Police in England and Wales face crime targets in return for 20,000 new officers

Home Office seeking cuts of up to 20% to a range of crimes but police fear a return to a target-driven approach

Crime will have to be cut by up to 20% under radical plans drawn up by the government and discussed with police chiefs, the Guardian has learned.

However, senior officers believe it would be a return to Whitehall setting “targets”, which were derided by the Conservatives when the last Labour government used them.

Ministers want to bring down rates of homicide, serious violent crime and a whole host of other offences across England and Wales. The reductions would be in return for government providing the money for 20,000 new officers, about the same number cut since 2010 after the Conservatives slashed police budgets.

Some senior officers fear it could damage crime fighting and lead to police prioritising some of the wrong issues as they try to meet the headline-grabbing target before the next election.

Other police chiefs believe if the government thinks the plans through properly, they may intensify the focus on reducing crime.

News of the plans come amid fears that crime may rise as the economy nosedives in 2021 because of the damage the Covid crisis has caused.

The government and police have talked about the plans for months, according to multiple sources with knowledge of discussions.

Homicide and serious violence, and neighbourhood crimes such as burglary and vehicle theft are among those that the government wants to see cut by up to 20%.

Also reductions are wanted in just over three years in cybercrime, discharge of firearms, knife crime, drug crimes including county lines. Targets actively being discussed also include boosting victim satisfaction, cutting domestic violence and also cover an increase in those referred for substance misuse treatment.

Some chiefs are critical of the vehicle crime target, which they do not believe is a priority, given everything else the police have to deal with.

One said: “You’re never going to deploy an officer for something stolen from the back seat.”

Some targets allegedly miss the point, with one senior chief saying: “There are some obvious big problems in here. You are measuring homicides, but surely you also want to know what police are doing to refer young people away from county lines.”

Some police leaders believe there is too little stress on prevention of crime, just as policing is trying to do more of it.

Policing has been left to itself to interpret its role over the past decade amid a growing realisation that society can not arrest its way out of a whole series of serious crimes.

A senior source said of the plans: “There is a real danger of perverse incentives. There are no incentives to avoid criminalising young people or encourage diversion.”

The source added actions the government has taken since the Conservatives took power in 2010 can make the work of the police harder: “Quite a lot of what drives crime rates is nothing to do with the police. Cutting mental health services and youth services has quite a big effect. Youth and diversion services have been eviscerated since austerity.”

Police also fear the other parts of the criminal justice system, the courts and prosecution service, are under such strain and chaos, that police alone may not be able to deliver reductions in crime.

Another source added: “Policing is not the sole determinant of crime rates and we are about to enter a big economic challenge and that can lead to rises in crime and violent crime.”

In February 2020 the home secretary said the 20,000 extra officers must mean people see a cut in crime, with every offence investigated rigorously – a feat police chiefs think is beyond the resources they have.

Priti Patel told a conference of police leaders: “This extra injection of taxpayers’ cash must deliver the crime cuts the public desperately want. In three years’ time when the 20,000 additional officers are through the door, people must see a difference. Less crime, safer streets, no excuses. The public won’t accept them and neither should we.”

Patel said a national policing board and a new crime and policing performance board would set outcomes on cutting serious crime and other offences.

The Conservatives since 2010 had preached localism and said it was for elected police and crime commissioners, which cover 43 local areas, to set priorities with their police chiefs.

Another senior source with knowledge of private discussions said “this is a rebalancing”, representing the Home Office and central government expecting a greater say in what police do strategically, in a way “we have not seen for ages”.

It is a sign of a move away from localism and leaving strategy to elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs), whose role is under review by government.

The source added: “It’s not treading on [police] chiefs’ toes but treading on PCC’s toes. That won’t deter Kit [Malthouse, the policing minister,] and the home secretary.”

Police chiefs believe the government will deliver on its promise to provide 20,000 new officers by 2022/23, though that will mean a lot of new and inexperienced officers are out on duty.

The ambitious 20% desired cut in violent crime puts pressure on those forces policing the biggest urban areas, such as the Metropolitan police covering London, West Midlands police covering Birmingham, and Greater Manchester police.


Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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