Policing priorities – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Home Affairs Committee

Related inquiry: Policing priorities

Date Published: 10 November 2023

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When we launched this inquiry, we intended to consider how policing should prioritise the many outward roles that it plays. On hearing the evidence however, one of our early conclusions was that the first priority for policing in England and Wales was instead to look inward and ensure it has the right people and right culture to deliver a service that earns public trust, confidence and consent. Policing must prioritise (re)establishing that model of policing by consent not only because it is the right thing to do: without public trust and confidence in the police, the success of attempts to prevent and detect crime will be reduced, no matter how impressive the strategic thinking behind them may be.

We have been shocked by revelations about serious criminality and misconduct perpetrated by individual police officers. The most egregious examples have come from within the Metropolitan Police Service (“the Met”), the largest force in England and Wales. Far from setting an example for other forces to follow, the Met has repeatedly failed to tackle absolutely unacceptable practices and behaviour. We heard that many of the Met’s problems are echoed in other forces. Some of these systematic failures require a national solution.

Policing must build public trust and confidence by demonstrating that it is competent in preventing and responding to crime, that its officers have integrity, and that its wider culture will not tolerate wrongdoing, discrimination or criminality within its own ranks. It must communicate in an open, transparent and accessible way with communities, developing a two-way dialogue that moves from telling the public that its culture will change to showing them that it actually has.

Policing cannot succeed in its mission without the right people, with the right skills, in the right roles to meet demand. But recruiting and retaining the right people goes further than skills and aptitudes. A cultural expectation of high standards and strong values are equally essential. Systems and processes must cultivate positive behaviours in place of reactive responses to misconduct. Officers and staff must be supported in raising concerns about the behaviour of others.

We heard policing’s focus should be on what soonly policing can do – but also that prevention was a key area. Clarifying the police mission is not only vital in supporting officers and staff to manage demand. It will also help policing navigate what the Police Foundation calls “the public safety system” without taking on the work of other agencies that are better placed to respond, or reinforcing its place as the “service of last resort” when others are unable to step up.

We know that “non-crime demand” has put pressure on policing, and welcome attempts to ensure that the right person provides the right care to people who are suffering. But, at least in the short-term, demand with a mental health component is likely to remain. And a deadline for moving policing to a new model is not a solution to unmet mental health need. If health and social care services do not have the capacity to play their part, the Government must step up.

We focussed on what policing’s priorities should be and have concluded that the key priority is developing a culture that recruits, supports and nurtures officers and staff to maintain high standards of performance and behaviour across the board – including robust challenge and effective sanctions when the line is crossed. Outcomes for victims and survivors of crime matter hugely. Policing has an important role in preventing crime from happening in the first place. But until policing can make sustained cultural change, rather than rushing to operationalise crisis responses, it will not be able to perform at the high level that we as citizens want and need.

As His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has said, “England and Wales are arguably safer than they have ever been”, for which policing should take at least some of the credit.1 For example, the general threat from firearms is relatively low but even here there is no room for complacency. While access to firearms is currently challenging for criminals, we heard how important it will be for criminal justice agencies to keep on top of developments such as 3D printing to ensure it stays that way.

As the world changes, policing needs to change with it. The service faces a crisis in public confidence, growing and increasingly complex demands, and undermining revelations about longstanding and deeply problematic cultures. This must be a turning point for the police – marginal changes are not enough.