Police Cuts Will Set Forces Back By A Decade, Says Former Chief Constable
The 34,000 police jobs that will be lost due to police budget cuts by 2015 will set policing "by up to a decade", says a senior former police constable.
Tim Brain, who is the former chief constable of Gloucestershire and one of the country's most senior former police officers, said that a report on the scale of the cuts released on Thursday by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) was "dramatic", but accurate.
According to the report around 16,200 police officers will be axed, alongside many thousands more support police staff. That 14 per cent reduction is higher than previous estimates by the Association of Chief Police Officers, who had suggested that around 12,000 police staff would be cut. Those cuts have the potential to raise crime by up to 3 per cent, the report estimated.
"What this means in essence is that the growth that we saw in police numbers throughout the 2000s is effectively wiped out," Brain said in an interview with The Huffington Post.
"For many forces the effect of these cuts will be at the local level," Brain continued. "Inevitably we will see fewer officers in active police posts, notwithstanding the expectations from government that the cuts will be taken in the back office. A lot of those posts are in direct support of front-line operations. One way or another there will be an impact on local policing."
The reduction in crime over the last decade mostly came through crimes such as anti-social behaviour and criminal damage, Brain says, which are exactly the offences that will be harder to cope with if police numbers are cut.
"Criminal damage is crime that is very easy to commit, very hard to detect and very hard to predict," Brain said. "Yet we saw those crime come down (since 2000), and we I think we can attribute that to local neighbourhood presence. That I fear is the quality of crime that will suffer in the next five to ten years."
According to the HMIC report, around a third of the needed cuts have already been made. Forces have shed 11,200 jobs between March 2010 and March 2011, and much of the needed cuts will be coming in the next 12 to 18 months. That could leave constabularies short of officers just as crime starts to rise, particularly in already more-efficient constabularies that have fewer resources left to spare.
"To implement efficiencies you need money up front," Brain said. "If you haven't got that money you might not have the scope to make new efficiencies, cut numbers and reduce the local impact."
Brain says that he is glad HMIC have accepted the scale of the cuts, but that he and some others were predicting these numbers more than a year ago and were ignored.
"This is not news in that sense," he said. "I was roundly criticised by the police establishment, the government and even the Police Federation for talking these numbers, yet I have to say, without making too much of this, that I'm being proved correct."
However a spokesperson for the Police Federation disputed that claim, and said that they had always stressed that the cuts would be severe.
Police Federation chairman Paul McKeever said in a statement that the forces were "struggling to keep their heads above water".
"This will fundamentally change the way we police our communities and an almost inevitable consequence will be a rise in crime rates as the population continues to increase and police numbers fall," he said.
Those criticisms were echoed by the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, who said the cuts were "an irresponsible gamble" on crime.
"Already we have lost 4,650 officers since spring 2010. These have included specialist firearms officers, experienced officers who have cut crime in their communities," Cooper said. "The Home Secretary has said the cuts don't need to affect the number of officers or front-line services. But the independent inspectorate's report shows that is wrong."
ACPO lead on reducing bureaucracy Chief Constable Chris Sims added that police forces faced tough choices in making lower budgets work for their constabularies:
"Chief constables are determined to do everything possible to preserve the policing service to the public through a period of substantial change. The HMIC report published today shows that part of that change will result in police numbers reducing to those of a decade ago, confirming the scale of the challenge ahead."
Crime and Security Minister James Brokenshire said the cuts represented necessary efficiency savings:
“Today’s HMIC report shows that the police can and are rising to the challenge by reducing costs from the back office while protecting front-line services. HMIC predict that by March 2012 the proportion of the police workforce working in front-line roles will be higher than it was in March 2010."