1. Controversies and challenges
During the pandemic, police were asked to enforce unprecedented new powers which were often introduced at speed and subject to many changes. A number of protests also took place, including those sparked by the murder of George Floyd in the US and protests against the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, some of which turned violent. In addition, the murder of several women, including Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, caused widespread outrage and reignited concerns about the safety of women and girls. The Metropolitan Police Service was also criticised for its response to a vigil at Clapham Common following Ms Everard’s murder. However, a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) later largely exonerated the force.
The behaviour of some officers has also led to concerns about the culture of the police. For example, in 2021, two officers were convicted after taking and sharing photos of the bodies of two murder victims. In February 2022, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) published a report which found instances of bullying, aggressive behaviour and misogyny following an investigation into the behaviour of 14 police officers based mainly at Charing Cross Police Station. The same month, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), Cressida Dick, resigned citing a lack of confidence in her from Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. Commenting on the resignation in the Guardian, Mr Khan said there are “deep cultural issues” in the MPS, and that new leadership is “the only way” to get the level of change urgently needed.
However, it has been argued that Ms Dick’s resignation will not solve the MPS’s problems. Professor of Policing and Security at the University of South Wales Colin Rogers has said that “misconduct in the Met preceded Cressida Dick, and will long outlast her”. HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham also argued that the cultural issues in the MPS cannot be solved overnight and the new commissioner “will have precisely the same problems” that Ms Dick faced.
2. Future of policing
Considering the state of policing, in March 2022, the Police Foundation published a strategic review of policing in England and Wales: ‘A New Mode of Protection: Redesigning Policing and Public Safety for the 21st Century’. This independent review was chaired by Sir Michael Barber and guided by an advisory board of former senior police officers, politicians, and leading academics. It examined how crime, fear of crime and other threats to public safety are changing, and assessed the ability of the police to meet these challenges. It also set out a long-term strategic vision for policing.
The review said that there is a crisis of confidence in police institutions. It found that the percentage of people who think that the police do a good or excellent job has fallen steadily in recent years. It argued that the deterioration in public confidence is linked in part to recent high-profile cases of police misconduct. However, it also argued that there were “deeper, more long-standing reasons why our policing model no longer seems able to meet the expectations of the public”.
Focusing on these reasons, the report highlighted: a loss in confidence by police officers in their work; the impact of austerity and the reduction in the number of officers and staff; the growing levels of fraud and the use of technology by criminals; and the use of the police as the service of last resort. Sir Michael said that these pressures “are testing the ability of the police to deliver their core mission and public confidence has been impacted as a result”.
To address these issues, the report called for “root and branch reform” to the police service and made 56 recommendations. Some of the most significant proposals included reforming the criminal justice system to prevent crime in the first place; for example, through a new Crime Prevention Agency. Other recommendations looked at tackling cross-border serious and organised crime by strengthening the National Crime Agency and supporting local policing through the deployment of “a significant number of new officers to neighbourhood roles”.
In addition, equipping officers and staff with the right skills was deemed a priority. Although the report welcomed the uplift of 20,000 additional officers, it also highlighted “major skills gaps that the uplift programme is not currently addressing”. For example, it noted the national shortage of detectives. The inadequacy of police technology—the police national computer is 48 years old—was another area highlighted for improvement. It also recommended the creation of a new crime and policing strategy unit in the Home Office, alongside plans to revolutionise police education through the College of Policing.
Reacting to the report, the Police Federation—the statutory staff association for some police officers in England and Wales—said that many of the recommendations support what its own research has shown. It agreed that it is time to revisit the purpose and mission of the police, but also called for review of the police funding formula. Also commenting, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Martin Hewitt said that the report was “thorough and thought provoking” and would be discussed by all policing partners.
3. Read more
- HMICFRS, State of Policing: The Annual Assessment of Policing in England and Wales 2021, 10 March 2022
- Duncan Campbell, ‘What’s wrong with the police?’, Prospect, 27 January 2022