This Thursday, two announcements will be made which will put UK policing in the spotlight and the Government's record in the dock. The Home Office will declare just how many police officers have been lost since 2010, and on the same day, the ONS make their quarterly announcement of the levels of reported crime in the UK.
Those in the policing world have been operating under intense strain for the past five years, and there are many reasons for the Government to be concerned about their record.
Since 2010, Government funding to police forces has been slashed by a quarter. This has been done with characteristic Tory unfairness to less affluent regions. Northumbria has suffered the worst, losing 23% of its budget, 15% of officers and 37% of its staff. Richer Surrey has seen only a 12% funding cut. By 2020, Northumbria will have a thousand fewer police officers than now.
Theresa May justifies this erosion of officer numbers with the oft repeated view that the sole purpose of the police is to cut crime and since crime is going down she can cut police forces too. Her logic fails on two crucial counts.
First, the Government's core argument that crime has been going down over the past five years is disingenuous. On 4 June, the National Audit Office reported that 'recorded crime increased by 2% between the years ending 2013 and 2014. The last quarter's figures show recorded sex crime up by 32% and violence against the person by 21%. Work by the House of Commons library shows that reported sex abuse has increased by 60% in four years.
The Tories rely on the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) which reported 11% fewer offences in 2014, but it really doesn't represent the whole picture. The CSEW does not count homicide, sexual offences, people trafficking, cybercrime; fraud; "honour"- based crimes; shoplifting or business crime and it doesn't count "victimless" crimes like possessing drugs. It only counts 'traditional' crime like burglary. 31% of crime types are not counted by the CSEW. For example, the ONS estimated that if card fraud and online banking crimes had been included, the total number of recorded crimes would go up by a quarter.
Second, regardless of May's complacency with regard to crime statistics, she is wrong to claim that the only function of the police is to catch criminals. Local policing with local roots is crucially, about preventing crime and diverting people from crime to stop people becoming victims in the first place.
The College of Policing found that a typical force will additionally, every day, manage 1700 dangerous offenders in the community, 1,000 children on Child Protection Plans, 2,000 families in Troubled Families Projects and 1,200 high risk domestic abuse victims. Then there is the increasing work of community policing in intelligence gathering, vital to counter-terrorism, not to mention the considerable 'service drift' as local authority cuts force the end of services like noise abatement. Police are increasingly becoming the agency of last resort .
With the wealth of evidence against Theresa May's claims, the National Audit Office has now joined the chorus telling her she is wrong. It says:
"The Home Office has insufficient information to determine how much further it can reduce funding without degrading services or when it may need to support individual forces".
This echoes all that Labour has said about police funding. Not only does Theresa May fail to measure the true picture of crime and disregard the other demands on policing, but she does so recklessly unaware at what point her miscalculations will cause disaster.
The sworn duties of a constable under the Crown require them to be responsible for the protection of life and property, maintenance of order, prevention and detection of crime and prosecution of offenders against the peace. Even Theresa May must see that there is a high risk, if not a certainty, that her haphazard cuts and unfairness of distribution will remove many such constables even as the nature of crime is changing and the threat of the most serious crimes is increasing. There will be many more victims - and it is them we will be thinking of when we hear Thursday's announcements.
Jack Dromey is Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington and shadow policing minister
Vera Baird QC is the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner on Crime and Workforce StatsSuggest a correction