Viewpoints: How should the police best use limited resources?

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The police face pressure to maintain and even improve the service they provide while working under increasing financial constraint. How should they make the most of limited funds?

Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police (GMP), said on Wednesday that his officers were only able to concentrate on about 40% of reported crime, although he stressed this was standard practice for investigations with no line of inquiry.

Nevertheless, the GMP has faced cuts of £145.5m in the four years to 2015, with officers falling by 19%.

And last week a London Assembly report claimed that crime in London is higher because the Metropolitan Police's technology is "out-of-date, ineffective and expensive to maintain".

Scotland Yard responded that it faces "a huge challenge" in updating its technology while facing budget cuts.

So in the face of shrinking budgets, how should the police best utilise limited resources? Experts give their opinions below.

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Ruth Davis

Considerable savings could be made by partnering with the private sector”

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Ruth Davis, research fellow at Policy Exchange

With 3.7 million crimes committed last year it is inevitable that the police will have to prioritise where and how they focus their resources.

Firstly, considerable savings could be made by partnering with the private sector. Lincolnshire Police and a private sector firm is one example of a public-private partnership performing effectively. In the first year the force managed to save £5m - the equivalent of 125 police officers - by taking a new approach to call handling and incident management, and by streamlining Lincolnshire's police custody suites.

Secondly, police forces can use technology to be increasingly smart in tackling crime. Using predictive crime modelling, Kent Police is now able to identify potential crime hotspots and concentrate officers in those areas. Initial reports show street violence has fallen by 6% as a direct result. Moving all cases onto a digital platform will also enable officers to cut down on form filling, maximising efficiency and visibility.

Ruth Davis

  • Research fellow in the Crime and Justice Unit of think tank Policy Exchange
  • Worked as adviser to Conservative former shadow minister for home affairs and counter terrorism, Crispin Blunt MP

Finally, the police can no longer afford to pick up the slack so much where other agencies fail. Cheshire Constabulary found that 40% of calls on police time were caused by the failure of another agency to act. Pilot work to address failings in areas like mental health, such as street triage schemes, are being rolled out in many police force areas. These partnership approaches need to be extended to other areas and agencies that impact upon police time.

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Javed Khan

One of the biggest issues for victims is how well the police keep them informed about their case”

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Javed Khan, chief executive of charity Victim Support

The police are our closest partners in the criminal justice system. They refer 1.5 million victims and witnesses of crime to us every year, and we have huge admiration and respect for the very difficult job they do.

We all need to make tough choices in response to shrinking budgets and the police is no exception - it is up to them to prioritise investigations and decide how best to target criminals. But the quality of service police provide to victims must be maintained, or preferably improved.

One of the biggest issues for victims is how well the police keep them informed about their case.

If you are a victim the minimum you want and deserve is to know what is being done to investigate the crime. If the case is closed due to lack of evidence it is essential the police explain properly that decision to the victim.

Javed Khan

  • Chief executive of independent charity Victim Support, which helps victims of crime
  • Former executive director to the London Serious Youth Violence Board

A lack of information can fuel dissatisfaction with the police as much as anything else and it can lead to victims and witnesses walking away from the justice system.

Ultimately, victims want to be listened to and they want to be treated with respect. That should never be an issue of resources.

Damian Green MP, minister for police and criminal justice

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Damian Green

The key is releasing each individual officer to spend more time doing the job they joined the force to do”

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The key is releasing each individual officer to spend more time doing the job they joined the force to do, instead of filling in forms, sitting in the station, things that have happened in the past.

One of the keys to releasing that time is much better use of technology. Police officers say to me that it's ridiculous that in their daily lives - like everyone else - they can use smartphones for a whole range of activities, and yet when they're at work, they find themselves stuck with old-fashioned technology.

People are still photocopying and faxing. Introducing technology, in a much more systematic way than we ever have in the past, that allows the police to have all the information they need on the street about individuals, to transmit reports electronically so that you create a digital case file [immediately after] an incident, which can then be used right through to the court case - that releases huge amounts of police time, so that every individual officer will be much more efficient than before.

Damian Green MP

  • Minister for police and criminal justice since 2012
  • Conservative MP for Ashford since 1997

Crime prevention is absolutely vital in this. [Crime has] been falling for a number of years, and those measures that help crime prevention - like making cars more difficult to steal - mean that the police have more time to deal with the crimes that are still being committed.

And the effect of that will be to allow them to spend more time out doing the sort of neighbourhood policing that the public really wants, that's what they really value.

That's the future vision of policing that I see.

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Irene Curtis

About 25% of response officers' time is spent dealing with people who are suffering from mental health issues”

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Ch Supt Irene Curtis, president of the Police Superintendents' Association

It's important that the police focus resources on the areas that present the most threat, harm and risk to the public, dealing with issues that are ultimately police responsibility. This means ensuring that other agencies are taking full responsibility for issues under their remit.

For example, it's thought that about 25% of response officers' time is spent dealing with people with mental health problems. More often than not, they've not actually committed a crime. Or if they have, there's a huge influence from their state of mental health.

If the health service were to do more to reduce the number of people from suffering from mental health issues, then the police wouldn't spend as much time dealing with what are essentially vulnerable people and not necessarily criminals.

If somebody in the street is threatening to commit suicide, the police will deal with it. They'll section them and often take them to a police station, where they'll wait for a mental health professional.

Ch Supt Irene Curtis

  • Joined Lancashire Constabulary in 1985
  • Elected vice president of the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales in 2010, becoming president in 2013

But if somebody is threatening to commit suicide then they need 24/7 supervision, so you end up with one, sometimes two, police officers sitting outside a cell supervising someone who's got a mental health problem but who's not committed any criminal offence.

That's not a good use of resources when resources are diminishing. What's really important is protecting the public and reducing crime, because that's what we're about.

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John Graham

The real risk is that the police will focus on achieving short-term targets through easy arrests of, for example, cannabis users”

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John Graham, director of the Police Foundation

According to Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy around 60% of crimes reported to the police are not investigated. With cuts to funding chief constables, like those in other public services, have to make difficult decisions on how best to allocate resources.

But it would be wrong to rule out a response to any specific crime type simply on the grounds of limited resources.

Offences of the same type can vary greatly in terms of severity and the impact they might have on the victim or local community. The theft of a wallet might be an irritation to someone wealthy, but could be devastating to a family on the breadline. The most important factor in reaching decisions about crime is the level of harm caused.

Serious crimes such as murder and armed robbery will always be investigated, but persistent, low-level problems such as anti-social behaviour, conducted over many months, can also be very harmful and are often of real concern to local communities.

John Graham

  • Director of think tank the Police Foundation
  • Previously worked for the Home Office, the Council of Europe and the UN, and most recently chaired the Northern Ireland Review of Youth Justice

These underlying problems need to be identified and require a police response. In practice, the allocation of resources is first and foremost a strategic decision: the police and crime commissioner will determine the priorities for the force based on the public's main concerns. While officers have considerable discretion, they will be expected to give priority to what is set out in the Policing Plan.

The real risk is that the police will focus on achieving short-term targets through easy arrests of, for example, cannabis users, rather than prioritising those crimes which are much harder to detect but can cause considerable harm, such as domestic abuse or people trafficking.

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Nick Gargan

We're trying to make savings in areas like administrative support services in order to protect frontline services”

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Chief Constable Nick Gargan, lead on police budgets at the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo)

It is clear that the police service is facing its biggest financial challenge in a generation. However, the police are actively trying to adapt and have developed effective and innovative approaches to cut crime with reduced budgets.

There has been a real-term cut to the policing budget of around 20%. This of course means that difficult operational decisions are having to be made - as forces word hard to not only improve services, but continue to improve them.

On average 81% of the police's spending is allocated to staffing; this of course means it is entirely predictable that reductions in budgets will directly lead to a sizeable fall in the workforce.

Chief Constable Nick Gargan

  • National policing lead on finance and resources at Acpo
  • Chief constable of Avon and Somerset Constabulary since March 2013
  • Previously chief executive of the National Police Improvement Agency

A great deal of work has been done to protect frontline services, which include things such as emergency response teams and neighbourhood policing; alongside less visible but equally important services that response to terrorism and organised crime. Where possible we're trying to make savings in areas like administrative support services in order to protect frontline services.

Although recorded crime levels have been falling, there are new emerging forms of demand on the police and they are growing quickly. It will be increasingly difficult for a shrinking workforce with shrinking budgets to continue the dramatic performance increases in recent years.

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David Hanson

The core for policing remains the local neighbourhood force”

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David Hanson MP, shadow minister for police and criminal justice

The police service in England and Wales is facing major challenges - not only have the government cut 15,000 officers by 2015, but new crime issues are emerging such as cyber crime, terrorism, and identity fraud, which need new and thoughtful responses.

The core for policing remains the local neighbourhood force - the issues of local anti-social behaviour, intelligence on drugs and regional crime, shop theft and violence against the person, especially domestic violence, remain key with officers on the ground being first call. But the new and diverse online issues need a response.

Given the government cuts the police need to act ever more efficiently: on the procurement of goods they use, such as vehicles, petrol, uniforms, etc; on the way they work together with other forces; on the technology they use; and on training and leadership of officers.

David Hanson MP

  • Shadow minister for police and criminal justice and Labour MP for Delyn since 1992
  • Minister for security, counter-terrorism, crime and Policing from 2009-2010

But with the financial constraints it remains a real challenge. Police services are now hollowed out and, despite the excellent efforts of officers, some things are harder than ever.

Finally, the police need to do this with the full confidence of the public - Labour has commissioned the independent review of policing under Lord Stevens to look at all these issues and it will report soon.

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Tara Macpherson

Reduce the demand for police services by stopping crime from occurring in the first place”

End Quote
Tara Macpherson, senior researcher at Reform

Police reform has been one of the government's most successful public service reform stories. It is now safer to live in England and Wales than it has been for over 30 years. This is despite a 20% reduction in the budget over the last three years. The police have shown it is possible to improve services without requiring bigger budgets or more police officers.

In many cases, the financial challenge has created greater innovation and a more sensible approach to managing staff. Reviews have revealed that police forces have become far better at matching resources to demand, for instance, by making sure extra officers are on duty during busy periods.

Tara Macpherson

  • Senior researcher at think tank Reform
  • Research focuses on criminal justice and public service reform, particularly accountability and value for money in the public sector

But more can be done. As budgets continue to fall, police forces must become more imaginative and efficient. They need to work with other emergency services and the rest of the justice system in a coordinated way by sharing information and resources.

They should also set out to reduce the demand for police services by stopping crime from occurring in the first place. It is often the case that crime prevention still ends up at the bottom of the priority list. Unless they take these next steps services will begin to deteriorate.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 14.


    No you give me some evidence that says giving someone a slap on the wrist repeatedly is going to stop then reoffending.

    Personally I look at the likes of Saudi Arabia, yes they have crime over there but it is a tiny fraction of what we have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    6.bluest-man - ".....most all Police Officers should be uniformed almost all the time and be seen all over the place by the public and potential "baddies"....."

    And your EVIDENCE to justify your OPINION is what exactly...???

    Oh, you don't have any do you - and I know you don't because having been bothered to check my facts I know that there is no EVIDENCE to justify your git instinct....

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Perhaps not listening to (h)experts might help, there does seem to be an awful lot of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Why should they have such limited resources?
    Oh yes I forgot, the countries broke and those that broke it have not been arrested yet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I had my bag stolen with mobile phone, wallet inside from a London restaurant. The CCTV camera was trained on our table and caught the two girls stealing my bag from under our table. You could clearly see their faces. We reported to the Met police, giving the information about the CCTV footage. I had one call back to get details of the incident and have never heard from the police again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The public should be able to report some incidents online, providing the police with more information about crime patterns.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Yet again the subject of crime comes up....

    ....yet again the ignoramuses in which Britain seems to specialise start ranting about tougher "sentences" as if that would reduce crime....

    ....yet again I ask the people making such claims to provide the EVIDENCE to show their gut instinct would actually work in the REAL WORLD.....

    ...yet again they will fail to offer any EVIDENCE....

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    The more important question is who they should be serving.

    During the London riots not so long ago what I noticed is that the police were more interested in protecting businesses and the wealthy than in protecting the general public.

    It seems to me the police in this country, especially the Met, have become more of a tool for protection of the wealthy rather than ordinary people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    The least labour intensive way of solving crimes is ... Prevention.

    Almost all Police Officers should be uniformed almost all the time and be seen all over the place by the public and potential "baddies"

    Keeping a presence in town centres and other trouble hot spots will enable them to watch baddies build up real intelligence and stop many crimes

    There are never accidents near police cars!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Yep posts 2 and 4 are dead right. The British Crime Survey is always used as a joke where I am. People say things like "as much use as the British Crime Survey". It is just a laugh. Whatever happened to this country? It is so sad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Spot on there ! Frankly, sometimes, I wonder why the police bother at all. There is no support from a weak kneed judiciary or politicians who are terrified of their own "political correctness and do-gooder" shadow. Eventually, it will come down to each householder going to the "alternatives" because I can't see things ever improving.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    The Police should focus their efforts on what has been shown by the EVIDENCE to reduce crime...

    ....that means ignoring the ignoramuses who demand nonsense like tougher sentences that has never been shown by any EVIDENCE to reduce/deter crime....

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The problem is not the police, the problem is the soft sentences that get handed down. It must be so frustrating for the police on the streets to see a prolific burglar they locked up last week walking down the street laughing at them, probably on the way to commit another burglary. If they were locked up there would be less crime to "investigate".

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    One of our kids had a fight at school, a 50:50 thing. It my day a good telling off and quite possibly a whack with a sandshoe by the headmaster (yes it hurt!) would have sorted the situation. The other parent made a complaint which resulted in a copper turning up at our house to 'investigate' the incident. That's where the police are 'targetting' their precious resources. Real crime? forget it....


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