Policing for the future Contents

2Changing trends in crime and policing


10.Crime is changing, with new demands on policing emerging, such as online child sexual abuse and digital disclosure. But at the same time, many ‘traditional’ volume crimes are rising, and the police are bringing forward fewer charges for a wide range of offences. This chapter examines recent trends in crime, detection and charging rates, police funding, and the current state of neighbourhood policing, which is the bedrock of British policing.

Crime rates

11.Police-recorded crime increased by 27% between the year ending March 2010 and the year ending 2018.6 The Office for National Statistics (ONS) attributes this partly to changes in recording practices, which have been the subject of “ongoing work” by forces over the last three years. It nevertheless suggests that genuine increases in some forms of crime have played a role, along with more victims reporting crime to the police.7 In the year to March 2018, compared with the previous year, there was a 24% increase in police-recorded sexual offences and a 23% increase in domestic abuse offences. Improved levels of victim confidence and prominent public discussions about sexual abuse are likely to have played a role in some of these trends.8

12.This report considers three areas of rising demand on the police in detail: online fraud (Chapter 3), child sexual abuse (Chapter 4), and safeguarding vulnerable people (Chapter 5). Alongside these emerging or growing challenges, however, there have been increases in a number of offences that might be seen as ‘traditional’ demands on policing. The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), which is generally regarded as a more reliable measure of victimisation, found that most offences (including sexual offences) had not become more common in recent years, and some have been decreasing. However, in the year to March 2018, it also found significant increases in the last year in some forms of traditional ‘volume’ crime, following a long-term downward trajectory in most Western countries, including a 24% increase in robbery, a 16% increase on theft from the person, and a 17% increase in vehicle-related theft.9

13.Serious violence is also increasing. The crime survey is not effective at capturing high-harm violent offences (due to their rarity), but in the year to March 2018, a 16% rise in police-recorded knife crime was accompanied by a 14% increase in hospital admissions for assaults involving a sharp instrument,10 and possession of a knife or sharp instrument increased by 28%. Firearms offences stabilised, but this follows a rise of 31% between 2014 and 2017.11 We have launched a separate inquiry into Serious Violence, which is considering the drivers behind this trend and the effectiveness of the Government and police service’s response.

Detection and charging rates

14.There is strong evidence to suggest that the police are struggling to keep on top of these increased demands. BBC Panorama’s Police Under Pressure, aired in May, analysed national figures and found that there were 65,000 fewer charges brought in the three years to 2017, despite a 21 per cent increase in recorded crime.12 Between 2015 and 2018, there was a 32% increase in recorded crime but a 26% decrease in the number of charges or summons., with over 153,000 fewer criminals being brought to justice.13,14,15 Three quarters of theft offences were closed without a suspect being identified.16 A spokesperson for the Police Federation reportedly responded that the figures were proof that policing in the UK was “on the critical list”, adding: “We are sleepwalking into a nightmare”.17

15.Pressures are also showing in the time it takes the police to respond to calls for service, including emergencies. The latest “police effectiveness” report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Service (HMICFRS—previously HMIC), published in March, said that a quarter of forces were struggling to respond to calls for service in time. In one force, in between 20 and 50 per cent of cases, calls that should have been responded to within 24 hours were not dealt with on time; in another, scheduled appointments (instead of an urgent response) were used in nearly one-third of domestic abuse cases,18 in contravention of national standards. The NAO reported recently that the proportion of victims who are dissatisfied with the police response is increasing. It also found degradations in some forms of service to the public, including a fall in the arrest rate, from 17 arrests per 1,000 of the population in 2014–15 to 14 per 1,000 in 2016–17.19

16.Many ‘volume’ crimes, including robbery, theft from the person, and vehicle-related theft, are now increasing at an alarmingly steep rate, after a long period of decline. While recorded crimes have risen by 32% in the last three years, the number of charges or summons has decreased by 26% and the number of arrests is also down. The wider Crime Survey also found recent steep increases in robbery and theft. If these trends continue, the service risks both a serious decrease in public safety and in confidence in the police and the CPS.

Police funding

17.Central Government funding to police forces has reduced by 30% in real terms since 2010–11.20 Overall budget cuts have varied between forces due to additional revenue from council tax (the ‘police precept’), with some forces relying more heavily on central government funding than others; between 2010 and 2015, the average funding reduction across all forces in England and Wales was 18%.21 Wages and other personnel costs account for the majority of force budgets, so the size of the police workforce has reduced significantly. Ring-fenced funding (including for police community support officers—PCSOs) was abolished within the first two years of the 2010–15 Coalition Government,22 and the police workforce reduced by 37,400 between March 2010 and March 2015: a 16% cut in the number of officers, PCSOs and staff.23 Workforce reductions varied significantly between forces, ranging from a 23% cut in officer numbers in Cleveland to a 1% cut in Surrey, where almost half of the force’s funding comes from council tax revenue.24 Further reductions in recent years have brought the total workforce down to 199,752 (as of March 2018)—an 18% decrease since March 2010.25

18.During the 2015 Autumn Statement, the then Chancellor, George Osborne, committed to protecting the overall police budget over the Spending Review period (2015–2020).26 However, increases in funding have largely been focused on specialised areas of policing, such as child sexual abuse, counter-terrorism and cybercrime, and force funding remains ‘flat’ only if PCCs raise the maximum level permitted from the police precept (2%).27 Any larger increase to the precept requires a local referendum for approval. In addition, the assumption of flat funding does not account for higher-than-expected inflation levels since 2015, including an annual CPI rate of 2.6% in 2017,28 meaning that forces have been experiencing further real-terms cuts to their core funding.

19.The latest efficiency report from HMICFRS found that the majority of forces were “able to demonstrate that they have absorbed budget reductions well and have improved the efficiency with which they operate”, but concluded that “policing is under significant stress”.29 A more recent report by the National Audit Office (NAO) concluded that the Home Office “does not know if the police system is financially sustainable”, and it “cannot be sure overall funding is being directed to the right places”.30

20.Witnesses were clear to us about the significant impact of funding cuts on forces. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, told us that the service cannot “go on dealing with rising demand and greater complexity forever without having to make some hard choices. You make choices either about reducing the scope of the mission or taking more risk about what you do”.31 We return to the subject of police funding in Chapter 6 of this report.

21.Policing is facing both new challenges and rising demand from traditional crimes, yet resources in recent years have been strained, and forces are under considerable stress merely to keep up with existing pressures. Without a change of course, the current trends—fewer officers delivering a wider mission, under increasing demands—will continue, and policing will struggle to attract the talented individuals that it relies on in order to survive.

Neighbourhood policing

22.Earlier this year, the BBC reported that one in seven police posts “axed” over the previous seven years had been “bobbies on the beat”, including 1,500 neighbourhood policing posts and over 4,000 PCSOs.32 PCSOs were introduced in 2002, and have powers sufficient to deal with anti-social behaviour and minor disorder. In July, Suffolk Constabulary confirmed a plan to cut its number of full-time equivalent (FTE) PCSOs to 48, while moving 100 officers into safer neighbourhood teams. The force said that its “demand profile is changing and increasing”, citing ‘county lines’, youth violence and ‘hidden harms’ such as CSA as key challenges. It concluded that “the training, capability and powers of a police constable will be more effective in meeting these challenges”.33 Similarly, it was announced in October 2017 that Norfolk Constabulary would be the first force to remove its 150 PCSOs from its workforce, appointing 81 officers and 16 staff members instead. Simon Bailey, Chief Constable of Norfolk, reportedly said that the force was experiencing rising demand from “high risk, high harm” cases, and required “a workforce that is able to deal with that”.34

The value and effectiveness of neighbourhood policing

23.Neighbourhood policing encompasses much more than a mere visible presence in communities. Witnesses emphasised the value gained from the ability of neighbourhood officers to work proactively with community partners to solve problems, based on an understanding of the local area and the issues it faces. For example, Andy Higgins from the Police Foundation told us that “the version of neighbourhood policing that I want to see prevail [ … ] emphasises the importance of having embedded practitioners in the places that need them most [ … ] for meaningful periods of time, not distracted by 999 calls, investigations, safeguarding and the like”. He said that they “should have a principal remit to develop an in-depth understanding of that place, the people who live there and the risks to them, [ … ] forming trusting relationships with the people there, using police intelligence and data, and sharing information with partners.35

24.Alison Hernandez, PCC for Devon and Cornwall and Deputy APCC Lead for Local Partnerships and Policing, offered two moving examples of the sort of trust and affection that good neighbourhood officers can bring to local policing. One Sergeant in Hayle and St Ives, Mike Friday, who was due to be moved to another team, attracted a petition with 6,000 signatures “to tell me they wanted to keep him”, because “he was so passionate about neighbourhood policing, knew everybody and made a difference”. In Falmouth, 6,000 people out of 20,000 in the community “came out” for the funeral of a local PC, Andy Hocking, following his death a few years ago.36

25.The Police Foundation says that visible foot patrols “do not reduce crime rates”, but that they can “improve community relations and reduce fear of crime”.37 Indeed, opinion polls over decades have found consistently high degrees of public support for foot patrol.38,39 The College of Policing’s ‘What Works’ Centre for Crime Reduction says that a highly-visible police presence can only affect criminality when targeted to high-crime locations.40 Communities value the long-term impact of neighbourhood policing, however, including their ability to build relationships, their community prevention work, and their follow-up with repeat offenders.

26.Senior police officers have emphasised the importance of good neighbourhood policing to other specialist areas, including counter-terrorism. Sir Mark Rowley, former National Counter-Terrorism Policing Lead, reportedly said in March that the “bedrock of neighbourhood policing” needs more investment, adding:

The more complex communities are the more important it is for police to have the trust of all elements of society. You only build that trust if you have a close relationship and you only build that with people on the beat. For example, information from communities is critical to spotting some of the volatile individuals who rapidly accelerate from being a disenfranchised, to someone who has a terrorist motivation.41

27.Similarly, Commissioner Dick described to us the positive impact of neighbourhood officers in Finsbury Park, where a mosque was raided in 2003. Since then, they have built trusting relationships with local people and ensured that “community issues are dealt with extremely fast, extremely well and extremely sensitively”. She told us that neighbourhood officers “glue communities together and glue the counter-terrorist officers to communities”, adding: “I am very concerned if we reduce the numbers of those; I actually think, in certain areas, we need to be doing a lot more work through them [ … ] with other public authorities to stop people from becoming violent extremists”.42

Multi-agency partnerships

28.Garry Shewan, former Assistant Chief Constable at Greater Manchester Police, made a link between partnership work and crime reduction, telling us that you “have to have a close working relationship” with “all the partners in a place, to understand why crime happens and to come up with long-term solutions.43 Some forces have adopted models of neighbourhood policing that involve co-locating the police with other public services. In Greater Manchester, for example, Integrated Neighbourhood Teams comprise PCSOs and/or neighbourhood officers working in the same office as a number of other practitioners, such as housing officers and mental health professionals, who work together on multi-agency interventions for individuals who repeatedly come into contact with a range of public services.44 In its recent report on neighbourhood policing, the Police Foundation praised these models, but said that they should be considered separately from neighbourhood policing. Officers working within multi-agency teams said that more traditional aspects of neighbourhood policing had been impacted by their role, with one telling researchers: “There’s no patrolling. I mean six weeks I’ve been here and I’ve not even put a cap on and gone walking.”45

29.The Foundation recommended that neighbourhood officers or PCSOs should be embedded within places for an extended period of time, develop relationships with a broad range of people living in and frequenting those places, share information and knowledge with local practitioners from other agencies, and develop and implement creative local interventions that respond to their “deep, contextual understanding” of the problem at hand, informed by knowledge about what has been effective elsewhere. The Foundation said that police resources should be shifted, where possible, into local prevention work, but acknowledged that “without additional resources, any success will be limited in scale and vulnerable to unforeseen shifts in priorities and context”.46

30.Neighbourhood policing brings immense value to communities, particularly when officers or PCSOs are given the space and time to get to know local people and problems, develop tailored solutions, and build trust in policing. This is central to the British model of policing by consent. It is understandable that forces would be tempted to prioritise reactive, emergency work over proactive problem-solving within communities, but we regard this as a false economy. The relationships built by neighbourhood officers enable problems to be dealt with before they become emergencies, and encourage cooperation with the police at times of crisis. The decline in neighbourhood policing has therefore been a significant loss to communities.

31.We welcome efforts to integrate policing with other public services, including through multi-agency teams based in the same location, which focus on individuals who come into repeat contact with authorities. We are concerned, however, that some forces may see this model as their sole ‘offering’ on neighbourhood policing. There can be no substitute for having officers and PCSOs who are embedded in their local communities.

Impact of police funding reductions

32.The workforce reductions outlined earlier in this Chapter appear to have had a significant impact on neighbourhood policing capacity, although some forces have sought to prioritise spending on frontline neighbourhood officers. PCSOs have borne the brunt of workforce reductions since 2010, with a 40% cut in numbers between March 2010 and March 2018 (from 16,918 down to 10,139 PCSOs in England and Wales).47 Alison Hernandez told us that “neighbourhood policing is far more than PCSOs”, and Garry Shewan said that “the reduction in the number of PCSOs is okay, as long as they are replaced by a commitment from forces to ensure that their frontline police officers spend time, have responsibility and ownership over a local area, [ … ] and are committed to problem-solving activity and working with partners”.48

33.As part of our data collection exercise, we asked forces how many officers and PCSOs had dedicated neighbourhood roles in a) 2009–10 and b) 2017–18, to assess the impact of budget reductions on their neighbourhood policing capacity. Kent and Essex both reported significant increases in the number of neighbourhood officers, but with caveats relating to their recording practices. Kent told us that a restructure took place between 2010 and 2018, which resulted in “the amalgamation of Central Response, Neighbourhood and Custody to form new Local District Policing Teams”. This resulted in “the creation of a new job description to reflect the merged roles of Neighbourhood and Response”, meaning that the force cannot specify how many of those individuals are neighbourhood officers. Similarly, Essex Police’s figure for 2018 is “a combination of local policing and neighbourhood policing”, whereas in 2010 they were separate functions, and were recorded as such. Finally, the Metropolitan Police provided only estimated figures, because its model for neighbourhood policing has changed. The majority of its officers have been placed in emergency response roles since 2010, along with two dedicated officers in each ward.

34.After removing the Kent, Essex and Met returns, of the remaining 33 forces with data for both years, all but one (Hertfordshire) reported a decrease in the numbers of neighbourhood officers, averaging cuts of 35%. When all 36 forces were included, the average reduction was 21%. Out of the 37 forces providing data on neighbourhood PCSOs, all but five reported a decrease, with an average reduction of 21%. Clearly, there may be differences in the ways in which all forces have measured the number of neighbourhood officers, response officers and PCSOs, so there are limitations to the comparisons we can make between forces.49

35.HMIC’s 2016 report on police effectiveness (published in March 2017) claimed that “the police service is not as well equipped to stop crime happening in the first place as it has been in the past” and that neighbourhood policing “continues to be eroded”.50 HMI Zoe Billingham, who led the inspection, raised a “red flag” to warn forces of the consequences of “an unconscious form of rationing of police services”, and cautioned that neighbourhood policing must be preserved as “the cornerstone of the policing model in England and Wales”.51 The results of a survey of neighbourhood officers, published within that report, indicated that between half and two-thirds had been removed from their normal duties once or more per week to fill other functions, such as supervision of people in cells or hospitals, or transporting detainees.52

36.The inspectorate’s latest effectiveness report, published in March, noted that there had been some improvement in this area since the previous year. It observed some forces “changing their approach to neighbourhood policing to make sure they have enough officers and PCSOs dedicated to preventing crime, engaging with communities and tackling anti-social behaviour.” It also described as “commendable” the fact that, since 2016, nearly half of all forces had increased or maintained the number of staff assigned to neighbourhood policing.53 It did, however, express concern that some forces still do not know the extent to which officers and PSCOs were being taken away from their local policing duties to handle tasks elsewhere, and said that there were inconsistencies in “tackling local problems in a structured way” and in “using approaches the police service knows are effective”.54

Deployment to other policing teams

37.Andy Higgins told us that there has been “an expansion of the definition and understanding of what neighbourhood policing is”, adding: “Some forces, for example, are putting 40% of their entire workforce into what they call neighbourhood policing”, but “that covers a lot of the response and investigation work as well”.55 Chief Constable Thornton confirmed that neighbourhood officers are “doing a lot of response work”, and that there is “undoubtedly a capacity issue in neighbourhood policing”.56 The Policing Minister, Nick Hurd MP, told us that he shares the concern, “expressed by Sir Thomas Winsor and his inspectorates”, about the degree to which neighbourhood policing has “degraded” in recent years, resulting in “a fragmented system” and “different models of neighbourhood policing in different forces”.57

Redeployment of neighbourhood officers across forces

We asked forces what proportion of their neighbourhood officers were asked to join response teams a) more than once per week, and b) more than once per month. The majority were not able to quantify this phenomenon, but the responses included the following estimates:

  • City of London estimated that in 2009/10, around 10% of neighbourhood officers were redeployed to response teams more than once per month and 5% more than once per week, and in 2017/18 the figures were around 45% and 35% respectively;
  • Dorset said that, during 2017/18, approximately 100 response duties per month were undertaken by neighbourhood officers;
  • Gloucestershire estimated that, in 2017/18, 50% of neighbourhood officers were redeployed more than once per month, and 20% more than once per week;
  • Leicestershire said that, during 2017/18, 116 out of 151 police constables (77%) and 34 out of 231 PCSOs (15%) were redeployed more than once per week; and
  • Wiltshire told us that “Our NPT [neighbourhood policing team] now incorporates our response capability, so we no longer have response teams”.

38.The College of Policing published new guidelines on neighbourhood policing in July, with a short consultation held during August. The guidelines define the key features of neighbourhood policing as being “accessible to, responsible for and accountable to communities”; engaging with those communities “to build trust and develop understanding of needs”; and undertaking “collaborative problem solving with communities”.58 The supporting material for senior leaders appears, to some extent, to acknowledge that neighbourhood policing may be deprioritised by forces. It states that chiefs and other leaders should support neighbourhood policing by, among other things, “emphasising that neighbourhood policing remains important but acknowledging that it can be a challenge when organised crime and public protection have to be managed on a routine basis”.59

39.We are gravely concerned about the erosion of neighbourhood policing in a number of forces. The data we collected suggests that forces have lost at least a fifth of their neighbourhood policing capacity, on average. It is vital that neighbourhood officers and PCSOs are able to devote sufficient time to embedding themselves in their communities, and are not removed from this work to carry out reactive response or crime investigation work outside their dedicated area. It is clear, however, that some forces are struggling to respond to incoming urgent demands, and are using their neighbourhood officers to plug the gap. We welcome the College of Policing’s recent guidance on neighbourhood policing, but this is insufficient to prevent forces from deprioritising proactive neighbourhood work, when faced with competing demands and limited resources.

40.Neighbourhood officers underpin the police service’s more specialist capabilities in crucial ways. In counter-terrorism policing, they allow intelligence to be gathered and shared at a local level, and create the trust that encourages people to share their concerns about radicalised individuals. As part of the police response to gangs and serious organised crime, neighbourhood officers get to know the young people locally who might be tempted to get involved with criminal activity, and can spot patterns of behaviour that other parts of the service might miss. Once lost, these relationships cannot be quickly rebuilt. Without the maintenance of a consistent and reliable police presence in communities, forces’ efforts to respond to the recent wave in volume and violent crime will be severely compromised.

41.Whilst this report has not examined the causes of the recent increase in ‘traditional’ crimes such as robbery, theft and vehicle related crime, we note that it is happening after several years of decline in the level of neighbourhood policing and community prevention work. We urge police forces and the Home Office to ensure that neighbourhood policing is not cut back further, and that forces instead start to reinvest in community capacity-building. It is absolutely vital that this cornerstone of British policing is reaffirmed throughout the country, to ensure that trust and legitimacy is maintained. This is particularly important in communities in which distrust of the police—and in public authorities more widely—is rife, and in which those local links are all the more important. Nevertheless, in all neighbourhoods, without local engagement, policing is at risk of becoming irrelevant to most people, particularly in the context of low rates of investigation for many crimes. The Government should report back to us within one month of the Comprehensive Spending Review, to explain what actions it has taken to maintain core neighbourhood policing functions in all forces, and to prevent officers from being diverted to other policing requirements.

6 ONS, Crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2018, 19 July 2018

7 ONS, Crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2018, 19 July 2018

8 ONS, Crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2018, 19 July 2018

9 ONS, Crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2018, 19 July 2018

10 ONS, Crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2018, 19 July 2018

11 ONS, Crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2018, 19 July 2018

15 ONS, Crime in England and Wales: Appendix Tables: Year ending March 2018

18 HMICFRS, PEEL: Police effectiveness 2017, March 2018

19 National Audit Office, Financial sustainability of police forces in England and Wales 2018 (HC 1501), 11 September 2018

20 National Audit Office, Financial sustainability of police forces in England and Wales 2018 (HC 1501), 11 September 2018

21 Police funding, House of Commons Library Briefing Paper 7279, 25 February 2016

22 House of Commons Library Debate Pack (CDP-2017–0212), Funding for community policing, 3 November 2017

23 Police funding, House of Commons Library Briefing Paper 7279, 25 February 2016

24 Police funding, House of Commons Library Briefing Paper 7279, 25 February 2016

25 Home Office, Police workforce, England and Wales: 31 March 2018, Data tables: Table H3

27 Police Grant Report England and Wales 2016/17: Written statement - HLWS431, 17 December 2015 and Police Grant Report England & Wales 2016/17: Written statement - HCWS510, 4 February 2016

28 ONS website, CPIH ANNUAL RATE, released 15 August 2018

30 National Audit Office, Financial sustainability of police forces in England and Wales 2018 (HC 1501), 11 September 2018

33 Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner, A local police service for Suffolk’s future, June 2018

38 Wakefield A., The Value of Foot Patrol: A Review of Research, published by the Police Foundation, 2016

40 College of Policing news item, Research shows targeted local policing approach reduces crime, June 2017

44 The Police Foundation, 2017 Annual Conference: Networked policing: effective collaboration between the police, partners and communities, Selected conference footage and slides

45 The Police Foundation, The future of neighbourhood policing, May 2018

46 The Police Foundation, The future of neighbourhood policing, May 2018

47 Home Office, Police workforce, England and Wales: 31 March 2018 (data tables), 19 July 2018

49 For example, several forces, including Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire, noted that organisational changes and the adoption of new policing models over the period in question will have driven some of the changes in neighbourhood officer numbers (but to a lesser extent than the Kent and Essex re-classifications).

Published: 25 October 2018