In March of 2022 Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas P Winsor, published his assessment of the effectiveness and efficiency of policing in England and Wales based on the inspections that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) carried out between April and November 2021.
This article highlights some of the key sections of Sir Thomas P Winsor’s report ‘State of Policing’.
The last 10 years have seen significant changes in policing across England and Wales:
According to Sir Thomas, in the last ten years, there have been many improvements in the things the police do and how they are done. There have been critical advances in several fields of policing, including: domestic abuse; child protection and sensitivity to the needs of the most vulnerable; crime recording; the quality of some investigations; relations with the public; and diversity in policing.
Over the past ten years, demand on the police has changed – and continues to change – very significantly. Violence, abuse and acquisitive crime, such as burglary and theft, have always been prevalent. In addition, economic crime today is far more widespread, and has four principal distinguishing features: complexity, encryption, volume and speed. Online crime is now by far the most prevalent type of crime, and by means of the internet, fraud has exploded; in volume, it eclipses everything. Mental ill health is also an additional aggravating factor.
Adults are more likely to be victims of fraud than of any other crime. The detrimental effect of fraud is as great today as it has ever been – if not greater – yet fraud indefensibly continues to be treated as a low priority. This is far from commensurate with the agony of the victims and their families. Victims of fraud can face levels of human suffering as catastrophic as those experienced by victims of many other crimes.
Over the past five years, the volume of non-emergency (101) calls to forces in England and Wales has fallen by 27 percent, partly as a result of a shift to online reporting and partly because of the pandemic. However, the volume of emergency (999) calls has remained constant over the same period, with the police receiving approximately 9.3 million emergency calls each year.
Between 2014–15 and 2019–20, the annual volume of police-recorded crime went up by almost 50 percent (from approximately four million crimes each year to approximately six million), before falling slightly in 2020–21 (largely as a result of the pandemic). In 2014/15, approximately half of all recorded crimes resulted in a suspect not being identified. Now, the proportion is approximately a third.
There are many more demands on the police, such as tackling organised crime, and increasingly complex investigations that may involve particularly vulnerable, traumatised people or the use of sophisticated technology, and offences that span local, regional, national, or international borders. The rise in reports of crimes to the police, in many respects, is likely to be indicative of a higher confidence of the public that the police will take action. In addition, in many cases, the police’s record in diligently and accurately recording crime has improved markedly. A substantial part of the increase in crime is accounted for by fraud and other online offences.
In October 2019, the Home Office announced an uplift programme with more funding for the police. This involved plans, in addition to those recruited to replace leavers, to increase police officer numbers by 20,000 over the following three years.
Between October 2019 and September 2021, the police received over 160,000 applications. By the end of September 2021, forces had recruited an additional 11,053 officers and appreciably improved diversity. Of these, more than four in ten new recruits were female and more than one in ten (who stated their ethnicity) identified as belonging to a Black, Asian, or another minority ethnic group. As welcomed as it is, the uplift programme won’t immediately solve one of policing’s most persistent problems: a chronic shortage of experienced detectives.
In his 2017 report, Sir Thomas stated that it was essential that the police establish and bring into operation the most efficient and effective systems for rapidly interrogating and analysing digital devices, so these vast quantities of data can be properly and quickly assessed.
He believes that the solution lies in the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate the examination of digital devices. Police leaders and politicians need urgently to make bold decisions to invest in this technology, if the police are to have any chance of efficient and timely obtaining of essential evidence. Such technology, if efficiently used, also has the potential to achieve very significant improvements not only in the detection of reported crime, but in finding hidden crimes (such as unidentified frauds and online child sex offenders), and designing out opportunities for criminality by understanding when, how and why people commit crime, especially the worst.
What is needed is a material intensification of a partnership with the private sector that is soundly and enduringly based on trust and common interest. That common objective is the provision of the most effective weapons the police can acquire and use against those who do us all nothing but harm.
In other respects, the police’s adoption of new and less sophisticated technology has been more encouraging. Officers can now do far more outside police station walls than they could a few years ago. This has led to appreciable improvements in police efficiency. Facilities such as body-worn video have also become almost ubiquitous in policing. Often, footage from these devices contains important evidence. It helps to protect officers and those with whom they come into contact.
In the future, the introduction, maintenance, networking, renewal and upgrading of technology in policing will require very significant investment. In the interest of efficiency, much of it should be made on a national rather than local basis.
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