Under the last Conservative government in the 1990s, the number of police officers was cut and crime increased dramatically. Further, lack of investment in modern technology and policing systems meant that our police forces were easily amongst the least efficient and effective organisations.
Since 1997, there has been an increase police numbers – and, more importantly, the number of police on the beat and not hidden away in back offices – the introduction of new laws to tackle anti-social behaviour (nearly all opposed by the Liberal Democrats) and modern crime, and a requirement of all police forces to work with other agencies to tackle crime.
The result has been a significant cut in crime, as recorded by both crime statistics – those reported to the police – and the British Crime Survey – which interviews more than 40,000 people each year on their actual experience of crime. The recently published Survey for 2009 suggested that crime fell again by 9 per cent last year to reach its lowest level since 1981; similarly, recorded crime fell by 8%.
But this doesn’t mean that policing can’t be significantly more efficient. You don’t need years of police training and an advanced driving certificate to escort wide loads on the motorway. And, it’s highly unlikely that having a pointed head and big feet are essential pre-requisites for efficiently and effectively investigating internet fraud.
As reports from the Chairman of the Audit Commission and the Chief Inspector of Constabulary have pointed out this month, there is considerably more to be done to get better value for money in policing. But this will require further investment in technology and systems’ reviews. As both of them confirmed, this won’t happen with a 25% cut in police funding as suggested in the right-wing coalition’s emergency budget.
And now, the Conservative Home Secretary is proposing the replacement of local police authorities by a single elected official. It’s no surprise that this is overwhelmingly opposed by both Chief Constables and by councillors of all political parties. There is not a single shred of evidence to support the view that this will improve local policing; but, there is all the evidence to suggest that this will compromise the operational independence of police forces.
Clive Betts MP