David Hanson: Our police officers are the most respected in the world. We need a Government that is willing to support them
Crime has risen while police numbers have declined. Invest in neighbourhood policing or public safety and communities will pay the price, warns David Hanson
Upholding the safety and security of this nation should be the first priority of any government. A strong police presence is key to that objective and central to that is the idea that we must have officers on the ground.
It is clear to all, especially the police themselves, that the cut in police numbers by the current government, and the previous coalition government, is simply unsustainable.
Although it is nearly nine years ago, 2010 saw the highest number of police officers ever and historically low levels of crime. Since that time, government policy has been to reduce investment to frontline policing and the subsequent rise in crime should not surprise anyone.
I remember in the early days of the 2010-15 parliament when I marched alongside members of the Police Federation under the banner ‘Enough is Enough’. We warned at the time that if police numbers fell, then crime rates would rise. We were lambasted by the then home secretary, Theresa May, to be ‘crying wolf’.
Since then we have seen a cut of over 22,000 police officers and a loss of 40% of police community support officers. Combine that with the record number of experienced officers leaving the force and we have entered a perfect storm of the UK government’s own making. Crime has risen, with violent offences and sexual offences seeing the sharpest rise.
But even these figures can sometimes hide the reality of being on the frontline. The thin blue line is already stretched. However, when you consider that of the 122,000 police officers currently employed there will only be a third on the frontline as the others will be either working in the back-office, on annual leave, or not at work that day due to the way their rota falls, the thinness of the blue line becomes ever starker.
What’s more, the largest number of officers are in London and metropolitan areas, leaving an extremely thin line in the rest of the country.
The government contends that it is putting in new money; it is not. The government is arguing that it has put in £460m a year, including the police precept. In reality this is a shift from central government to funding by local police and crime commissioners.
The impact of this means that very often the areas with highest crime have to raise more money from local taxpayers to compensate for central government cuts. The UK government is simply shirking its responsibility.
As I write, the Government has announced next year’s settlement for police and crime commissioners. The pension gap, which Labour highlighted, may be met by this revised announcement. The devil is in the detail and there is still a massive requirement for additional frontline funding to support the recruitment of new police. This settlement will be studied hard before it ultimately is voted on in February.
In an ever-more complex world, policing is also facing new challenges. The issue of counter-terrorism policing, the rise of cybercrime and the continuation of current and historical complex sexual offences are vital components that are competing for funding with neighbourhood policing.
Central, also, to our future relationship with Europe is the need for firm government decisions about maintaining membership of Europol, Eurojust, the European arrest warrant, and the second-generation Schengen Information System.
So, the government’s priorities for 2019 should be clear.
Rebuilding the police force to safe levels should be the number one priority. The forthcoming police settlement should see an immediate increase in resources apportioned from next year’s comprehensive spending review to police and crime commissioners to help recruit new officers to get police back to realistic levels.
Cementing our relationship with European justice agencies is vital.
Continuing widespread intelligence-led counter-terrorism policing is key.
It can be done. At the last election, Labour pledged an additional 10,000 officers which, in government, is achievable. And the focus of those new officers should be neighbourhood policing – to rebuild trust in divided communities, address underlying issues that create lifelong criminality and, most importantly, make people feel safe.
Our police officers are the most respected in the world. What we need now is a government that is ready and willing to support those who run towards danger. What we need now, more than ever, is a government that invests in neighbourhood policing.
David Hanson is Labour MP for Delyn and a former crime and policing minister