Police Federation

Where are the police?: Building public confidence in policing

PFEW Deputy National Chair Tiff Lynch highlights what must be done to help restore faith in the service.

16 February 2023


Trust in the police has eroded. Anecdotally, we know this, and we have witnessed the gradual drop in public confidence over the years, but now there is new data which the Government and chief constables must heed.

According to a study from the think tank More in Common, almost half of respondents disclosed they don't trust police officers, and only one in 10 said they trust them 'a great deal'. We do understand why this is the sad truth, and we cannot, and will not, ignore recent events, with abhorrent crimes committed by those who abused their position when they were supposed to be protectors.

Another core factor, though, contributing to this distrust is the diabolically low rate of crimes being solved. Police are solving the lowest proportion of crimes on record, with only 5.4 per cent of all crimes resulted in a charge in the year to June, equivalent to just over one in 20 offences being solved, according to Home Office figures. Subsequently, nearly seven in 10 members of the public believe the police have given up on trying to solve crimes, such as shoplifting and burglaries altogether.

Police officers themselves have not given up. I want to stress how disheartening it is for colleagues on the frontline when they cannot help deliver justice, cannot support victims of crime, and cannot do the job they signed up to do, because demand is outstripping resources. In fact, our recent Pay and Morale Survey found an alarming number of officers (88 per cent) did not feel they had enough officers to manage the demands being made on them as a team or unit.

So, what is the key to restoring public confidence? Listening to what the public wants, and needs, would be a good place to start.

People who took the time to take part in the think tank research believe more police should be on the street. I couldn’t agree more. For more evidence to back this up, analysis of the Crime Survey of England and Wales has also suggested police numbers and perceptions of police visibility are both independently associated with public confidence in the police.

Ask yourself when was the last time you saw a “bobby” on the beat, and when did you last think ‘where are the police?’ Unfortunately, in part, this is the result of neighbourhood policing being decimated over the space of more than a decade, with 6,000 fewer officers in these teams, and 8,000 fewer PSCOs. In some forces, PCSOs are going to be axed even further, including in Lincolnshire where they are left with no choice but to cut the number of PCSOs in half, as forces are faced with multi-million-pound budget cuts.

Through significant, long-term, centralised funding for the police service, which factors in inflation, forces would have the scope to future-proof the service by investing in grassroots, community-based policing, combined with cutting-edge technology to assist with intelligence gathering, and tactically tackling crimes directly impacting communities such as thefts and burglaries.

At the moment, police officers cannot give the public the service they want to because they are constantly responding reactively rather than being proactive, and our detectives are being tied up in red tape through overcomplicated processes.

Changes to the CPS guidance on disclosure has impeded justice and has seen victims of various crimes withdraw from active participation due to officers having to find at least an extra four hours to spend on redacting case material at the pre-charge stage. We are working with partner agencies to fix this issue and hope to formally engage with the Attorney General’s office soon to see how these incredibly serious concerns can be addressed as part of our Simplify DG6 campaign.

We also know large chunks of officers’ shifts are being spent supporting people with mental health issues and waiting with them for hours at hospitals. Of course, officers are there to protect people when they are at their most vulnerable, but it is very clear the public wants police to focus on crime instead – and it is vital their views are taken into account. Four in five Britons think there should be better mental health services to relieve pressure on the police, while a further 60 per cent believe that many mental health issues are being mistaken for crimes.

Recruitment failing to keep up with an exponentially growing population is also of concern. In September 2009 there were 144,353 police officers, and now there are around 145,500. In 2009 the population stood at 55 million in England and Wales – this is now more than 59 million.

We are the service of last resort, but it is impossible to do everything when police are doing their best to protect four million more members of the public from an increasingly violent society and evolving crime with just over 1000 additional officers in comparison to 2009 when levels were at their peak, before a dangerous number of cuts were made.

I fear it is not feasible to recruit, and retain, the number of officers the public needs to protect them, unless the Government commits to a pay rise which reflects the cost of living, the dangers they face, and the restrictions placed on them due to their inability to take strike action, and better working conditions. Our overstretched police officers have suffered a real-terms pay cut of 28.7 per cent at the lowest end of the pay scale over the last ten years, making them feel totally devalued.

Without significant, long-term, centralised funding for the police service, which factors in inflation, as well as a commitment to invest in those that hold the warrant, as I said, I feel members of the public will continue to wonder: ‘where are the police?’

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