Published 8 November 2018
Are the police doing what we, as a society, need and want them to do? The pressures and demands facing modern policing are changing in ways which have profound implications for future policing policy, not least with respect to how the police are funded. There are two major reasons for this.
Firstly, the fall in overall volume crime, as estimated by the Crime Survey for England and Wales, has masked important changes in the pattern of modern crime. There has been a growth in ‘high-harm’ offences, such as violence and sexual offences, and more crime has shifted from the public into the private sphere, including online. These offences tend to be more complex to investigate and thus costly to deal with. As a result, the police service have been unable to ‘cash the gains’ of falling volume crime.
Secondly, the demands facing policing are broader. There is clear evidence that ‘non-crime demand’ is sucking up more resources than was the case a decade ago; the police are increasingly being forced to pick up the pieces arising from various manifestations of social dysfunction, from mental illness to missing children. As the country’s 24/7 emergency service, policing has arguably also been a victim of its capacity and preparedness to respond to those demands, which has in turn stimulated public expectations in ways not previously envisaged.
There are two possible conclusions one can draw from the trends we outline in our report.
1. That policing has suffered from a form of ‘mission-creep’ – and that what is required is for policing to shed responsibility for things falling outside of its ‘core’ role of cutting crime. We categorically reject this idea. In our view, it is essential to recognise that cases involving public safety, welfare and the protection of the vulnerable represent a legitimate and worthy use of police time’. Indeed it can be argued that these categories of ‘non-crime’ demand are absolutely central to the policing mission, as the only 24-hour public service able to respond to emergencies, with the capacity to deploy coercive force. The public poll we have carried out for this report suggests the public agrees:
2. That the police need to improve their ability to tackle the causes of demand (rather than managing the symptoms), which in turn requires the police to work more effectively as part of a wider system of public services. To tackle complex local problems, such as a growth in the numbers of missing children, the police need to work across organisational borders, collaborating with care homes, health professionals, social workers and community organisations. Many forces already do this – but it is not yet systematic. The current situation – with the police facing rising demand alongside shrinking budgets – risks creating a crisis of legitimacy for policing. For example, it is inevitable that Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners will need to make tough choices about how to allocate scarce resources. Some of these choices are bound to be controversial and unpopular. Yet currently, the basis for these choices remains unclear and under-discussed. All the public see is a service that appears to be shrinking. This urgently needs to be addressed, with the issues in this report exposed to public debate. Our report starts that process, setting out a series of practical policy options for enabling the police to manage demand in a more strategic way.
Our key recommendations are as follows:
A high-level political statement, including also from the police leadership, affirming a scope and role of the police that extends beyond a pure ‘crime’ focus, to include public safety, welfare and the protection of the vulnerable.
The evidence base for the external demand on the police needs to be improved with systematic cross-cutting studies being commissioned.
Encourage the police, local authorities, health and social services to establish multi-agency crisis teams to tackle complex cases that cut across service boundaries. This should be facilitated by pooled budgets and informed by the development of technological solutions which allow for much better analysis of data from statutory and non-statutory partners.
PCCs should use their democratic authority and mandate to open up discussion with other agencies, to establish local service agreements. The forthcoming spending review should empower the police and local partners to find effective operating models, facilitating the creation of pooled budgets where such an approach would help.
Better information for the public about accessing emergency services provided by other organisations as well as the police. The aim would be to inform and encourage the public to contact the right service rather than default to routing cases to the police.