Policing in austerity: doing well but could do better

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Policing in austerity: doing well but could do better

Tom Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, has just published his end of term report and it looks as if the police have, by and large, done well. They’ve met the financial challenge while crime (apparently) continues to fall and victim satisfaction continues to rise. Front line services have been largely protected (the number of front line officers has fallen byseven per centbut at least the proportion of officers working on the front line has increased by three per cent) and only three out of 43 forces were identified as needing to improve.And the target-driven culture of yesteryear is quietly being replaced by a broader focus on prevention, protection and high quality service delivery. So far so good, but as with many inspection reports the devil is in the detail.

Firstly, the erosion of neighbourhood policing. The overall message is that neighbourhood policing, as we know it, is at risk. The number of PCSOs (who do so much of the real neighbourhood engagement work) has fallen more than was anticipated as forces have found them to be an almost irresistible target for cuts. Officers are increasingly being abstracted to other (more urgent?) duties leaving prevention (and hence protection), community engagement and intelligence gathering an increasingly poor second to attending crime scenes or responding to 999 calls.

Secondly, the continuing failure of forces to collaborate. Despite previous warnings from HMIC and a statutory duty to collaborate collaboration, whether with other forces, other public services (notably the fire service) or the private sector, is simply not happening to the extent that it should, especially given the looming prospect of cuts round two’. There is considerable scope for savings here, as HMIC has previously proclaimed and as a few forces have actively demonstrated (see in particular the Strategic Alliance in Warwickshire and West Mercia) and forces will, I’m sure, have to embrace much more collaboration with each other as well as other bodies in the near future.

Finally, forces must by now know that the real challenge is still to come. The nextcomprehensive spending reviewwill require a second round of cuts that will require much more than fat-trimming and deck-chair shifting; it will require the police service to undergo radical transformation. Passing references to the new and emerging threats from cyber-crime hardly do justice to the magnitude of these changes, for which the police service is (still) ill-equipped. This is in many ways the most intriguing and yet least specific aspect of this report, but it’s definitely the space most worth watching.