The Police Uplift Programme
The Government is on course to achieve its target of recruiting 20,000 additional police officers by 2023, according to a report published today (25 March 2022) by the National Audit Office (NAO). In 2019, in response to increasing pressure on police forces, government announced plans to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers in England and Wales by the end of March 2023. The Home Office established the Police Uplift Programme (the Programme) to help forces achieve this target and support them to become more representative of the communities they serve. It expects to spend £3.6 billion on the Programme up to March 2023, and for the Programme to cost a total of £18.5 billion over the next ten years.
The report makes for interesting reading because it is the first NAO report in recent times which praises the government’s actions on a criminal justice matter. The NAO concludes that the Programme has been well managed to date and is a positive example of effective working between policing and the Department. A senior police officer was appointed as the Programme’s director, which allowed decision making to be informed by strong operational experience. The Programme’s team has remained broadly stable from the outset, which has maintained continuity and supported relationships between stakeholders. Appropriate controls were put in place to monitor recruitment and release funding to forces, which means the Department can act quickly if forces need additional support.
The NAO compliments the Home Office for the way it has adjusted the Programme to stay on course in the light of COVID and other challenges. To adapt to lockdowns, the Department, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing quickly set up a national online assessment process and moved initial training online to allow recruitment to continue. The Department also plans to increase capacity within regional organised crime units to deal with more complex crimes, including fraud. Following engagement with policing, the Department expects 725 officers to move into these units by March 2023, with the remainder moving after the end of the Programme.
By the end of December 2021, forces had recruited 11,048 of the 20,000 additional police officers. This was against a target of recruiting the first 12,000 additional police officers by March 2022. The Department expects to recruit the remaining 8,000 police officers in the final year of the Programme, although it accepts this will be more challenging.
This is because approximately a quarter of new police officers recruited during the first year of the Programme had previously held roles in policing, such as Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), special constables or civilian staff. While this approach supported police forces to reach their recruitment targets comfortably, PCSO and special constable vacancies may now need to be backfilled to increase visible police presence in the community.
Diversity in policing has slowly improved. As at March 2019, 32% of police officers were female, and 7% of those that reported their ethnicity came from minority ethnic backgrounds. As at December 2021, 42% of new recruits were female, increasing the proportion of female officers to 34%. Almost 12% of new recruits reported they were from a non-white ethnic background, increasing the proportion of police officers from a minority ethnic background to 8% of all officers, although there are variations between different ethnicities.
Looking to the future
The NAO notes that the Home Office has not yet set out how it will evaluate the Programme’s impact. The government’s business case estimated the additional police officers would reduce the number of crimes by around half a million a year by 2024-25, however, the Home Office acknowledges its evidence base is weak and highly sensitive to what appear to be optimistic assumptions based on limited evidence.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also changed the nature of crime, for example, in 2020-21, the number of burglaries fell due to shop closures and working from home directives, whereas cases of fraud increased. This makes it even more challenging to demonstrate a causal link between changes in crime and police numbers.
According to the NAO, to maximise the Programme’s benefits, the Department will need to take account of certain challenges:
- New recruits have been allocated to police forces using an outdated funding formula, which may not align with current or future demands on policing.
- Forces are concerned that the focus on increasing and maintaining police officer numbers may reduce their flexibility in how they use their resources in the future.
- Training new recruits means more experienced officers have less capacity for their operational roles.
- The Programme will lead to an increasing reliance on an inexperienced frontline workforce. By 2023-24, 38% of police officers nationally will have less than five years’ experience (compared to 12% in in 2014-15) – see graphic below.
- The rapid increase in police officers will exacerbate pressure on a criminal justice system that is already under strain and struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
This successful recruitment campaign may have significant impacts on other parts of the criminal justice system. It will worsen the already critical backlog in the criminal courts. If (and it is a very big if) the Home Office is correct in its assumptions on the number of additional crime outcomes and subsequent charges, an additional 729,000 cases could enter the criminal justice system over the 10 years covered by the Programme’s business case, resulting in more than 300,000 convictions. Such an increase would increase pressure on all parts of the criminal justice system and is one of the primary reasons that the Ministry of Justice is forecasting a rise of 15,000 in the prison population over the next four years.
Thanks to Ethan Wilkinson for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.