'Radical' reform needed for police to cope with modern crime and security threats, report finds

Police operating under model dating back to 1962, despite major changes driven by ‘technology, globalisation and social change’

West Yorkshire Police said safeguarding and protecting children remains their top priority
West Yorkshire Police said safeguarding and protecting children remains their top priority

“Radical” reform is needed for police to be able to cope with modern crime and security threats, a report has said.

The Police Foundation think-tank said that traditional volume crime like burglary and vehicle theft had dropped by 70 per cent since the mid-1990s.

But forces in England and Wales are still operating in the same structures imposed by a royal commission in 1962, despite “major changes in police demand driven by technology, globalisation and social change”.

The report said limited resources and “traditional ways of operating” have struggled to keep up with the scale and complexity of modern crime.

It is the latest call for a review of the current structure of 43 regional forces operating independently in England and Wales, but the government has so far refused to formally look at the issue.

Sir Michael Barber, chair of the Police Foundation’s strategic review of policing, said the public needed to “think radically” about the role they want police to play.

“The police service of the future will need to look very different from the police service of today,” he added.

“The challenge of keeping the public safe has been transformed over the last 20 years, and that the environment will continue to change dramatically in the next 20.

“While our current approach to policing might have been suitable for a time when the dominant crimes were car crime and burglary, today more people are affected by Internet crime.

“We need to think afresh about the future shape of the police workforce and how the police service is organised.”

The report found that “traditional” crime and disorder issues had dropped amid a huge rise in crime committed using the Internet, including fraud, child sex offences and hate crime.

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The Police Foundation said that following years of austerity, police had also been left to respond to increasing numbers of mental health incidents involving people with “multiple disadvantages”.

The number of Islamist and far-right terror attacks has risen dramatically in the last three years, while organised crime groups have “diversified” internationally and driven an increase in modern slavery and “county lines” drug trafficking.

The Police Foundation said that the coronavirus pandemic had shown how quickly an emergency could “wreak havoc … from the other side of the world”.

Its report predicted that other pandemics would present a major threat to public safety in Britain in the future, alongside an economic downturn, cyber crime, climate change, political unrest and social tensions.

“The reinforcement of ‘digital echo chambers’ may make incidents of hate crime, harassment and bullying more likely, requiring a policing response,” the report said.

“As we approach climate tipping point, more militant climate activism, including widespread civil disobedience, seems likely and will attract public sympathy, requiring sensitive policing. The increase in many of the push factors causing migration from the global South, plus the need for the UK to attract more people of working age, is likely to mean higher levels of immigration.”

The Police Foundation warned of a “growing public expectations gap” between what the British public expect police to do, and what they are able to.

It said that people could turn to vigilantism if they do not feel properly protected, and that confidence in the police is already lower among black and mixed-race people than white people in the UK.

The 1962 Royal Commission on the Police set out the functions including the maintenance of law and order, protection of people and property and the prevention and detection of crime.

But it also included the “controlling of road traffic” and “befriending anyone who needs help”.

The Police Foundation said: “The strategic and operational reality is that, even if the police assert that they do all of these things, in reality they are always making choices about which activities are more important than others.”

The second phase of its review will examine how policing can be changed, including how their role should evolve and how officers should work with each other and agencies outside the police.

“For some time now, policing has been wrestling with a tension between the rise of more complex crimes and social challenges and an operating model that was built for a different time,” Sir Michael said.

“The scale and complexity of these challenges mean we need to think radically about the role the police play, how they work with others, the skills they require and the way the police service is organised.”

The report was published after an annual review by the official police watchdog said the current structure was “no longer fit for purpose”.

In the annual State of Policing report, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary said boundaries between the 43 regional police forces in England and Wales “can act as barriers and obstacles to the flow of information and intelligence, and impediments to efficiency and effectiveness”.

Sir Thomas Winsor added: “There is an increasingly pressing need to develop an effective and efficient single system of law enforcement, with clear local, regional and national components.”

Last week, the Home Office announced a review of 2012 reforms that replaced police authorities with elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs).

PCCs, who are responsible for the budget and performance of regional forces, have been criticised as overly political and in some cases “absolutely bleeding hopeless”.

But the Home Office said it wanted to raise their profile, adding: “The review will not consider scrapping the PCC model, nor will it review the 43 police force model.”

In response to the Police Foundation report, a spokesperson said:“It is essential that police have the resources they need which is why we are recruiting 20,000 extra officers and providing the biggest funding increase in a decade.

“We are committed to working with police to tackle the challenges highlighted in this report.“

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