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Where Are All The Police? – An Analysis of Police Resources

INTRODUCTION The police are a vital link in the chain of British justice, consuming two-thirds of law and order spending.

Their performance over the next decade will be essential in improving the quality of life of millions of citizens. In spite of record spending on law and order, crime remains far too high. A more effective police and criminal justice system, combined with social action will be important components of a new approach to fighting crime.

The Labour Government approach to the police has been a familiar one: higher public spending combined with an ever tighter central grip. Like other public services, the police have been plagued with national targets, interference and the bureaucracy created by central intervention. The result has been that even as resources for the police have reached record levels, officers have felt unable to deliver the service they and the public want – and the gulf between the police and public has widened as a result.

Nevertheless, neither politicians nor the police can afford to ignore the undercurrent of public dissatisfaction about the level of policing which they are receiving. This qualitative research is supported by quantitative evidence that trust in the police has declined and attitudes towards them are negatively related to personal experiences of the service. A survey conducted by ICM for the TaxPayers’ Alliance7, found that while the overwhelming majority of the public respects the police, less than a quarter think that policing in their area has improved, and less than half think that increases in council tax to pay for improvements to local policing in the last ten years have been good value for money. Large majorities of the public agree that the police spend too much time in police stations and not enough time on the beat; their hands are tied by red tape and political correctness, and they focus on easy targets like speeding motorists rather than deal with antisocial behaviour and local crime.

Much of the blame for the present malaise must lie with the previous Government, who sought to impose performance culture policing that lead to mountains of bureaucracy, with thousands of people employed bean counting and often valueless data collection. The ultimate result was that front line policing became less of a priority than form filling and number crunching. Whilst overall force numbers increased through the Labour years, much of the opportunity to use those officers gainfully in the basics of protecting life and property and the prevention and detection of crime was lost as an Chief Officers deployed more and more of their resources to feed the bureaucratic machine.

The closure of police stations is emblematic of the withdrawal of the police from the public. On paper, police officer numbers have increased – the police workforce has grown by almost 25 per cent in recent years. In practice, the public simply do not see it. Most people think that there are fewer police on the beat than there used to be, and that nearly three quarters of the public know none of the police officers in their neighbourhood. Vast amounts of police time are spent tied up in stations; the police spend more time on paperwork than on patrol, and less than a tenth of England and Wales’ police officers are dedicated to neighbourhood policing. If the amount of time a police officer spends on the beat could be increased from one fifth to two fifths, this would effectively double the police presence on the streets of England and Wales without recruiting a single additional officer.

As the front line officers and police bloggers and commentators keep reminding us, there are enough police officers to do the job. The problem is that too many of them are tied to desk jobs feeding the bureaucratic empires rather than being out on the street, when it matters, performing the basics of policing. There needs to be a root and branch overhaul of policing procedure with a ruthless valuation of every role within the service if the public is to get the “common sense back to basics policing” they want to see.


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