The Policing Landscape.
Policing is at the heart of all communities, it creates safety and promotes confidence. However, the landscape on which policing in England and Wales is carried out has changed dramatically in recent years. Crime has been falling since the mid nineties but there has not been a corresponding reduction in demand for police work. Preventive and protective mechanisms have got on one hand more local and on another more complex and the type of crimes investigated, as well as the numbers of them, continue to change year on year.
A report entitled “Reshaping Policing For the Public” has been published today, a joint piece of work from a group of individuals from the police, trade unions and Police & Crime Commissioners. It responds to the need for a national debate on the future of policing as recommended in last year’s HM Inspector of Constabulary’s report, Policing in Austerity, Meeting the Challenge and it will be a useful starting point for that discussion.
Everyone agrees that the challenge is huge – the major one being finances. Currently police funding is based on a complex formula which causes very unequal distribution between forces, but basically there have been government cuts so far of a quarter of police funding and the plan is to cut another quarter by 2020. Some more affluent areas such as Surrey get more funding from local council tax than areas like mine in Northumbria, which gives them a great advantage in a time of national government cuts. Since 85% of Northumbria Police force budget comes from national government, when that is cut, it’s a cut into most of our funding. We have lost 23% of our budget whilst Surrey, which gets 52% of its police funding from council tax has lost only 12% of its total. At the same time as my force takes huge cuts my colleague in Devon and Cornwall is arguing that his local taxpayers pay twice for policing, once as part of a large chunk of council tax and again to the inland revenue to fund the Home Office grant. Clearly it is not straightforward but the days of cuts along straight percentages have to end and more regard given firstly to the revenue, capital and reserves of each individual force and then to the demand they are responding to.
Only 12% of calls to Northumbria Police are about crime; the national average is only 22%. The other 80-90% includes responding to missing people, dealing with road traffic incidents, stop and search, dealing with people with mental health issues and anti social behaviour. There is an additional, relatively new, tranche of work, which is not response policing but continues in the background all the time. It includes child protection programmes, Troubled Families programmes, participating in multi agency public protection teams which monitor known dangerous offenders to protect the public, MARACs which offer wraparound care to repeat victims of the most dangerous domestic abuse and Integrated Offender Management which is working with probation to stop re-offending especially of prolific known criminals. The role of a typical police officer has changed immensely through all of this, piling on new duties which are certainly in the public interest but which take up, according to the College of Policing’s research, a significant part of the policing day and which simply hadn’t been invented the last time any one looked seriously at how to fund the police.
Further, crime may no longer be going down. The latest crime figures will show that there is no longer a downturn but a national increase of 2% in recorded crime,which is spread across 30 or more of the police forces in England and Wales. It is never easy to sort out whether increases in recorded crime represent increases in actual crime, more reporting or better recording. The problem is that the Home Office links its funding directly to levels of crime. Everyone has heard Theresa May saying that people have been crying wolf that if police funding is cut crime will go up. The first trouble is that she doesn’t know whether it has or it hasn’t. On the one hand police got into trouble from a Select Committee for not recording crime. That has led recently to the Police and crime Commissioner for Norfolk, where crime appears to have rocketed, but really what has happened as he makes clear, is that his force have felt obliged to record somebody throwing a biscuit at someone else, a child swinging his boxing gloves in a silly way and catching another child and a range of other events that the public would not call crime, to be recorded as offences. On another hand, Northumbria Police and their partners have pioneered a ground-breaking operation called Sanctuary which has unearthed considerable sexual exploitation where there was only a hint of it for them to go on. We have the biggest increase in reports of sexual abuse amongst all forces this year and we are, perhaps surprisingly, very pleased, It is not because there is more sexual exploitation most of which goes unreported it is because Sanctuary has made its mark and victims know they can report with confidence because our police and our victims services understand these crimes.
It takes perhaps twenty times as much officer time and skilled resource to achieve 103 the number of charges of sexual offending in Sanctuary as it does to catch 103 phone thieves, people who damage cars, shoplifters and burglars. So, simply counting recorded crime as the basis for funding is like building a house on mud.
The report goes beyond funding and looks at the bones of a new model for policing. This would leave local 24/7 response and neighbourhood policing capability, including safeguarding vulnerable people as now, resourced locally and linked even more closely than now with partners like local authorities, whose housing, social services, safeguarding, licensing and a score more functions are required if an all-round job is to be done on problem solving and tackling crime in communities. The emphasis should be on ‘getting upstream of crime’; through work such as Troubled Families programmes. There is a case for shared budgets and management to streamline and boost efficiency
This would be supported with more collaborative arrangements across forces for
Specialist investigative work, operational support such as public order resources, dogs, horses, firearms and, criminal justice support would be organised on a regional basis. Public surveys suggest business support such as legal, corporate communications and human resources should follow too.
As a governance system, local PCCs would soon have insufficient reach to be responsible for all of these ascending layers and though they may not be ideal, they are better than the former unelected, unaccountable police authorities and restoring local government scrutiny would be equally inadequate.
Recommendations are also made about the buy in from central government. If changes are being implemented locally and regionally, the speed at which Whitehall works needs to increase dramatically. There needs to be more coordinated funding streams and authority to budget, fund and commission jointly the new ways of delivering services.
The report at least starts the debate and should not now make its way on to a shelf in Whitehall and collect dust. It says that there needs to be clarity on what the role of the police should be and then on how to organise and how to fund that role fairly and that it needs to have emerged by the end of this year and I agree. Nobody foresees forced mergers because the public remain very attached to their local forces and as much can be achieved by collaboration but apart from that if we are to ensure that our low-crime communities continue to be as safe as they are now, anything goes.