Confidence in policing severely dented, committee warns

Public confidence in the police has been “severely dented” as forces struggle to deliver an effective service, a Commons committee has warned.

It is taking longer to charge suspects, fewer arrests are being made and neighbourhood presences have been stripped back, MPs said.

Falls in funding and staffing levels have left constabularies under “increasing strain”, according to a report from the Public Accounts Committee.

It highlighted how police are dealing with more incidents which are not crime-related at a time when violent and sexual offending is on the rise.

The assessment – the latest to raise serious concerns about the state of policing in England and Wales – said: “Policing by consent relies on public confidence and this is being severely dented.

“Forces are struggling to deliver an effective service: it is taking longer to charge offences; they are making fewer arrests; they are doing less neighbourhood policing, and public satisfaction is declining.”

The committee cited figures showing that the proportion of crimes resulting in a charge or summons dropped from 15% in March 2015 to 9% in March 2018.

Police are carrying out less proactive work, the report added, pointing to falls in the numbers of breathalyser tests, motoring fixed penalties and convictions for drug trafficking and possession.

The PAC also levelled criticism at the Home Office, accusing the department of failing to show “strategic leadership” of the policing system and having only a “limited understanding” of the resources forces need.

“The police’s main duties are to protect the public and prevent crime,” the report said. “But only about a quarter of the emergency and priority incidents that the police respond to are crime-related.”

Meg Hillier
Meg Hillier

One police and crime commissioner told the committee that the impact of austerity had been “immense”, while another suggested that “communities do not feel safe”.

PAC chairwoman Meg Hillier said: “The ‘thin blue line’ is wearing thinner with potentially dire consequences for public safety.

“Public confidence and trust that the police will respond is breaking down.

“This cannot continue. Government must show leadership and get on with fixing the flaws at the heart of its approach to policing.”

A slew of figures and highly critical reports have prompted intense scrutiny of police performance and funding.

The number of arrests in England and Wales has halved in a decade, while recorded crime has risen across a number of categories including homicide and knife-related offences.

Last week, one of the country’s most senior officers called for a refocus on “core policing”.

National Police Chiefs’ Council chairwoman Sara Thornton warned forces are too stretched to take on all “deserving” issues, such as logging misogyny reports when no offence has been committed.

Police funding has fallen by 19% in real terms since 2010, while officer numbers have decreased by more than 20,000 over the same period.

Pressure on ministers to provide a cash injection intensified after a warning from another Commons committee that policing risks becoming “irrelevant” amid vanishing neighbourhood presences and low investigation and detection rates.

While last week’s Budget included £160 million for counter-terror policing, the Government faced criticism from the rank-and-file over the absence of any commitment for general police funding.

Chief Constable Dave Thompson, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for finance, said the report “recognises the increasing strain on police forces as we deal with rising crime, demand that is more complex and, more than ever, being called on as a last resort when other agencies lack their own capacity”.

He added: “While we welcomed the ability to increase resources as a result of last year’s policing settlement, there continue to be hard choices for chief constables.

“Budget cuts have meant that core aspects of policing are at risk of becoming unsustainable and ineffective to the detriment of public confidence. Policing is at the tipping point – and we need to move on from here.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We are on the front foot in engaging with the police and recognise the changing demands they are facing.

“The Government’s balanced approach to the economy has helped ensure there is £1 billion more of public money going into policing than three years ago, and the Home Secretary has been clear that he will prioritise police funding.

“As the Chancellor noted in the Budget, we will review police spending power at the provisional police funding settlement in December.”