In its second publication last week, the Home Affairs Committee issued a highly critical new report urging the Government to address the continuing cuts in police funding.
In a wide-ranging “Policing for the Future” report looking at the changing demands on policing, the Home Affairs Committee finds that forces are struggling to cope in the face of changing and rising crimes, as a result of falling staff numbers, outdated technology, capabilities, structures, fragmentation and a failure of Home Office leadership. It recommends major changes to the police response to new and growing crimes and warns that the Home Office cannot continue to stand back while police forces struggle.
- New data gathered by the Committee shows neighbourhood policing has been cut by over 20% since 2010, and some forces have lost more than two thirds of their neighbourhood officers.
- Recorded crime is up 32% in 3 years – including steep rises in robbery, theft and vehicle crime – but charges and summons are down 26%, and police forces are overstretched.
- Only a tiny proportion of online fraud cases are ever investigated and the police response needs a fundamental overhaul.
- The police response to online child sexual abuse is nowhere near the scale needed, and forces are woefully under-resourced for investigations.
- In many areas, the police force is being used as the sole emergency service for mental health crises.
- Investment in and adoption of new technology is an utter mess.
- Policing is suffering from a complete failure of leadership from the Home Office, especially on responding to new and changing crimes.
Forces are badly overstretched
The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP, said:
“Police officers across the country are performing a remarkable public service in increasingly difficult circumstances, but forces are badly overstretched. Crime is up, charges and arrests are down, and the police service is struggling to respond effectively to emerging and growing challenges, such as online fraud and online child abuse.
Policing urgently needs more money. The Government must make sure policing is a priority in the Budget and Spending Review, or public safety and communities will pay the price. The Home Office has shown an irresponsible failure of leadership in the face of changing patterns of crime. Ministers and Home Office officials must not continue to stand back, as the police cannot do this alone. When the new challenges to public safety require major police technology upgrades, new action with the internet companies or new partnerships with the NHS, then it is the Home Office who should be pulling that together”.
On the proliferation of online child sexual abuse, Tim Loughton MP, a Conservative Member of the Committee, said:
“We found that the police are bringing a shockingly-low number of charges for the possession of child abuse images, even though they are recording tens of thousands of offences. Whatever the cause, it is unacceptable that children are being put at risk by the collective failure to get a grip on this problem. Our report calls for a comprehensive strategy to address CSA online, led by the Home Office, including action to improve police capabilities in this area.”
On the state of neighbourhood policing, Stephen Doughty MP, a Labour Member of the Committee, said:
“Neighbourhood policing lies at the heart of British policing, and it has reached an unacceptable state. While capacity varies across forces in England and Wales, overall we found that they have lost at least a fifth of their neighbourhood policing capacity since 2010. Once those crucial local relationships are lost, it is very difficult to rebuild them, and they are vital to so many areas of policing, from counter-terrorism to serious organised crime.
We are calling on the Government to report back to us within one month of the Comprehensive Spending Review, to explain what actions it has taken to maintain core neighbourhood policing functions in all forces, and to prevent officers from being diverted to other policing requirements.”
‘Traditional’ crime and neighbourhood policing
- Many ‘volume’ crimes, including robbery, theft from the person, and vehicle-related theft, are now increasing at an alarmingly steep rate, after a long period of decline. Recorded crimes have risen but the number of arrests, charges and summons are down. If these trends continue, the service risks a serious decrease in public safety and in confidence in the police and the wider justice system.
- The erosion of neighbourhood policing is a significant loss to communities. Cuts to neighbourhood policing are a false economy. Forces must start to rebuild community capacity and the Government should take action to support core neighbourhood policing in all forces.
New and growing demands
- The proportion of online fraud cases being investigated is shockingly low, with evidence to the Committee showing less than 3% of Action Fraud reports lead to a charge or summons. The policing response to online fraud needs a complete overhaul, with all investigations undertaken at a national or regional level while local forces focus on victim support.
- The growth of online indecent images of children (IIOC) is one of the most disturbing by-products of the digital age, but there is just one arrest for every ten recorded incidents, and the number of charges fell last year. The Committee is deeply concerned about the collective failure to protect children. The Government should appoint a Commissioner for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, to work across departments and agencies and produce a bold and comprehensive cross-Government strategy on child protection and the prevention of child sexual abuse.
- Tackling new online crimes cannot be done by the police alone. The private sector needs to contribute to funding online law enforcement, and regulation of the internet companies should include new requirements on tackling online child sexual abuse.
- In too many areas, the police are the only emergency service for those in mental health crisis, and they are being used as a gateway to healthcare for those in desperate need of help, which is completely inappropriate for patients and is overstretching the police. The Government should use the recently-announced NHS funding uplift to support mental health work, rather than leaving this work to the police service. Police officers also need more training in mental health.
- Police officers are struggling to do their jobs with out of date technology. Lack of digital capability is now a systemic problem. The biggest failing on technology is not funding, but a complete lack of coordination and leadership on upgrading technology over many years.
- The Home Office needs to show national leadership on technology, making it a clear and stated aim to unify all police databases and communications systems, according to a clear timetable, with requirements on forces. It must develop plans for a National Digital Exploitation Centre for serious crime, similar to the model for counter terrorism policing.
The role of the Home Office
- Above all, policing is suffering from a complete failure of leadership from the Home Office. As the lead department for policing, it cannot continue to stand back while crime patterns change so fast that the police struggle to respond. Many of the actions needed to respond to changing crimes cannot be done by forces alone. The Department needs to drive reform in key areas, such as data-sharing between public services, the negotiation of national technology contracts, building partnerships with the NHS or other Government departments, and the regulation of internet companies.
- The Home Office should launch a transparent, root-and-branch review of policing, publishing proposals by the end of February, focusing on the allocation of responsibilities and capabilities at a local, regional and national level. Neighbourhood policing must be the bedrock of local policing. At a national and regional level, forces need to pool resources and capabilities to a far greater extent, particularly for online crimes, but also in complex areas where crimes often cross force borders, such as organised crime, county lines and modern slavery.
- The Government should create a National Policing Council, chaired by the Home Secretary and comprising representatives of the APCC, NPCC, officer/staff associations, College of Policing and HMICFRS, and a National Police Assembly comprising all PCCs and Chief Constables.
- Given the complex challenges outlined in this report, failure to provide a funding uplift for policing would have dire consequences. Without extra funding, something will have to give, and the police will not be able to fulfil their duties in delivering public safety, criminal justice, community cohesion and public confidence.
- The current model for police funding is not fit for purpose, and should be fundamentally revised and restructured. Heavy reliance on the council tax precept for additional funding is also unsustainable. It is time to stop kicking this problem into the long grass, and create a funding settlement for forces that is fit for the 21st century, recognising the true cost of policing. The Government also should move to a longer-term funding structure, to enable the service to frontload investment in the technology that will enable it to make the best use of its resources and assets.