Policing in England & Wales is at breaking point.
Fewer officers with fewer resources are being asked to do a job that is more difficult, more demanding and – frequently – more dangerous than it has been at any previous point in my lifetime. And the responsibility for that reality rests squarely with the government of the day.
On October 25th, a report published by the Home Affairs Select Committee suggested that Forces are “struggling to cope” with current levels of demand and warned of “dire consequences” for public safety if policing is denied the additional funding it so desperately needs. The HASC report went further still, accusing the Home Office of a “complete failure of leadership” when it comes to policing.
This damning accusation mirrored one of the observations made in last month’s National Audit Office Report on police funding. The NAO suggested that the Home Office “has no overarching strategy for policing” and suggested that there are “significant gaps in (the Home Office’s) understanding of demand and of pressures on the Service”.
No plan and a complete failure of leadership.
The NAO report also highlighted the loss of 44,000 police officers and staff since 2010. 44,000. That’s a staggering number of people to cut from a critical frontline public service. And cuts have consequences.
On October 24th, two Met officers were stabbed by a man armed with a screwdriver.
On October 23rd, Lynne Owens – Director General of the NCA and one of the most respected voices in policing – spoke out on Radio 4’s Today Programme about the pressures facing the Service. She talked of the danger of losing sight of one of the core principles of policing in this country: the duty that every officer has to prevent crime. Under overwhelming resourcing strain, policing is becoming increasingly reactive – at the expense of the one thing the public value most of all: a visible, reassuring local policing presence.
On the same day, an article in the Guardian newspaper highlighted concerns shared by the Chief Constables of Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the West Midlands – three of the largest Forces in the country. Ian Hopkins – Chief in Manchester – observed that budget pressures could take officer numbers in his Force below levels last seen in the 1970s.
On the same day, another teenager was fatally stabbed in London.
On October 18th, the latest set of crime figures were published. And they weren’t pretty. Crime of the most serious kinds is rising – including a 12% increase in Knife Crime. Homicide is up for the fourth year in a row – and now stands at its highest level in a decade.
On the same day, Professor James Treadwell from Staffordshire University published an article highlighting the impact of goverment cuts on policing and beyond. He suggested that, “the latest crime figures reinforce what the experts have been finding for years: that the best way to stop violence on our streets is to end the violence of austerity.”
On the same day a PC in Greater Manchester was seriously injured when he was hit by a van being pursued by his colleagues.
The day before, his Chief Constable – Ian Hopkins again – described the resourcing situation like this: “It’s like Manchester United going on to the pitch every week with eight players and wondering why they lose”.
On October 11th, the National Police Chief’s Council warned of the possible loss of a further 10,000 police officers as a consequence of changes to pension funding arrangements introduced by the government. Yesterday at PMQs, the Prime Minister suggested that Forces had known about this for some time. This morning, her statement was directly contradicted by the NPCC, who provided the following clarification: “The first notification that enabled forces to properly plan for proposed pension changes did not come until September 2018”.
On October 8th, a man was charged with Attempted Murder after an attack on four police officers, two of whom were stabbed.
On the same day, a PC in Manchester was stabbed with such ferocity that the knife snapped.
On October 5th, a Leicestershire PC was seriously injured after being hit by a suspect vehicle. The driver was charged with Attempted Murder.
At the start of October, the Prime Minister once again denied that there was a connection between police numbers and crime numbers. Her statement was in defiance of both common sense and professional policing experience, my own included.
Police Officers have been warning for several years that the Service was in real trouble. At first they were accused of “crying wolf”. When their concerns were reiterated, they were told, repeatedly, that “crime is down and police reform is working”.
Well it isn’t and it isn’t.
There is an urgent need for reinvestment in frontline response policing – in the capacity of the service to respond to rising crime and demand. There is an urgent need for reinvestment in neighbourhood policing – in the rebuilding of relationships with local communities, so critical in the fight against terrorism and organised crime. There is an urgent need for reinvestment in proactive policing – not least in the short-term ability of the service to stem the endless flow of killings. And there is an urgent need to reinvest in long-term, partnership based problem solving – of the kind that might actually prevent crime from happening in the first place. At its most fundamental level, this is about saving lives.
Coppers have always liked to have a good old moan. They’ve been doing it since 1829. But this is different. Chief Officers are speaking out now. Frontline officers have been speaking out for much longer.
For more than twenty five years, I worked with heroes – the finest men and women you could ever hope to know. And the very best ones amongst them are speaking up now – constructively and insistently – telling us that all is not well.
Policing is breaking. Police Officers are breaking. And those in positions of power and responsibility cannot say that they do not know.
(p.s. If you are an opposition politician, you don’t have my permission to use what’s written here for political ends. Policing is too important for that.)