Reports yesterday by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) revealed that Britain's police budget is set to lose £700 million by 2020. – which sounds like an outrageously large number, especially when you consider that crime is increasing. Last year alone, recorded crime was up by a massive 11 percent, and those were just the incidents we knew about.
To find out what these cuts mean for crime in the UK, I spoke to Professor Martin Innes, an author and the Director of Crime and Security Research Institute at the Cardiff University School of Social Sciences.
VICE: Hi Professor. How will these cuts affect the police forces across the country?
Prof. Martin Innes: The effects will not be felt uniformly across all places and police forces because of how the government’s police funding formula works. It's not clear yet precisely how and where the main consequences will be. Many forces have already been reducing their Neighbourhood Policing footprints, not only in response to funding reductions, but also because of a need to respond to increasing rates of crime against vulnerable people, and also to provide capacity to respond to new cyber-enabled and cyber-dependent forms of criminality.
Because of the cuts, 3,000 more officers will lose their jobs by 2020. How will that affect crime rates?
Key crime types have already started to rise over the last few years. Significantly, this is including increases in levels of violent offending. While it's true that there is no direct correlation between numbers of officers and crime rates, it certainly does not help that officer numbers are likely to reduce further. In particular, research shows that what tends to happen in such situations is that less resources and effort can be put into crime prevention interventions by police.
How fewer general staff affect effective policing and efficiency?
Reducing the number of support staff is often a relatively easy way of "balancing the books", and because of differences in employment contracts, it's often easier and quicker to do than getting police officers. This can, however, be something of a "false economy" if the tasks still need to be done – such as typing up reports, doing forensic visits to scenes of crime.
Thirty-two of 42 of the assessed forces spend efficiently and zero are failing with efficiency – why does the the policing minister, Nick Hurd, continue to talk of more efficiency? How more efficient can the police be?
This is certainly a key point of the report issued by HMICFRS. There were, in the past, certainly some efficiencies that could be leveraged by forces, but the HMICFRS tends to suggest most of these have now been realised. The danger is that, in continuing with this narrative, what happens is that cuts start to impact upon essential services.
There are 20,000 fewer police officers now than when the Conservatives took over in 2010. Is that one of the reasons recorded crime increased by 11 percent last year?
The picture with crime is a bit more complex than the headlines suggest – "crime" is, after all, a heterogeneous construct that comprises a range of behaviours. What we have seen is that traditional volume property crimes have been decreasing, but recently crimes involving violence have been increasing. We also think that some of the recorded crime increases are attributable to improved reporting rates by victims – sexual offences may be included.
It's been said police officers' skillsets may need changing to deal with domestic violence, sexual violence and modern slavery. Why is that?
These kinds of problems involving people with various kinds of vulnerability are definitely forming a proportionately greater area of demand upon the police. A key issue here is that they are often quite complex cases and so require increased levels of police effort and resource to investigate. They typically tend to be more involved than the kinds of theft and robbery offences that made up the bulk of recorded crime, and thus police investigation work, 20 or 30 years ago.
Won't funds be needed for that very specific training?
Yes, very much so. These cases are often quite complex and nuanced, and so the level of training investment is quite considerable.
With regards to London, the population will be over 9 million people by 2020. Won't there be a need for more police? Won't crime potentially increase here?
Crime has been increasing in London already. It’s also worth thinking about how global cities are having to provide a "full spectrum" of policing services, reflecting how they have to manage "normal" crimes as well as terrorist threats and related issues.
Could the added pressure have a negative effect on how police interact with the public? Shorter fuses, being rougher with assailants, talking out of turn?
Yes, quite possibly. If you're asking fewer officers to do more and more, then we know that people under stress make decisions and behave differently. This is important because we know that how police treat members of the public – whether they treat them with courtesy and consideration – has an impact in shaping levels of public trust and confidence, and the overall legitimacy of the police as a social institution.