The body that represents senior operational police leaders says the public must now be asked what it wants and expects from the police service.
Policing then needs enough funding to properly carry out this role, said Gavin Thomas, President of the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales.
Chief Superintendent Thomas also highlighted that more police officers are needed overall if neighbourhood policing is to be maintained at even current levels, as the increase in armed officers relies on existing police officers being trained to fulfil another role when needed.
“The tragic events of the last few weeks have clearly reminded us all how important policing is to this country and the vital role it plays in protecting our people and communities.
“The police service is not unlike the NHS in that the demands placed upon it will always exceed its ability to supply. In his recent report, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, called for a considered debate as to what it is that the public expect from their police service. We support his call and believe this debate to be long overdue.
“Once it is has been established what the public want policing to be able to deliver for them, the service will need to be resourced to achieve this.
“By any measure, there has been a significant reduction in the number of police officers and police community support officers in England and Wales over the last six years. This is a direct result of how police forces had to respond to the austerity measures put in place as the country strove to reduce its budget deficit.
“This Association has long argued that neighbourhood policing is at the very heart of the British policing model. We believe that it plays a vital role in maintaining community confidence and in the gathering of intelligence, not least in respect of counter terrorism issues.
“Whilst we welcome plans to increase the service’s armed capability, it must be recognised that unless there is an overall increase in the number of police officers, neighbourhood policing will be further denuded. Otherwise there is a finite number of police officers merely being switched from one role to another.
“This is not a sustainable position for a critical public service.”
There are now around 20,000 fewer police officers than there were at the start of the 2010 comprehensive spending review period, a reduction of around 15% overall. This has had a significant impact upon the service’s ability to deliver effective neighbourhood policing as the number of police officers and PCSOs dedicated to this important role has been reduced.
Chief Superintendent Thomas said that whilst overall recorded crime levels may have dropped, demand has increased, particularly in respect of protecting vulnerable people and in dealing with emerging crime types such as cyber and internet-enabled criminality.
“The reduction in police officer numbers has not been restricted to those on the frontline.
“Superintendents and Chief Superintendents have also been cut by some 25% since 2011: there are now just 1,250 of them across England and Wales. This is the largest reduction in percentage terms of any rank group.
“They are not management ‘on-costs’ but senior operational leaders who undertake safety critical roles and are responsible for ensuring that policing is delivered effectively 24/7.
“They are your local policing commanders, your senior detectives, your firearms and public order incident commanders. They have never been so stretched, yet continue to rise to the challenge.
“I am grateful to them, and to all my colleagues across the entire service, for their continued hard work and unswerving dedication to keeping the public safe.”