Since I was appointed as shadow policing minister a year ago I’ve found myself time and again coming back to the disastrous effects of the Tories’ decision to cut around £3billion from the police over the last eight years and the consequent loss of more than 21,000 officers.
Even during the recent surge in violent crime, Ministers have been in denial about its relationship to the massive reduction of neighbourhood policing in particular. But another impact that has been overlooked both by the government and in the wider debate is the impact on police officers themselves.
Taking officers off our streets doesn’t just leave the public exposed to the threat of harm, it also has a knock-on effect on those officers that are left, attempting to keep up with spiralling demand and provide an acceptable service to the public while the standards and expectations on them as individuals remain the same but with ever less support.
The unprecedented mobilisation of officers this week ahead of the Trump visit, the World Cup and demonstrations by far-right extremists will not be accompanied by new, additional officers, as politicians sometimes imply with phrases like “extra police”.
Instead, every force in the entire country will be lending their own existing police officers to cover the additional demand, particularly from the Met, Thames Valley, Essex and Scotland. The vast majority of these will be covered by cancelling pre-planned ‘Rest Days’ (known as ‘weekends’ to most of us) and annual leave.
We’ve all had to cancel holiday, come in on a planned day off or work overtime in our jobs but in policing at the moment these burdens are relentless and there is no end in sight.
Most police forces now receive the same number of 999 and 101 calls on any given day in June as they used to only receive on New Year’s Eve, and demand is only going in one direction.
83% of those calls are ‘non-crime related’, which often means they involve cases to do with mental health, missing persons or other kinds of vulnerability, most of which should really be picked up by other over-stretched services but because they too have been left struggling after funding cuts, the responsibility falls to the police.
The consequent impact on the mental health of officers, who are not trained or equipped to deal with the extent of these vulnerabilities, is obvious.
Police Oracle recently revealed that nearly 10,000 police officers have taken time off because of stress, depression or other mental health problems over the past year.
The number has soared by 77% in four years, from 5,460 in the year to March 2014, and is now the highest in the history of the police service.
Some of this will be because people are more open about their mental health and where once they would have cited ‘back pain’, they can now speak honestly about stress. But that cannot be the whole picture. The strength and resilience of our police force should worry us all. We simply cannot keep asking more and more of them while denying officers the time and support to recuperate.
This week we’ll see policing in our country stretched to its absolute limit. With every force deprived of thousands of officers who would normally be servicing their own demand, the short-term consequences will be that significant swathes of the country are not fully policed but in the longer-term the consequences for our most important policing asset, dedicated police officers who have already given their all, will be severe.
The Government must finally admit that their reckless policing cuts have cost us dear and start to put it right.
Louise Haigh is the shadow policing minister and Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley