Cuts cull coppers
By Trevor Carbin
We have an important tradition in this country of 'policing by consent'. In Wiltshire the introduction of community policing has been hugely successful, but the force is threatened by government cuts. The Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner has increased precepts as much as possible and has negotiated a 'strategic alliance with Avon & Somerset which should help with the finances, but still the cuts continue and the level of service diminishes. Do we consent to this, or would we prefer a police force which can do the job we want them to do? Here's what the Police Federation say:
"As an apolitical staff association representing 124,000 police officers from the rank of constable to chief inspector across the 43 forces in England and Wales, we are writing to all Members of Parliament, Welsh Assembly Members and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, to let you know that we want to work with politicians nationally and locally to ensure the public get the police service they want and deserve.
But we have a duty, on behalf of those officers we represent and the public we serve, to raise our grave concern that the quality of service we are able to provide to the public is already under immense strain. We have a genuine fear that any future cuts to the police budget, or further loss of police officers, will have such a detrimental impact that the British police service, will be irreparably damaged and changed forever.
Importantly though, so too will our ability to protect and serve all our communities effectively.
We accept that in recent years, austerity measures have been needed to ensure a stable economy. We accept that policing had to take a share of the pain too. But our deep concern is that the police service cannot take any more.
The demands on policing continue to increase, as we tackle new crimes, while still trying to deal with traditional crime in the face of dwindling budgets and resources. In recent years we have seen an increase in cyber-crime, a rise in the number of reported cases of sexual offences and child protection issues. These horrific and often hidden crimes require sufficient time and resources to tackle properly. We also face a new style of international terrorism which is hugely resource intensive to monitor and police effectively to prevent attacks and keep the British public safe. In addition to dealing with crime, increasingly police officers are also providing active support to safeguard vulnerable members of society, including those who are young and old.
In the last four years the police service has lost nearly 17,000 police officers and approximately 22,000 police support staff, resulting in police officers having to backfill some of these roles. The number of police officers per head of population is lower than at any time in the last 20 years, while other European nations have increased their numbers. This reduction in officer numbers is also having a detrimental effect on the health and welfare of police officers, as they do their very best to deal with increasing demands with fewer resources.
Several chief constables are now talking openly about the threat to visible neighbourhood policing teams as they juggle the emergency response demands against a limited budget and fewer police officers. In a recent speech, while the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said they could still provide neighbourhood policing in London, he did make the point that they would struggle to deal with missing persons in future. Do the public really want a pick and mix police service? They have seen police stations closed in their communities and now the visible and reassuring presence of the police is seriously threatened and they face a service unable to provide all that it has in the past.
To help you gain a better understanding of how the changes are impacting across all forces, last week we launched our 'Cuts Have Consequences' microsite on the Police Federation website, which you can access here.
This supports the admirable work being undertaken at a local level to highlight how budget cuts have impacted on policing. This is about bringing to your attention the very real unintended consequences of cuts to the police service. The unintended consequence to our resilience to be able to deal with the large scale disorder we saw in towns and cities only a few years ago as police numbers fall. The unintended consequence of not being able to deal with minor crimes as resources are diverted to deal with emergency response calls. The unintended consequence of neighbourhood policing teams being cut back as forces are compelled to channel limited resources to priority areas.
We are realistic. Even though we consider any further erosion of budgets and services a genuine risk to public safety and the security of this country, we recognise that it is unlikely that any future government would be in a position to increase funding substantially at this stage. But our greatest fear is that there are further cuts to come. Because the service is at breaking point. It is only the goodwill of officers that is allowing the service to survive, as we experience the fallout of real-time cuts to other public sector areas such as health and social care.
We know that policing cannot stand still. It never does. We adapt to the changing demands of society and the changing face of crime. But it is important for the public, that policing and the important role played by police officers in communities is valued by politicians, locally and nationally.