Counter-terrorism effort putting strain on wider policing, senior officer warns

The huge counter-terrorism effort is placing an unsustainable strain on Britain's wider policing service, one of the country's most senior officers warns on Friday.

Sara Thornton, the head of the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC), says the "flat cash" funding settlement for forces announced by ministers two years ago is no longer enough.

Hundreds of specialist counter-terrorism officers have been assigned to massive inquiries launched in the wake of each of the five attacks to hit the UK this year.

A new set of security gates which have been installed at the Carriage Gates entrance to the Houses of Parliament following the Westminster terror attack.
A new set of security gates were installed at the Carriage Gates entrance to the Houses of Parliament after the Westminster attack (Victoria Jones/PA)

In an assessment published six months to the day since the Westminster atrocity, Ms Thornton details how the response affects other areas of policing.

Ms Thornton says: "Every time there's a terror attack, we mobilise specialist officers and staff to respond, but the majority of the officers and staff responding come from mainstream policing. This puts extra strain on an already stretched service.

"In the response to the Manchester attack, three quarters of the resources deployed came from mainstream policing.

Police officers among mourners viewing tributes in St Ann's Square, Manchester
Police officers were among the mourners after the Manchester terror attack (Jonathan Brady/PA)

"This disrupts the daily work of policing on which the public rely, it creates backlogs of incidents in our control rooms and results in a slower response to the public.

"With officer numbers at 1985 levels, crime up 10% in the last year and police work becoming ever more complex, this additional pressure is not sustainable.

"The current flat cash settlement for forces announced in 2015 is no longer enough."

The Government is boosting its total spending on counter-terrorism by 30%, from £11.7 billion to £15.1 billion.

But Ms Thornton argues that the amount allocated from that budget to policing, which currently totals around £700 million a year, is set to be cut by 7.2% in the next three years.

"When the volume and nature of threat is growing alarmingly, that is a real concern," she says.

Ms Thornton delivers the warning in a blog post to be published on Friday, a week on from the Parsons Green attack, the fifth major terrorist incident in the UK this year.

She describes how an effective response to an attack is just one part of the counter-terrorism effort, and will "never be as good as preventing them in the first place".

The former Thames Valley chief constable echoes concerns raised by a string of senior figures about the "resilience" of local neighbourhood policing.

She writes: "Fewer officers and police community support officers will cut off the intelligence that is so crucial to preventing attacks.

"Withdrawal from communities risks undermining their trust in us, at a time when we need people to have the confidence to share information with us."

Ms Thornton emphasises that police chiefs will do all they can to protect the public from terrorism, which may require choices that are "difficult and unpalatable".

The NPCC chairwoman pays tribute to the skill and bravery of emergency services personnel who responded at Parsons Green, while acknowledging that Scotland Yard had the resources they needed for that investigation.

Noting that experts have described the spate of attacks in the UK and Europe as a "shift not a spike" in the threat, which will take 20 or 30 years to eliminate, she calls for an "open minded dialogue" with Government, adding that "our resources have got to be part of the conversation".

Her intervention on the issue is the latest by a senior officer.

Earlier this year Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley suggested that prioritising counter-terrorism work "will inevitably push risk to other areas of policing".

If you see anything suspicious just ACT, contact police. You can make the difference. In an emergency dial 999

-- Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) September 15, 2017

Police and MI5 are running 500 live investigations involving 3,000 individuals, while another 20,000 former "subjects of interest" must be kept under review.

Authorities have foiled 19 plots since the middle of 2013, including six since Westminster.

A Home Office spokesman said:"The Government will do what it takes to keep families, communities and our country safe.

"That is why we are increasing funding for counter-terrorism by £3.4 billion and the Home Secretary announced £24 million in extra support for CT (counter-terrorism) policing in addition to the £707 million already committed for this year.

"We have also protected overall police funding in real terms since 2015 and we are sensitive to the pressures on police forces across the country.

"We are engaging with them on the demands they are currently facing."

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