Expert Comment: Police forces set to cut 5,800 frontline officers by 2015Tuesday 3 July 2012
John Phillips, Award Director of Liverpool Hope's MSc Police Leadership course, looks at proposals for drastic cuts to the number of police officers across the UK.
It has been fascinating, so long as you are not a Chief Constable, to see the traditional fault lines that for generations characterised the politics of policing disappear and be replaced by new oppositions. There was a time when a Conservative government could be relied on to place improved pay and conditions for the police at the heart of its law and order policy. New Labour followed suit: and then came the Coalition, which has danced to the Tory tune of Home Secretary, Theresa May, and Police Minister, Nick Herbert.
Police numbers, pay, conditions of service, and the police purpose, now singularly 'to cut crime', are all being re-drawn to meet the conditions of austerity. And New Labour, more often than not, find themselves on the same side as the Police Federation in damning the cuts. Now HMIC in its report on the capability of three forces , including London's Met, to provide an effective service, is saying the public should be worried too, and raises the prospect of urban riots again this summer. The police are very worried.
Two 'disagreeable facts' in this political battlefield bear some consideration. Firstly, prior to the Coalition government, police recruitment and expenditure had over two decades shown considerable growth. As this graph rose, the one for crime fell, as it has in most western European countries. Something had to give. Given those who demand ever more police numbers, one is reminded of Lord Salisbury`s despair as Prime Minister in the 1890s, with his military chiefs of staff: "If I listened to my military advisers, they would ask me to defend the moon against a possible attack from Mars."
Secondly, Bismarck may have been the first but was not the last to shout `Reich in peril` as soon as the odds turned against him. At a recent Police Leadership Symposium in Liverpool Hope, the Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, Mr Jon Murphy expressed his satisfaction and confidence in his force`s response to last summer`s riots. While there had been turmoil in London, Birmingham, and Manchester, there had been in Liverpool only a few local disturbances which the police had quickly contained and quashed. The riots did not reach the city centre. Merseyside Police got its strategy right; other forces might think about how they do things.
The underlying issues in all this debate are the more complex, and less headline-grabbing, ones of community engagement, and public confidence and satisfaction. The trouble is that while police chiefs wish to focus on these, they are spending their time cutting numbers and corners to make the figures add up.