27 September 2022
When I first heard about the new Prime Minister’s desire to introduce league tables for the police forces of England and Wales my heart sank, as history has demonstrated that this does nothing to deliver policing, based on local needs, to different communities.
Liz Truss’s idea completely fails to take account of the remit of elected Police and Crime Commissioners, introduced in 2012 by a Conservative government, to set local policing priorities in collaboration with the chief constables and communities they serve.
This was further compounded by the letter from the new Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, to all police chiefs in England and Wales last weekend telling them of the Government’s expectation that they cut homicide and other serious crime, and neighbourhood crime by 20 per cent. In all honesty, I don’t know of any police officer, whatever their rank, whose desire is not to cut crime by 100 per cent.
With such finger in the wind targets and a failure to appreciate what hard working police officers do day in and day out, is it any wonder that 93 per cent of police officers feel they are not respected by the Government.
In its long history of just over 102 years the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) has counselled and countered governments of the day on policies, directly and indirectly, affecting the police officers of England and Wales. We have never made unreasonable asks of the government, and that’s why it pains us when situations are created where we are compelled to reason with the country’s top lawmakers about the basics of policing.
It is even more disappointing, and dangerous, to see policies which have failed so disastrously in the past be promoted and presented as brand-new ideas. It has never been possible to police by a spreadsheet and a quick-fix solution of league tables will inflict lasting damage on those who call for help, the public.
The police’s prime responsibility is to detect and prevent crime. However, it is equally true that crime cannot be controlled by a government issued, headline-friendly diktat asking police forces to cut serious crimes such as homicide by 20 per cent or else face action.
Law and Order must be free from the ebb and flow of politics and although policing may have to adhere to targets, the public doesn’t – and if we focus on one crime to satisfy a target, at the expense of another, the public lose out.
The UK has one of the best police forces in the world, and they have been able to achieve high standards of policing in a complex web of laws and procedures, as well as policing by consent.
The successful operation recently undertaken in London by the Met involving more than 10,000 police officers, for The Queen’s lying-in-state and state funeral, could not have been achieved without the support from forces around the country. While the operation is a policing milestone, it created enormous pressure on police forces which are already struggling due to low officer numbers and high attrition rates.
Now, officer numbers are increasing because of the Government’s Police Uplift Programme which aims to recruit 20,000 officers by 2023. However, the reality is there is a need for an uplift of at least 50,000 officers to match the levels of officers in 2010 if you consider population growth of more than 3.5 million over the last decade and the annual attrition of approximately 6,000 officers. To date, we find only 13,000 new officers in place since the uplift began in 2019. The annual loss of circa 6,000 officers, as well as the knock-on effect of so many inexperienced and new in the role officers cannot be overlooked as to why policing is in crisis, despite the Government being warned that cuts would have far reaching consequences.
Because of poor pay and work conditions recruitment and retention rates are reversing the situation. A concerning number of recruits are leaving within months of starting their policing careers because of the real-time pay squeeze, which stands at more than 25 per cent over the past 10 years considering prevailing inflation rates. In addition to this, low morale and increased demands and casefiles is causing longer-serving, experienced officers to quit.
Moreover, one in seven forces of England and Wales have been identified by the government’s very own Police Inspectorate (HMICFRS) as needing to improve and are currently in special measures. Is this not a telling sign that the Government needs to act with utmost urgency?
Forces have been stretched to breaking point by the Government’s current policy of funding as if it is a post-code lottery. The Government has been claiming that it is putting money into policing but where are the longer-term funding settlements that would allow Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners to plan proper policing initiatives? Additionally, we are certainly not seeing extra cash making it into the payslips of police officers who are the individuals protecting the public against crime as well as trying to deal with the growing cost-of-living crisis themselves.
At the same time, it is pertinent that not just the rank and file police officers of England and Wales but every other law enforcement agency takes upon more responsibilities and holds itself to account when addressing the changing face of crime in our country.
The Government must demonstrate it is serious and understands the complexities of policing. It has recently offered to provide the resources and tools our police forces require; we will be watching to ensure it does just that, as policing and upholding law and order is far too important to communities to be just a political gimmick.