “failure” of Home Office leadership. The Committee recommends major changes to the police response to new and growing crimes and warns that the Home Office cannot continue to stand back while police forces struggle.
New data gathered by the Committee shows that neighbourhood policing has been cut by over 20% since 2010, with some forces losing more than two-thirds of their neighbourhood officers. Recorded crime is up 32% in 3 years – including steep rises in robbery, theft and vehicle crime – but charges and summons are down 26%. Police forces are said to be overstretched.
Further, only a tiny proportion of online fraud cases are ever investigated. The police response here needs a fundamental overhaul. In many areas, the police force is being used as the sole emergency service for mental health crises. Investment in (and the adoption of) new technology is said to be “an utter mess”. The Home Affairs Committee states: “Policing is suffering from a complete failure of leadership from the Home Office, and especially so on responding to new and changing crimes.”
Forces are “badly overstretched”
Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said: “Police officers across the country are performing a remarkable public service in increasingly difficult circumstances, but forces are badly overstretched. Crime is up, charges and arrests are down and the police service is struggling to respond effectively to emerging and growing challenges such as online fraud.”
Cooper continued: “Policing urgently needs more money. The Government must make sure policing is a priority in the Autumn Budget and the Comprehensive Spending Review or public safety and communities will pay the price. The Home Office has shown an irresponsible failure of leadership in the face of changing patterns of crime. Ministers and Home Office officials must not continue to stand back as the police cannot do this alone. When the new challenges to public safety require major police technology upgrades, new action with the Internet companies or new partnerships with the NHS, then it’s the Home Office’s role to pull all of that together.”
On the state of neighbourhood policing, Stephen Doughty MP (a Labour member of the Home Affairs Committee), observed: “Neighbourhood policing lies at the heart of British policing, but it has reached an unacceptable state. While capacity varies across forces in England and Wales, overall we found that they have lost at least a fifth of their neighbourhood policing capacity since 2010. Once those crucial local relationships are lost, it’s very difficult to rebuild them. They are vital to so many areas of policing, from counter-terrorism to serious organised crime. We are calling on the Government to report back to us within one month of the Comprehensive Spending Review to explain what actions it has taken to maintain core neighbourhood policing functions in all forces, and to prevent officers from being diverted to other policing requirements.”
‘Traditional’ crime and neighbourhood policing
Many ‘volume’ crimes, including robbery, theft from the person and vehicle-related theft, are now increasing at an alarmingly steep rate after a long period of decline. Recorded crimes have risen but the number of arrests, charges and summons are down. If these trends continue, there’s the risk of a serious decrease in public safety and in confidence in the police and the wider justice system.
The erosion of neighbourhood policing is a significant loss to communities. Cuts to neighbourhood policing are a false economy. Forces must start to rebuild community capacity and, according to the Home Affairs Committee, the Government should take action to support core neighbourhood policing capacity within all forces.
The proportion of online fraud cases being investigated is shockingly low, with evidence to the Committee showing less than 3% of Action Fraud reports lead to a charge or summons. The policing response to online fraud needs a complete overhaul, believes the Committee, with all investigations undertaken at a national or regional level while local forces focus on victim support.
Tackling new online crimes cannot be done by the police alone. The private sector needs to contribute to funding online law enforcement.
In too many areas, the police are the only Emergency Service for those in mental health crisis, and they are being used as a gateway to healthcare for those in desperate need of help, which the Committee feels is completely inappropriate for patients and is overstretching the police. The Government should use the recently-announced NHS funding uplift to support mental health work, rather than leaving this work to the police service. Police officers also need more training in mental health.
Role of the Home Office
Above all, policing is suffering from a “complete failure of leadership” from the Home Office. As the lead department for policing, the Home Office cannot continue to stand back while crime patterns change so fast that the police service struggles to respond. Many of the actions needed to respond to changing crimes cannot be done by forces alone. The Department needs to drive reform in key areas, such as data sharing between public services, the negotiation of national technology contracts, building partnerships with the NHS or other Government departments and the regulation of Internet companies.
The Home Office should launch a transparent, root-and-branch review of policing, publishing proposals by the end of February and focusing on the allocation of responsibilities and capabilities at a local, regional and national level. Neighbourhood policing must be the bedrock of local policing. At a national and regional level, forces need to pool resources and capabilities to a far greater extent, and particularly so for online crimes, but also in complex areas where crimes often cross force borders, such as organised crime, County Lines and modern slavery.
The Home Affairs Committee believes the Government should create a National Policing Council chaired by the Home Secretary and comprising representatives of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, officer/staff associations, the College of Policing and HMICFRS, as well as a National Police Assembly comprising all Police and Crime Commissioners and chief constables.
Response from the NPCC
National Police Chiefs’ Council chair Chief Constable Sara Thornton said: “The report rightly recognises that forces and officers have come under ‘serious strain’ and concludes ‘that forces are badly overstretched’ as they deal with rising crime and demand that is more complex. The Home Affairs Select Committee warns that, without additional funding, they ‘have no doubt that there will be dire consequences for public safety’. This is a warning that must surely be heeded.”
Thornton continued: “The threats and challenges we face require a response across the whole system. That response cannot be developed by institutions acting alone. We want to see more involvement and leadership from ministers and officials in the development of strategy and transformation in partnership with chief constables and Police and Crime Commissioners. The Home Office alone cannot determine which capabilities should be delivered nationally or regionally, nor should they be left with the responsibility of joining up police technology. However, there is a need for the Home Office to lead on developing the broad framework, showing leadership when change is stalling and ensuring that funding is sufficient overall and targeted where there is greatest need.”