Policing in the UK has underwent a significant transformation from the days of the town guard and watchmen to the formal, organised and professional police forces we recognise today. With a workforce of nearly 153,900 full-time (FTE) police officers in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland; police forces have had to adapt in order to meet the ever changing needs of an ever changing society. The police are a public service and the taxpayers have the right to expect police forces to be efficient, effective and suitably managed as well as being accountable for their actions and the decisions they take. Since the Royal Commission on Policing in 1962, the face of policing in the UK has underwent significant change and through the years public expectations of policing have evolved.
It is no secret that policing budgets have come under significant pressure since the UK Government announced plans to cut police funding in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as part of the October 2010 Spending Review. Home secretary Theresa May has cut police funding by 20 per cent in real terms and expects forces to make savings of £2.4bn by 2015. The situation in Scotland is different, rather than each police force being tasked with finding savings the Scottish Government amalgamated the Scottish Crime and Drug Agency, the Scottish Police Services Authority and eight police forces in 2013 to create a single territorial police force with the responsibility for the whole of Scotland. The decision to merge all Scottish forces and create a single force has already saved over £72million with a 2026 savings target of £1.1billion. Although the Scottish Government have stated that the target must be met without a reduction in police officer numbers, unions have criticised Police Scotland for cutting over 800 civilian and police support jobs.
There is no doubt about it, policing is a political hot potato with many a minister tinkering and pulling at the service in order to streamline delivery and make the police better 'value for money'. It seems from appointment, home secretary Theresa May made 'reform' of the service her number one priority and by god are the police feeling the pinch. You only need to mention 'reform' or budget cuts to a serving or veteran officer and you find out just how much pressure they are under. The nature and speed of these Government cuts has led to widespread criticism and upset and many officers are deeply concerned that harsh cuts will seriously affect their ability to prevent and detect crimes at levels now expected by the public. On Friday 18 July, Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy lamented the effect that the "savage cuts" were having on the crime statistics for Merseyside police. Figures released by the Office of National Statistics showed that overall crime had risen by 2.5 per cent and speaking to the Wirral Globe she said:
"Savage cuts to the police budget and to our crime prevention public sector partners is beginning to have an impact and this cannot be downplayed."
Regardless of where we are in the country we are going to have to get used to a reduction in the services the police can deliver as a result of these Government cuts. No amount of smarter policing or pooling of resources will make up for the significant budget cuts and forces are having to weigh up each element of the service they offer to the public and set stricter priorities.
Make no mistake, I am all for ensuring the police service isn't top heavy and is more able to respond to the ever changing needs of those it serves, but I would plead with the next Government to think hard about what policing means to the British public and encourage them to move quickly away from thinking about policing purely in the terms of numbers and figures. This isn't simply a nostalgic outburst, and I make no apologies, I love my Bobbies and I love knowing there is someone I can turn to for help in an emergency and in a crisis.
If you witness a knife-wielding thug running around Oxford Street and he is hell bent on causing havoc and injuring someone, who are you going to call? I can tell you it most certainly won't be the Ghostbusters! Our police officers put themselves in danger on a daily basis and they don't have the option of putting their heads down and walking on by as though nothing has happened. It angers me to no end to hear of assaults on police officers carrying out their duties and to hear of the utter contempt an increasing number treat them with. Sadly we live in a society where more and more people think it is acceptable to assault or attack our police officers because they know the courts (despite tough talking) will tickle them with a tap on the wrist.
Think of police officers as individuals who do a very difficult and challenging job; individuals who don't get paid enough for the job they do and individuals who may not always get it right and may put their foot in it sometimes (as we are all prone to doing). While you are worried about not being home in time to watch EastEnders, police officers are always walking a thin blue tightrope and attend emergency calls never knowing what is around the corner and if they will ever make it home safely to see their kids or partner again.