It is becoming increasingly clear that tomorrow the Chancellor will announce a further massive cut to police budgets. I personally expect it will be around 30-35%. This will make policing as we have known it for the past few decades unsustainable – the cuts of around 20% imposed during the last Government have left it teetering on the brink of collapse.
It’s not just the police who are complaining
These cuts will be imposed in the face of appeals from pretty much everyone who knows anything about policing: from Chief Constables, the Superintendent’s Association and the Federation to former senior officers, victim’s groups, minority communities, the Labour Party and even the TORY Mayor of London, Boris Johnson and TORY Police and Crime Commissioners.
The array of voices ALL calling on the Government to stop their dogma-driven is unprecedented. There have NEVER been so many groups and individuals, from one end of the political spectrum to the other, agreeing that the Government is wrong. If such a thing existed, the Union of Blaggers and Dips would probably be adding their voice too, concerned that all the fun will go out of crime if there are no cops to chase the robbers!
And yet the pig-headedly stubborn (see what I did there?) Prime Minister, Chancellor and Home Secretary carry on regardless.
Why DO the Tories hate the police so much?
I am at a total loss to understand why they hate the police so much. It has been suggested that Cameron is still smarting from his time with the Sheehy Report team, which recommended changes to the police service in 1993, only to have the majority left unimplemented. But surely he wouldn’t carry a grudge like that to this extent? Maybe it is the constitutional independence of the police service, the fact that they CANNOT, as a matter of law, be told how to use their powers by Government Ministers. This is a bit more believable, as we know this Government really doesn’t like being told what it can and cannot do by similarly independent “unelected judges“. Or maybe it is more fundamental than that: perhaps the Government really is made up largely of people who are rumoured to feel entitled to smash up small businesses during a drunken night out, or to take cocaine during sex parties and they would rather the police were not around to investigate and arrest them?
It can’t be “Plebgate“, because that happened in September 2012 and the Government had already spent two years at loggerheads with the police by then – in fact, their attitude to the police (30, 000 of whom had marched in opposition to the cuts made by THAT Government in May 2012) was part of the reason so much was made of a Government Minister personally abusing a police officer. (Let’s not forget, by the way, that Mitchell ADMITTED swearing at the police officer and a Court eventually concluded that he DID (on the balance of probabilities as is always used in the civil courts) call the officer a “pleb”, something that the Government and their tame media lackeys are only too ready to deny).
Whatever the reason, the Government HAVE treated the police, at all levels, with disdain and contempt from day one of the Coalition in May 2010. Theresa May has launched tirade after tirade against the police, especially relishing attacking the Police Federation who represent the thousands of rank and file officers desperately trying to maintain policing services. She has regularly listed historical incidents in which the police have failed, such as the Hillsborough disaster, the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation, the death of Ian Tomlinson and undercover policing. In doing so, she implies that the incidents illustrate how ALL police officers, past or PRESENT, behave – in short, she stereotypes them all as racist, violent, corrupt and dishonest, something which is again lapped up by her tame media stooges who embellish and repeat it ad nauseum until it becomes established as “fact”.
The Home Secretary does not listen to professional police officers
It’s not just this, though. It’s FAR more serious than offensive rhetoric: she fails to listen to the senior police officers who are her professional advisors. Sir Hugh Orde, past President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, was the nearest thing we have to a “top cop” for the whole of England and Wales. As such, it would, I suggest, be reasonable to expect that regular meetings with his are scheduled by any competent and reasonable Home Secretary. It transpires that Theresa May, unlike previous Home Secretaries, would sometimes not see him for months.
And one of her first moves on taking office was to replace the outgoing HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Denis O’Connor with Tom Winsor. The HMCIC is another professional policing advisor to the Home Secretary, traditionally present alongside them in the “COBRA” meetings at times of national crisis. For the first time ever, the HMCIC is now a non-police officer. How effective a corporate lawyer turned Rail Regulator will turn out to be in that role remains to be seen: lets just hope the recent events in Paris are not repeated here whilst he remains in post.
So we have a Home Secretary who demonstrably hates the police service, no matter what mealy-mouthed platitudes she comes out with just before launching into another attack. And one who refuses to listen to a word they say about policing, something which no sane and competent Home Secretary would ever do. It is therefore no wonder that she is presiding over what will undoubtedly be yet more swingeing cuts.
Public safety is at risk
She, Osborne and Cameron ARE gambling with public safety. Even now, with some of the effects of the previous cuts still to work thorough, the police service is on it’s knees: response times are rising, the public can no longer expect an immediate response to burglaries and other crimes, neighbourhood policing is unsustainable, sickness, stress and even suicide rates are rocketing as officers work extended shifts and have rest days cancelled to try and maintain a reasonable level of service, almost half of officers say that they are not able to provide a proper service, less than 10% would recommend the Job to a friend or relative and experienced officers are leaving in their droves.
Police numbers have now been taken back to the level of 2003, which is before cybercrime properly took off and when ISIS was but a twinkle in Al Qaeda’s eye. The world has changed. Crime has changed. Sure, many types of “traditional” crime continue to fall, as illustrated by the Crime Survey of England and Wales, but police recorded crime figures, which had also been falling consistently since 2003-4 (spooky coincidence of dates there!), has now started to rise. Some types of crime are rising particularly sharply, especially violent crime and murder and when fraud and cybercrime are included in the figures for the first time we find there is no overall fall at all!
Despite the evidence that ALL crime is not falling, May and the rest repeatedly claim that it is and use that to “prove” that police numbers can be cut without any effect on the service provided to the police. But even if their claim WERE correct only a small proportion of demand on policing is directly linked to crime according to the first research on the subject carried out by the College of Policing. (Others, such as the HMIC presided over by Tom Winsor, have argued that much more demand is to incidents where there is a RISK of crime…but, of course, prevented crimes don’t make it in to the crime statistics!).
There are serious concerns that those other demands are being increasingly driven by cuts to OTHER agencies. To take just one example, cuts in mental health care provision means that more people with serious mental health problems are being “cared for” in the community, receive less and less support and have fewer facilities which they can visit when they feel the need. This means that more of them find themselves in crisis whilst in the community, causing friends, neighbours and passers-by concerned for their welfare to call for help. As there is no emergency mental health crisis provision that results in the police being called and being forced to use their powers under s.136 Mental Health Act 1983 and to take the person to (utterly inappropriate and unsuitable) police stations as a “place of safety”, not through choice but because no mental health or hospital facilities are available.
And so, even without taking the threat of terrorism into account, public safety is at risk. There WILL be more and more victims of crime as the police are increasingly unable to prevent, investigate and prosecute crimes as they simply do not have the staff available to do so.
And it’s even more terrifying when the terrorism threat is considered
All of the above analysis is based on what we DO know: there IS a #KnifeCrimeEpidemic at present; murders ARE on the rise; criminals WILL continue to commit burglaries, robberies and all the rest on a regular basis and so forth. But the police service is also required to provide a prompt and effective response to unexpected major incidents such as major fires, serious road traffic collisions, rail and air crashes and all the other things which DO happen from time to time. Planning for these sorts of contingencies includes ensuring that there are sufficient police officers, with the necessary skills and equipment, immediately available to respond. This is called “resilience”.
Police patrol strengths for every area have a “minimum strength” set. This is the minimum number of officers considered necessary to deal with the usual range of routine tasks safely and to be able to provide an adequate initial response to major incidents. I am told that these minimum strengths have steadily been adjusted downwards as the cuts have bitten: certainly there are now FAR fewer officers on patrol than there were when I started in the Metropolitan Police Service in 1981. During ordinary working days this is not such an issue as there are officers in other specialist departments available to assist but at night and at weekends the police response in many areas would be very stretched and, I suspect, found to be inadequate.
But now there is a new possibility: a Paris-style “active shooter” type attack, involving eight or more attackers, armed with heavy, fully automatic weapons and explosives, simultaneously attacking multiple locations and moving around the city in vehicles committing “hit and run” type attacks such as those on many of the Paris cafes and bars. The police will PLAINLY be the first response to this type of attack (as they were in Paris) and so the Government need to ensure that there are sufficient numbers available and that they have sufficient arms to deal with the potential threat. There are Armed Response Vehicles (ARVs)around the UK. Typically these are crewed by two or three officers armed with pistols, carbines and other specialist weapons. They do not, however, have access to weapons of similar firepower to the AK47 assault rifles used in Paris. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner in London, which has the best level of ARV cover in the country, has acknowledged he needs twice as many armed officers as soon a possible: the position elsewhere will be far worse. Rapid access to Specialist Firearms Officers (SFOs) equipped with more powerful weapons also needs to be improved. Currently there are a tiny number of such officers and so their numbers need to be significantly increased too. None of this can be done now, let alone if more swingeing cuts are imposed tomorrow.
It has been suggested by the Prime Minister that the Army will provide the necessary response to a terrorist attack in the UK. He says there are 10,000 troops on standby for that very purpose. But are they properly prepared? Do they know what their role will be? Have they been given clear “Rules of Engagement” for use of their weapons? Have they been trained? Or taken part in joint exercises with the police they will apparently be supporting? The answer to at least some of those questions, and I strongly suspect, ALL of them, is no.
So the Government, to avoid properly funding the police service that they hate so much, are willing to put ill-prepared troops on to the streets instead. Those troops will NOT be able to provide an initial response. They are NOT prepared, trained and equipped to promptly and effectively protect the public. The public WILL be put at additional risk.
And, of course, it is not just the response to a terrorist attack which matters. Police have a role in preventing such attacks – working with communities to prevent radicalisation as part of the “Contest” programme, working with businesses to “harden” potential targets and improve their emergency response. Neighbourhood officers in communities are the eyes and ears of the Counter Terrorism specialist units, picking up seemingly unimportant pieces of community intelligence that may be the missing piece in a complex jigsaw. As neighbourhood policing disappears that WILL leave a gaping hole in intelligence gathering and WILL mean that it is more difficult to prevent attacks, thus again putting the public at increased risk.
The “Polo-Funding” model
The Government has massively increased funding for the Security Services, who do a huge amount of (but not all) the intelligence gathering and analysis related to terrorism. They say there will be 1,900 more spies which is great news…but the spies do not carry out searches, arrests, and interviews with the identified suspects and seek to find sufficient evidence to prosecute and imprison them. This requires the police.
The “Counter Terrorism Budget” for the police has apparently been protected but it not clear exactly what that covers. It may cover most of the specialist Counter Terrorism units but it most definitely does not cover the ordinary police officers required in their hundreds to support them by protecting scenes, carrying out searches and in dozens of other ways.
With a massive £12bn increase in defence spending announced yesterday in the Strategic Defence Review, the Government are delivering a “Polo funding” model – increasing funding for everyone around the police service (the Security Services, the Special Forces, the ordinary military and counter terrorism specialist units) whilst continuing to cut ordinary police budgets leaving a huge hole in the middle.
But ALL the agencies need to work together to effectively protect the public. Whilst the police are unable to properly play their part, the efforts of the others will be undermined.
The Government are allowing their anti-police prejudice to blind them
I have explained how the Government hate the police service (though I have been unable to explain why). I have explained how the cuts they have made to police budgets have left the service on its knees already, let alone should the anticipated further cuts be made. And I have explained how the police need significant ADDITIONAL funding to be able to effectively play their part in preventing and responding to terrorist attacks.
In short, I have demonstrated just how this Government are putting public safety at serious risk as a result of the cuts driven by their irrational hatred of the police service.
The public should be warned. When the worst happens (and sadly it is pretty inevitable that it will) they will not be able to say that they were not told. If they are concerned they should write to their MP immediately in the strongest possible terms – it takes a few minutes and all their contact details are readily available on the Parliament website here: http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/
There must be no further cuts to police budgets. Some of the cuts already made need to be reversed. And action needs to be taken NOW – there is absolutely nothing to stop that Paris-style attack happening in London, Manchester, Nottingham, Guildford or any other UK town or city tomorrow!