Another round of depressing headlines about Chief Constables stating that their Forces no longer have the resources they need to do all that is being asked and expected of them.
Another round of deeply disturbing headlines about police officers being attacked in the street. The accompanying film footage is too much for me to watch.
I have never known times remotely like these – and it set me thinking about all that has disappeared from policing in the last eight years.
The list is staggering:
I. The loss of 44,000 police officers and staff in England & Wales.
Say that number out loud a couple of times and let it sink in.
II. The loss of neighbourhood policing.
- London has more 600 local council wards. In 2010, each of those had its own dedicated Safer Neighbourhoods Team.
- That meant a minimum of 1 Sergeant, 2 PCs and 3 PCSOs for every single ward.
- Safer Neighbourhoods Teams don’t exist in London any more.
- In many other parts of the country, local Neighbourhood Policing Teams have all but vanished – and with them, critical relationships and connections with local communities and the capacity for long term problem solving.
III. The loss of more than 600 police stations.
- According to the Times newspaper, some Forces have closed more than half their stations. Gloucestershire Police have closed 21 out of 28.
- The loss of these buildings means the loss of the tangible, local policing presence that is so important to so many people.
IV. The loss of specialist frontline policing resources – so critical in the fight against crime. Obvious examples include:
V. The loss of frontline proactive policing capability – as experienced officers are moved away from patrol teams and local crime squads, into Counter-Terrorism and specialist investigatory roles.
VI. The loss of confidence amongst some frontline officers in the legitimate (and absolutely essential) use of their Stop & Search Powers.
- Stop & Search has been politicised to the most extraordinary degree.
- In 2014, to loud fanfare, Theresa May – then the Home Secretary – announced that she was setting out to reform Stop & Search. The direct result was a huge reduction in the police use of their various powers.
- In September 2015, Sadiq Khan was seeking to become the Mayor of London. Out on the campaign trail, he suggested that, if elected, he would “do everything in (his) power to cut Stop & Search”.
- Nobody is calling for less of it now.
VII. The loss of significant operational independence from political control – not least through the introduction of elected Police & Crime Commissioners.
VIII. The loss of significant policing experience – as officers with years of exemplary service behind them leave early, either as a consequence of poor health or because they are looking for a job that is less likely to break them.
IX. The loss of hard-won reductions in serious and violent crime
X. The loss of respect – in some quarters at least – for police officers and the role that they perform in society:
- The political rhetoric about policing in the last eight years has, on occasions, been astonishingly hostile.
- The police have been accused of being racist.
- They have been accused of being corrupt.
- They have been accused of being incompetent.
- They have been accused of being resistant to change.
- They have been accused of crying wolf.
- This rhetoric has been picked up and reapplied with venom in certain sections of the media – with the kind of one-eyed reporting that reinforces the view that the police are not respected by those in positions of power and authority.
- And there is an absolute connection between the lack of respect shown by politicians and the press – and the lack of respect being shown on the street.
There are serious long-term consequences to the short-term cuts of the last eight years. The following facts bear repeating:
- Crime is rising – certainly crime of the most serious kinds.
- Demand is rising – not least as a consequence of the gaping holes that have appeared in the delivery of other critical front-line public services.
- Complexity is rising – as crime crosses both geographic borders and digital frontiers.
- Risk is rising – with more officers being more seriously assaulted than I can ever remember before. And each one of them remains an explicit terrorist target.
Austerity was a conscious, deliberate political choice. And so were its consequences. There is now an overwhelmingly urgent need for reinvestment in frontline policing. And, even then, it may take a generation to repair the damage done.