Conservatives risk losing ground to Labour on law and order.
The police are banned from going on strike and in return they have a pay negotiating board and security of tenure
Crime is going up, so we should reduce the number of police and undermine their morale. Such is the apparent direction of Government policy. Police spending is being cut by 20 per cent; the number of police officers has already plummeted. In the 12 months to the end of September 2011, the number of officers fell by 6,144 to 138,871, the lowest since 2002.
Over the same period, according to the British Crime Survey (BCS), crime increased by 4 per cent from 9.3 million to 9.7 million. Crime in public, including theft from the person and violence, varies with the availability of the police: such crimes have increased most. Personal crime, a category including violent crime, rose by 11 per cent. In London, where police numbers fell by over 1,200, robberies were up 13 per cent.
The Government prefers police-recorded crime, which shows a fall from 4.2 million to 4.1 million offences. But the ethics of crime recording were undermined by the last governmentâ€™s target regime. Many forces have â€œcrime management unitsâ€, nicknamed â€œcrime massage unitsâ€ by most coppers. The BCS is a large sample survey of over 46,000 adults, which is far less prone to manipulation.
Their 2010 manifesto gave the impression that Conservatives respected public servants and promised to restore â€œprofessional discretionâ€ to the police. This week, however, it has published the Winsor report, which speaks of the police with disdain. The roots of policing, it says, lie in â€œblue-collar work for skilled manual workers who clock in and outâ€. It reinforces the â€œlower social and professional standingâ€ of police officers. The report wants them to have skills â€œdistinctly above those of factory workersâ€. Itâ€™s almost as if Mr Winsor thinks the Miss Marple books encapsulate modern policing, in which detectives are easily outwitted by an old spinster, and rank and file bobbies are politely requested to go to the back entrance where cook will give them a cup of tea.
The report notes that there are many candidates for police vacancies and concludes that the Government could cut starting pay. But any good employer knows that if you want motivated staff, you donâ€™t insult them by appearing to pay as little as you can get away with. Not to mention the fact that the police are expected to put their own lives at risk for the public good. And not forgetting the fact that bribery is commonplace in overseas countries with low-paid police forces and no sense of vocation.
The police are currently banned from going on strike and in return they have a special pay negotiating board and security of tenure. They can be dismissed, but only for serious misconduct. The Winsor report argues that it should be possible to make them redundant whenever budgets are tight. It shows no awareness that, if we want individuals to feel that to be a police officer is to have a vocation and not just a job, then it is right to provide a lifelong career with a pension.
Of course, the police, like other public services, will benefit from sustained pressure to eliminate waste, but overdoing this could threaten public safety. The Conservativesâ€™ 2010 manifesto was conscious that we had a serious crime problem and promised to stop the early release of criminals and to increase prison capacity â€œas necessaryâ€. In office this pledge was forgotten, and they have been trying to reduce the prison population. As it happens, the high level of crime has defeated them and our prisons now have over 87,000 inmates. In the circumstances, cutting back the police does not seem wise, but still they persist.
Under Mrs Thatcher, the Tories had a reputation for economic competence. They lost it in the early 1990s and never got it back. Now they are in danger of irrevocably losing their reputation as reliable crime fighters.
David Green is Director of Civitas
The Governmentâ€™s attitude to the police is criminal