Last week the Police Federation held its annual conference entitled ‘The Policing Challenge: Cuts Have Consequences’. In his speech, the Chairman of the Federation, Steve White, used all the usual rhetorical devices to try to persuade the government to heed his warnings that the cuts, if they continue, will have dire consequences for the police service and the public. But if the Federation is serious about working in partnership with government to shape policing policy and practice, then maybe it should provide robust evidence of exactly what these consequences are and not simply rely on pathos to persuade. You would have thought that the police of all public servants should know how important irrefutable evidence is in making a strong case.
From our work in a number of police forces we have formed a reasonable view of how the cuts are affecting policing. Firstly, the impact is not uniform across the country. Some forces, often the larger ones with greater reserves, are coping much better than others, while some of the smaller forces are struggling to maintain a suitable level of service, despite attempts to collaborate with their better-off neighbours. But even here, there are exceptions. Warwickshire, for example, has been singularly successful through its Strategic Alliance with West Mercia in securing considerable financial savings without any discernible fall in service delivery.
Secondly, forces are taking quite different approaches to delivering a service with less resource, which results in different outcomes. So, for example, neighbourhood policing is at risk in some forces where beat officers are being systematically abstracted to response duties, but in others, such as in Leicestershire, the Chief Constable has taken the strategic decision to stop neighbourhood policing teams from investigating crimes or responding to emergencies. Similarly, in Thames Valley, following an evidence-based internal review, a strategic decision has been taken to focus neighbourhood policing on problem solving in order to maximize its impact (i.e. doing more with less).
Thirdly, the Federation does little to help its cause by playing fast and loose with statistical data. This is not just sloppy in the face of its contention that it ‘tells it like it is’, but seriously undermines its credibility. In his speech, Steve White said that the number of people who have seen police officers or PCSOs on foot patrol in their local area in the last seven days has declined to less than a third. This is based on data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), which divides visibility into high, medium and low categories. If the high and medium categories are combined, the reduction in visibility over the last three years is much smaller (abouttwo per cent) and certainly not ‘falling fast’. More importantly, by focusing only on police visibility he is not just favouring input measures over output measures but using statistics selectively. The same survey shows that since 2010/11, the public’s ratings of their local police, their confidence and satisfaction in the police and their perceptions of the police are all broadly unchanged. How can this selective use of (input) data in support of a particular line of argument help to endear the Federation to a government which, it claims, it would like to work closely with over the coming years?
Fourthly, and finally, Steve White accuses the Home Secretary of speaking ‘utter nonsense’. Well maybe those in glass houses should be more careful. A few weeks ago, when the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released its quarterly crime statistics, the Federation was quick to suggest that violent crime was up because there were now fewer police officers. This really is utter nonsense. The reason that violent crime has gone ‘up’, is because of the way in which it is now being recorded. The government acknowledges this, academics acknowledge this, think tanks acknowledge this, ONS acknowledges this, so why doesn’t the Federation follow suit? So if this, as the Federation claims, is ‘the voice of policing’, is it any wonder that the Home Secretary has decided not to listen to it?