A senior police leader has said the public would be “horrified” by how few officers are available to respond to crimes.
John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, described the situation as “soul-destroying” for rank-and-file officers, with some forces struggling to respond promptly to 999 calls.
His comments come after a watchdog said victims have given up reporting some crimes after realising forces do not have the capacity to investigate.
A report published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) on Friday said the public are losing faith in the criminal justice system because the chances of offenders being brought to justice are so slim.
A suspect was charged in just 7.8% of crimes recorded in England and Wales in the year to March 2019, down from 9.1% the previous year, while the proportion of crimes closed because the victim did not support a prosecution rose to 22.6% from 20%.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said the public has “rumbled” that the police do not have the capacity to deal with volume crimes, such as burglaries, which is likely to be “corrosive” for the long-term relationship between the public and police.
The report also found people around the country face a postcode lottery with “stark differences” in the way forces carry out investigations.
Mr Apter, whose organisation represents 120,000 officers up to chief inspector rank, said: “The public would be horrified if they realised just how few officers there are in their local areas to respond to incidents.
“It’s essential we have the confidence of the public and I understand the frustration of victims, but it is as equally as frustrating for police officers. It is soul-destroying.
“No police officer is happy with this situation; and some of those crimes which are defined as ‘minor’ are the ones which can be the most impactive on the victim.”
Following an inspection of all 43 forces in England and Wales, Mr Parr said volume crimes such as minor burglaries, minor assaults and car crime are especially unlikely to be solved.
“I think particularly in the volume crime area the public has rumbled that the police capacity to deal with this is extremely limited,” he said.
The report, entitled Divergence Under Pressure, found rising crime and cuts to budgets had put pressure on police forces.
It also warned that the Government’s plans to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers will not solve all of the problems facing forces.
Mr Apter said: “The harsh reality is that policing can no longer do all the things it once could, with some local forces struggling to respond to 999 calls in a timely manner.
“Police officers didn’t join policing to give a bad service, but the system is broken, and forces are having to make some incredibly difficult operational decisions on which crimes to prioritise.”
He added: “The only thing you get for less is less, it’s not rocket science. You can’t cut budgets to the bone, reduce officer and staff numbers by so much and not expect there to be a consequence.
“This mess is not of police making and is a result of a decade of devastating budget cuts – we warned for years this would happen, but previous governments refused to listen.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “HMICFRS has found that many forces are performing well and we welcome the improvements in support for vulnerable people and victims.
“In areas where services are not up to scratch, we expect police to take action and implement the Inspectorate’s recommendations at pace.
“We are giving police the resources they need, providing the biggest funding increase in a decade and recruiting 20,000 new officers – forces must now deliver the service our communities deserve.”