Police are struggling to deliver an effective service after budget cuts with arrest rates and victim satisfaction levels falling, a major new report has warned.
The National Audit Office (NAO) findings also reveals reductions in the percentages of crimes resulting in changes, and proactive work to tackle offences including drug trafficking and drink driving.
Since 2010, police funding and staffing levels have fallen, while officers are now confronting rising levels of recorded “high harm” crimes and a heightened terror threat, the assessment noted.
The main way forces have managed financial pressure is by reducing the size of their workforces, the report said, citing figures showing falls of 40%, 21%, and 15% in the numbers of PCSOs, police staff and officers respectively between 2010 and 2018.
As a result, the reports says, the time it takes to charge an offence has increased from 14 days, since March 2016.
In three years, the proportion of crimes which have resulted in charges has fallen from 15 percent to 9 percent.
Since 2010, there have been fewer breathalyzer tests, motoring fixed penalty notices and convictions for drugs trafficking and possession.
Survey data shows the proportion of victims who were not satisfied with police response rose from 20 percent, in March 2016, to 33 percent in March 2018.
Sir Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “There are signs that forces are already experiencing financial strain and struggling to deliver effective services to the public.
“If the Home Office does not understand what is going on it will not be able to direct resources to where they are needed, with the risk that the situation could get worse.”
While no police force has failed financially, the report highlighted indications that the sector as a whole is “finding it increasingly difficult to deliver an effective service”.
The NAO has warned that the Home Office’s “light touch” approach means it does not know if the police system is financially sustainable.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Our decision to empower locally-accountable Police and Crime Commissioners to make decisions using their local expertise does not mean that we do not understand the demands on police forces.
“In addition, the report does not recognise the strengths of PCCs and Chief Constables leading on day-to-day policing matters, including on financial sustainability.
“We remain committed to working closely with police and delivered a £460 million increase in overall police funding in 2018/19, including increased funding for local policing through Council Tax.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has pledged to prioritise police funding in the next spending review.
Three police officers recently told HuffPost UK about the real-world impact of budget cuts, explaining that they frequently find themselves “apologising to the public” for being unable to effectively deal with victims of crime.
“Almost every aspect of what we do, we do less well than we would have done were it not for austerity,” Sergeant Simon Kempton, who has been a police officer for 18 years, said. “Everything takes longer, and the service is always not quite what we would want it to be.”