Police told to break previous promises
With severe cuts to police budgets on the cards, the answer to keeping bobbies on the beat, it transpires, is to tear up the promise to... er... keep bobbies on the beat.
Yes, the National Policing Pledge for England and Wales is to be scrapped as part of government plans to drive out bureaucratic inefficiencies from the service. But a quick look at the pledge reveals that it is all about ensuring officers do what the public wants them to do - not least, pounding the streets.
It demands that neighbourhood officers "spend at least 80% of their time visibly working in your neighbourhood, tackling your priorities". That promise is now to be dropped.
It also demands that police answer 999 calls within 10 seconds and get to an emergency within 15 or 20 minutes. Those commitments are to be ditched. So is a promise to attend to a non-emergency within 60 minutes if the caller is vulnerable or upset.
The police, the government argues, must be much more accountable to local priorities rather than central targets. But they've just torn up the pledge to hold monthly local public meetings to set priorities and promises to keep victims informed of progress on crimes.
"It is a paradox that we have seen record numbers of police officers recruited in the last few years and yet the public still say to us that they don't see them on the streets", Home Office Minister Nick Herbert told the Today programme this morning. "There is some evidence that they get caught up doing other things, not spending sufficient time on the beat."
How, one might ask, does getting rid of the commitment to ensure officers are out on the streets improve matters?
One of the reasons Labour ministers introduced the National Policing Pledge in 2008 was to try and ensure chief constables did what the public told them after they had scrapped all of the previous targets save one. As things stand, there is only one measure of police performance in England and Wales - that 60% of local people should have confidence in them.
Instead of detailed targets for how officers are performing in cutting crime, responding to calls or dealing with local issues, the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith introduced a single target based on how people feel.
The debate about cuts to police is also a psychological one, it seems to me. As research as shown [1.18MB PDF], bobbies on the beat are hopeless at catching criminals and there is a heated academic discussion as to whether they do much to prevent crime. Whether they reduce or increase fear of crime is also contested.
And yet we have set up the argument over policing budgets as a battle between back-room bureaucracy (bad) and front-line policing (good). Of course there is waste. Of course there is inefficiency. But those problems can be found back and front.