By imposing swingeing cuts to the budgets of police forces across the UK, the government has put policing in crisis and placed neighbourhoods and communities at risk. The growing, and increasingly public furor over the impact of spending cuts to police forces has led Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe to reflect in a recent speech, that police forces will have to “pick and choose” what they prioritise.
We now hear that one of Britain’s biggest police forces – West Midlands police, has reacted to spending cuts by reducing the number of police officers on the beat while also seeking to introduce a new ‘self-service’ style of policing. Police officer and staff numbers in the West Midlands have already been reduced from 13,500 in 2010 to 10,500 in 2015. In 2020, the force estimate that the number of staff will have dropped to 8,000.
By 2020, West Midlands police aim to have a more centralised and digital model of policing, while their budget will have been reduced by 40 per cent in this same period. In their recent and independent assessment of police forces, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary has noted that in the period 2010-2015 the total police workforce (officers and staff) will have fallen by 34,400. That’s 16,300 fewer police officers, 14,500 fewer police staff and 3,600 fewer Police Community Support Officers.
Chris Sims, West Midlands’ chief constable was quoted in a recent Guardian article noting that there are currently 1,300 officers and 700 community support officers devoted to neighbourhood policing. Sims stated “For customer and austerity reasons, that is not a model that will endure…I do not believe it can be a universal offer by 2020.”
Sims has argued that the change is needed because “new threats and harms are not based on street-based issues”. West Midlands police hired consultants Accenture to advise them on the changes, who have devised ways in which the police force could make greater use of technology. As is reported by the Guardian, people wanting to complain will have a “self-service” experience, akin to online banking or shopping.
A UNISON survey of police & community support officers (PCSOs) in December 2013 found that there were then 9,000 volunteers carrying out the work of police staff, while between March 2010 and September 2013, the number of PCSOs in England were cut by 22 per cent. Over the current spending period, HM Constabulary has reported that police forces have had to reduce their budgets by £2.53bn to meet government imposed austerity measures.
It is extremely worrying that an entirely new model of ‘digital’ policing is due to be rolled out in the West Midlands following a huge reduction in PCSOs and police officers. There is a very real fear that what we are seeing in the West Midlands holds portents for a future of ‘policing on the cheap’, whereby public safety is put at risk and accountability to communities is threatened.
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