It’s time for a new mode of protection  

Standing before parliament in 1828, Sir Robert Peel said, “The time is come when, from the increase in its population, the enlargement of its resources, and the multiplying development of its energies, we may fairly pronounce that the country has outgrown her police institutions and that the cheapest and safest course will be found in the introduction of a new mode of protection.”

The main conclusion from the Strategic Review of Policing in England and Wales, which reports today, is that the changes we are living through now are as significant as those that were occurring in the first part of the nineteenth century.  We need to be as ambitious today as Peel was then in rethinking our public safety institutions.  

53 per cent of crime affecting people in England and Wales in 2021 was just fraud and cyber crime, and yet just 0.1 per cent of frauds result in any kind of criminal justice outcome.  We have also seen the rise of more complex social needs, from mental health crises to missing person incidents, that cannot be dealt with by the police on their own and require much deeper collaboration between local public services.  Victims of previously neglected forms of violence and abuse are demanding justice, requiring a fundamental reorientation of the nature of police work.  

Despite the hard work and dedication of police officers and staff, there are signs that the police service is struggling in the face of these changes.  Detection rates have halved, victim satisfaction has fallen, response times are lengthening and public confidence in the police is falling.  

We think there are three implications from all of this, which lead directly to the recommendations in our report.  First, there is a capacity challenge: the police service on its own cannot deal with the range and complexity of twenty first century challenges. To address this we need to mobilise the efforts of wider society to prevent crime and harm much more systematically than we do at present.  We should create a new institution, a Crime Prevention Agency, to lead work across government and beyond to prevent crime.  It would take responsibility for bringing down surging levels of fraud and cyber crime. There should also be a new statutory duty on large businesses to prevent crime, enforced by the Crime Prevention Agency.  

Second, there is a capability challenge: policing lacks many of the capabilities required to tackle new forms of crime and harm. The most important capability is legitimacy, without which it is impossible for the police to do their job.  Recent high profile scandals have rocked public trust and confidence in the police. We need a ten-year plan to improve police legitimacy, which would include a reinvestment in neighbourhood policing and reform to the use of stop and search.  The toxic culture that has emerged in some parts of policing needs to be tackled by strengthening frontline supervision, through much more robust leadership programmes for sergeants and inspectors. 

We need to take action to address the now 7000-person shortage of detectives, including a pay supplement for investigators and mandatory direct entry detective schemes across the country.  Police training is poor and needs a complete overhaul. We should guarantee for each officer a number of minimum learning hours per year.  To change the culture around professional development and raise standards, we argue that, as for doctors and nurses, there should be a new licence to practice for police officers.  This would be revalidated every five years subject to skills being refreshed and training being undertaken to the required standards. 

Finally, policing has an organisational platform that was designed largely in the 1960s and 70s. Responsive local policing is essential to improving public confidence.  For this reason we think that the 43 forces should stay, accountable to locally elected PCCs or mayors. However, the current system is not effective at tackling cross border crime, is not a good basis for supporting specialist areas of policing and is inefficient.  Specialist and back office functions should be provided regionally through Regional Police Support Units.  At the national level, there are currently too many organisations carrying out overlapping functions and lacking the powers to drive change.  There should be just three delivery organisations at the centre: a Crime Prevention Agency, an expanded National Crime Agency (NCA) and a reformed College of Policing with new powers to set minimum standards. 

Policing is at a critical juncture. If it does not embrace reform it will likely be overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of the demands coming down the track. But if we take the necessary decisions now the prize will be great: to develop the conditions in which our people can live freely and safely in the 21st century and to renew for our age the promise of the Peelian model, a form of policing that serves rather than oppresses the people and that can continue to be an example to the world in the art of reconciling order with liberty.

Rick Muir is Director of the Police Foundation and has led its work on the Strategic Review of Policing in England and Wales