“Policing has been left at a “tipping point” by government cuts, and on the verge of failing the public and struggling to detect crime, a senior police chief has warned.
Dave Thompson, the chief constable of the West Midlands force, said agreement was needed on what the police should stop doing. It is an idea discussed privately by police chiefs and done by stealth by some forces.
Thompson leads for the National Police Chiefs’ council on finance and resources and his comments accept standards of service have fallen so badly the police risk becoming ineffective. He said: “The public’s experience is policing that is less visible, less responsive and less proactive.
“Core aspects of policing – such as answering calls, attending emergencies, investigating crime, bringing offenders to justice and neighbourhood policing – are being pushed beyond sustainability, and are in danger of becoming ineffective to the detriment of confidence in the police.”
Thompson took aim at the Conservative government’s approach to policing since they came to power in 2010 to explain the crisis.
He said “the government has had a partial view of policing in the last few years” – very interested in terrorism and high-end threats, but less focused on local crimes.
Those have been left for forces and police and crime commissioners to manage locally amid steep budget cuts, as demands on the police rise. The chief constable said: “This more local agenda has many positives in setting priorities but it has come with steep budget reductions and a widening mission. There has been a real-term reduction of police budgets of 19% since 2010, but ranging between 11- 25% across forces.”
Thompson said the fight against terrorism and serious and organised crime had improved, but added: “The gains we’ve made have come at a cost to perhaps the most important parts of policing for the public.
“Crime is rising and so is the demand on our service. The calls do not get answered as quickly as they did. Officers are not as fast at responding to emergencies and more crimes are dealt with on the phone. Fewer high-volume crimes like thefts are investigated and as a result fewer offenders brought to justice. The visibility and proactivity of neighbourhood policing is much reduced.
“Bluntly our ability to manage the big threats and protect the vulnerable, yet still be the traditional police the public want and need, is becoming ever harder. We are in danger of pursuing efficiency to the point of ineffectiveness – where we can process the work but we’re not detecting crime as we should be and not meeting public expectations. …”