2015 Spending Review: what the Chancellor should say on policing

24 November 2015

With the public demanding security and higher levels of protection following the Paris attacks, determining the settlement for the police service in the impending Spending Review (SR) will surely be giving the Chancellor a headache. However, tomorrow, regardless of the level of cuts the Government must promote significant structural reform to policing.

Firstly, the Chancellor must empower forces to respond to the fact that the very nature of policing is changing. Demand is diversifying from traditional crimes such as violence against the person and burglary to more complex offences like child sexual exploitation and cybercrime. In addition, the role of the police as the service of last resort has seen rising demand on officers to respond to those experiencing mental health crisis. The Metropolitan Police Service estimate mental health is now linked to 15-20 per cent of the incidents they respond to.

These challenges require a workforce with very different specialist skills to the traditional bobby on the beat. The Government should permit Chief Constables to shape their workforces to best meet local demand removing the artificial ring-fence around front-line policing. This may mean reducing police officer numbers in favour of increasing the number of specialist police staff.

Secondly, the viability of a 43 force model must continue to be challenged. Whilst hotly debated there has been little consensus on a preferred alternative. This decision should be taken as a result of establishing a clear vision for how a modern police service should operate, not as an end in itself.

Finally, within a new operating model the level at which specialist functions, such as cyber experts, sit should be considered. Not all forces will require all specialist capabilities. Much like a new operating model, this must be decided based on geographical hot spots rather than simply creating new artificial ‘regional’ lines in the place of force boundaries.

It is inevitable that the SR will bring new challenges but it also provides a huge opportunity to continue to reform the police service to both save money and better meet the needs of citizens. In the face of public and political pressure the Chancellor must seize this opportunity.

Elizabeth Crowhurst, Researcher, Reform

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