by Chief Superintendent Gavin Thomas
President, Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales
Recently, Chiefs Constables of some of the most high-profile forces have been outlining the difficulties they are facing. Merseyside is “struggling” to cope. The Metropolitan Police is “stretched”. GMP is under “real strain”.
They are all right. And this is not just large metropolitan force thinking; the situation is undoubtedly the same or even worse in smaller forces with less resilience.
These voices were joined last week by Steve Finnigan, outgoing Chief of Lancashire, who said the public was “less safe” as a result of cuts to policing.
I lead an Association that represents the senior operational leaders of the police service of England and Wales.
They are committed and passionate about serving the public.
With a 25% reduction in their numbers since 2010 – the largest percentage reduction of any rank group – they are working harder than ever.
We also know the same is true of all those they lead, and our thanks go to the whole service for their tremendous dedication.
We are not an Association that is regularly vocal or demonstrative in public. But I have now heard too many of my colleagues leading critical commands and services state that the current situation is not sustainable.
Steve Finnigan spoke about policing reaching a “tipping point”. I believe my members have played a fundamental role in trying to hold back that tipping point for a couple of years now. This cannot continue for much longer.
As a national officer engaging at the highest levels politically for four years, I accepted that policing should take its fair share of cuts.
But we have gone far enough. There is simply no resilience left beyond people’s goodwill and ever-longer working hours.
Policing needs a conversation both with government and the public about what the service should be expected to do and what it should not do, and then what is the required funding and resources to support this.
HMCIC Constabulary Sir Thomas Winsor has called for just this in his Annual State of Policing Report.
Yes, this is about money. But it is also about supporting a service that is critical to our society, our safety and security.
There is an opportunity here for those in power to look at how we support all our public services.
It is not a sustainable position to consider public services in isolation from each other.
We can see the consequences of this in mental health provision, an area where policing seems to be playing a bigger and bigger role when arguably its role should be minimal.
Policing is one agency in the continuum of public safety, with many other partners who also have a critical role in early intervention, safety and protection. They are inter-dependent.
Over the last six years the service has done a remarkable job.
Many conventional recorded crimes are at an all-time low, the exceptions being violence and sexual offences.
We have also seen an exponential rise in cyber and technology-related crime, the new volume crime for the 21st century.
We have witnessed unprecedented demand in policing counter-terrorism, which as West Mids Chief Constable Dave Thompson pointed out recently involves almost all aspects of policing – not just those ring-fenced as ‘counter-terrorism’.
During this period the service has – and continues to – undertake significant reform of its workforce and governance despite huge drops in people and funding.
It is now time to bring some balance back into the funding picture.
There is of course more to do on reform to ensure the service can meet the challenges of the future.
But this must not be driven by the need to save money for the sake of saving it.
We are in danger of only reacting to protect the public, rather than working with the public to protect them.
Now is the time to have this debate.
It is about numbers, it is about reform but most of all it is about the people in both policing and other public services and ultimately the service they can give to the public with the resources available.