20,000 extra officers is good news but the government must address urgent questions around logistics, coordination, and the resourcing of other servicesby Cathy Haenlein / July 31, 2019 / Leave a comment
A key campaign pledge by Boris Johnson was to recruit 20,000 more police officers in England and Wales. On taking office, Johnson announced that recruitment would start “within weeks,” to be completed within three years.
This marks a U-turn in Conservative policy, under which sweeping cuts have expunged more than 20,000 officers from forces in England and Wales since 2010. Urgent appeals by police leaders for resources went unheeded—despite evidence of rising crime and violence, more offences going unanswered, and a crisis in police wellbeing. In 2018, among many others, a House of Commons Home Affairs Committee inquiry stressed the alarming impacts of the cuts.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has now acknowledged the urgency of “giving the police the resources they need.” While the pledge has been welcomed by police leaders, however, it raises questions around practicalities.
It is unclear, for example, how 20,000 officers will be trained, vetted and equipped, when years of austerity have eroded the back-office capacity, facilities and infrastructure needed to deliver this. Across England and Wales, more than 600 police stations have shut since 2010 in the largest closure programme in policing history.
Nor is it clear what roles the recruits will fill. Pitched as an “unprecedented drive to deliver more frontline officers,” the initiative appears focussed on a visible policing presence in communities. Certainly, the need here is critical: the Home Affairs Committee found that, on average, forces had lost a fifth of their neighbourhood policing capacity since 2010.
But effective policing is about much more. Crime is growing in complexity, placing new demands on law enforcement. To consider just one aspect of this, criminals are using technology in more sophisticated ways, yet the Home Affairs Committee found that “forces are failing to meet the challenges of the digital age.” Resources are urgently needed in specialist units focused on digital investigation and cybercrime, among other areas. This is not to mention the pressing need for more supporting police staff, whose numbers have been decimated alongside those of officers.
None of these less visible aspects have been mentioned in relation to the recruitment drive. But failing to adopt a system-wide approach, in favour of a voter-friendly focus on the frontline, could undermine its effectiveness.
Similarly little detail has been offered on the “new national policing board” due to oversee recruitment. Chaired by the home secretary, the board will purportedly “hold…