Profound and far-reaching aspects of police reform are needed or services face unacceptable compromises in quality of service levels of public safety, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services has warned. In his annual assessment of policing in England and Wales for 2018, Sir Thomas Winsor observes that most police forces are performing well, and has praised the police for their integrity and bravery, but he has also called on leaders in police forces and institutions to make bold and long-term decisions designed to improve policing.
Winsor said there was continued controversy about the 43-force structure of policing in England and Wales, with a need for the police service to function as part of a single law enforcement system.
Other areas highlighted for reform include consideration of new mandatory standards to prevent inefficiency and ineffectiveness in policing, the enactment of proposed legislation to strengthen the role of the Forensic Science Regulator, multi-year financial settlements for the most efficient police forces in order to provide them with certainty, stability and predictability and also longer-term investment in technology, such as body-worn video, fully-functional hand-held mobile devices, facial recognition and Artificial Intelligence.
Urging reform, Sir Thomas said: “The wider criminal justice system is dysfunctional and defective.” He feels rehabilitation needs to be taken more seriously, with people released from prisons guaranteed proper support in dealing with benefits and finance, as well as finding work and accommodation.
On police pressures, Winsor added: “There are indications that some forces are straining under significant pressure as they try to meet growing, complex and high-risk demand with weakened resources.”
Sir Thomas has also backed calls for the Government to introduce criminal liability for senior managers in tech companies who allow harmful materials on their websites, and the campaign for ‘Sammy’s Law’ which aims to give people a defence to crimes their abusers force them to commit.
On online abuse and radicalisation, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary said: “Most children are now more at risk in their own bedrooms than they are on the streets. This type of offending is not just about child sexual abuse and fraud, but rather radicalisation, harassment and stalking as well.”
Writing in the State of Policing 2018 Report, Sir Thomas observes: “I believe that some profound and far-reaching aspects of police reform are called for. For these reforms to take place, leaders in central Government, Police and Crime Commissioners and chief constables will all need to make bold, long-term decisions. If they don’t, the wind speed of police reform will fall to a flutter, leaving the police service increasingly unable to meet the demands it faces. The inevitable legacy of such an approach would be unacceptable compromises in both the quality of service the police can offer the public and the level of public safety and security the police can uphold.”
In conclusion, Winsor states: “However, if the reforms I’ve set out in my assessment are carried out competently, comprehensively and with resolve, they will secure major improvements in police effectiveness and efficiency. The widening gap between the public’s needs and the police’s capacity and capability will begin to narrow and the police service will be better able to adapt to face the demands of today and tomorrow to the great benefit of all of us.”
Response from the Police Federation
Responding to the report, John Apter (national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales) said: “This report simply underlines what many of us involved in policing already know – that it’s the dedication and a sense of duty of hard-working officers that keeps the police service running. We welcome the fact that the report doesn’t shy away from a lot of the difficult questions about policing, its future and how it should be funded. Many of the themes echo what the Police Federation has been saying for years, and while it doesn’t focus solely on policing numbers, you just cannot ignore the elephant in the room. Namely that we now have 22,000 fewer police officers than we did back in 2010.”
Apter went on to state: “It’s also right that the report highlights issues with the police funding formula whereby the Home Office has been dragging its feet over a review for the past four years. This has led to inequalities between the way in which different forces are funded and so have to juggle their resources to try and provide a policing service to protect the public and communities at a time when crime, and especially violent crime, is rising significantly and the murder rate is now at a ten-year high.”
National Police Chiefs’ Council chair Martin Hewitt outlined: “This is a broad report that raises many of the significant issues facing the police service today. It recognises the hard work and dedication of our officers, but also the enormous strain they are under and the gap between our resources and the mission we’re asked to fulfil. The findings make clear that we can only deliver effective justice if all of the criminal justice system works together. To do that, all those with a part to play must be properly resourced and, as the report points out, that isn’t currently the case. Sir Thomas Winsor makes a compelling case for long-term sustainable funding.”
Also, Hewitt said: “The rise in violent crime has been well documented, but we’re also seeing an increase in the volume of other crimes and non-crime incidents like mental ill-health. That pressure, coupled with the increase in complex time and resource-consuming investigations is having a tangible impact on the well-being of our staff and we’re working hard to support them. I recognise the points made about making the police service work better on cross force threats. We need to build our ability to operate at a local, regional and national level, while at the same time keeping accountability with the public whom we seek to protect.”
A spokesperson for the National Crime Agency responded by saying: “We’re supportive of the report’s findings. They echo our own calls for reform of law enforcement at the local, regional and national levels and increased investment to match public expectations. Our ability to confront the rapidly evolving serious and organised crime threat is undermined by a fragmented and inefficient system. Demand on law enforcement is high and increasing. There are increases in prevalence, complexity and harm across crime types resulting in continuous pressure on the system which requires sustainable future investment.”