Lord Harris: Boris Johnson's investment in our police could be too little and too late
The Prime Minister has promised to recruit another 20,000 police officers, but they will not replace those lost under his two Tory predecessors, writes Lord Harris of Haringey.
The Prime Minister has promised us another 20,000 police with recruitment supposed to start this month. But what will this really mean? With today’s oral question in the House of Lords I hope to get some answers.
Police numbers have fallen every year since a Conservative-led Government took office in 2010.
Indeed, in the nine years up to March this year, forces in England and Wales lost 20,564 officers. With his usual desire for alliterative self-aggrandisement Johnson will no doubt want us to call them “Boris’s Bobbies”, but that will not alter the fact that the new officers will not even replace those that have been lost under his two Tory predecessors.
And will these extra officers go on to the frontline? Again it is not clear. The Home Secretary in a letter to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, talked vaguely about these officers being allocated “between territorial, regional and national policing functions” with reports suggesting that as many as a third will NOT go to local policing.
Which local forces will get the new officers? This apparently is still to be determined. There is heavy lobbying from Conservative Police and Crime Commissioners that rural forces should get the lion’s share. This may mean that the extra police may not go to those parts of the country with the highest crime rates.
Police morale is low and in the last year more than 8,700 officers resigned. At that rate, 26,200 posts will have to be filled over the next three years before there will be any net increase at all. This is a tall order.
The Chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, Martin Hewitt, has pointed out that only one in ten of those who apply is successful. This will mean about half a million people will have to put their names forward and the NPCC has warned that the calibre of applicants may not be of the quality required.
This is a serious matter, particularly if the standards required end up being lowered. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary last week reported that police forces are failing to do enough to tackle predatory and corrupt officers in their ranks and that around 35,000 officers, staff and contractors have never been vetted properly.
There are rising levels of violence on our streets and many crimes, particularly fraud and e-crime, are never followed up.
The Operation Yellowhammer papers that the Government have reluctantly released in the last few weeks talk about “major civil unrest” following a no-deal Brexit. At the same time, a Cabinet Minister has told The Times that there will be “Gilets Jaunes” type riots if Brexit doesn’t happen at the end of October.
There are real doubts about the ability of the police to cope with the challenges that they are and will be facing. So there is no question that serious investment in policing is needed.
The fear is that this is too little and too late - yet another example of Boris Johnson being all talk and no trousers.
Lord Toby Harris of Haringey is Chair of the Labour Peers and Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Policing and Security.