Home Office is letting down police

More police stations are being closed in communities.
More police stations are being closed in communities.

I am responding to an article in this newspaper last month about Northumbria Police Chief Constable Winton Keenen’s concerns about the impact of budget cuts on policing.

I have to come up front with two things.

Firstly, I am one of those grumpy old coppers who served ‘back in the day’ – late 1950’s to mid 1970’s – in West Yorkshire, mainly in CID, but the first couple of years on the beat.

Secondly, I agree with everything you say. I have ranted in these columns on this subject before and I know there is no going back – it is a different world with different challenges, but I am going to do a quick comparison to remind ourselves how much things have changed, for the worse.

You will be aware that the Home Affairs Committee published a report in October warning of “dire consequences” without extra police funding. When I quote from its report, which is freely available, I will do so in italics, but first a quick look back to ‘Life on Mars’ when it was a police ‘force’ rather than ‘service,’ albeit we probably provided a better service then.

Back in the day we had at least one uniformed police officer on every beat in every town on every shift, 24/7, 365 days a year, and police stations (many now closed) were manned 24 hours. Every village had a police house, a village policeman and a wife who dealt with customers at the counter.

We knew every shopkeeper, every businessman and every factory owner. We physically checked their premises every night and drank coffee and tea with them during the day. We visited every crime scene, almost every road accident, and we assiduously recorded every lost and found property. We even had, would you believe, kennels for stray dogs.

The police force had a heart-to-heart bond with the public. That visible presence on the streets has all but disappeared, it is now an age of responders and interceptors. The trust has gone.

We knew every drunk and every villain and we locked them up, took them to court, and often they were sent down before the inmates started running the asylum.

Neighbourhood policing lies at the heart of British policing, and it has reached an unacceptable state. While capacity varies across forces in England and Wales, overall we found that they have lost at least a fifth of their neighbourhood policing capacity since 2010.

“Once those crucial local relationships are lost, it is very difficult to rebuild them, and they are vital to so many areas of policing, from counter terrorism to serious organised crime. The erosion of neighbourhood policing is a significant loss to communities. You, through no fault of your own, have lost over 1,000 officers since 2010.” It is shameful.

We had Regional Crime Squads and mobile 24/7 Task Forces that could respond immediately to any incident. We could quickly send 50 to 100 detectives to a murder or major incident.

Recorded crime is up 32 per cent in three years, but charges are down 26 per cent. Forces are struggling to cope as a result of falling staff numbers, outdated technology, capabilities, structures, fragmentation and a failure of Home Office leadership.

You say that you must have a policing model which continues to best meet the demands placed upon you. They say: “The current model for police funding is not fit for purpose.”

The report lays the blame where it belongs. Above all, policing is suffering from a failure of leadership from the Home Office. Neighbourhood policing must be the bedrock of local policing.

You face new challenges. Your officers face far more challenges and danger than we did and it is a national disgrace. Respect.