The following article, by Nick Herbert, appeared in Police Review magazine today.
‘The Home Secretary and I could not have been more clear. The primary mission of the police is to cut crime. This mission is hardly new. The founder of modern policing, Sir Robert Peel, spelt it out in his first principle: “The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder”.
Peel’s equal focus on “disorder” rings true today, because for millions of people, antisocial behaviour is a huge concern. Fighting crime often begins with tackling unacceptable behaviour, and such behaviour is often crime. HMIC’s recent report suggested that 90 per cent of the public think it is the responsibility of the police to tackle those causing antisocial behaviour. I agree. Cutting crime means cutting antisocial behaviour, too.
Let me make clear what we’re not saying. We’re not saying that the police can fight crime alone. We know how important successful local partnerships are to prevent crime and reduce re-offending. I want to build on the best local partnerships, ensuring that they are action-oriented, not weighed down by process or meetings. I want to make Community Safety Partnerships more effective and more accountable.
No crude targets
Nor are we implying that we want to re-introduce crude targets. In fact, the reverse. I believe that central government has interfered with the policing mission for too long. The service has had to respond to endless targets, strategic policing priorities and action plans on specific crimes, on offences brought to justice, on standards of service, on public confidence.
Excessive central direction has skewed priorities, interfering with professional and local discretion. It has forced officers and staff to focus on what government wants rather than what the public want. Focusing on cutting crime means turning away from bureaucracy and returning to common sense policing. We want the police to be crime fighters, not form writers. So do the public. And so, I am sure, do officers.
Clearly, cutting crime means preventing crime. That’s why effective early intervention is vital. It’s why the radical reforms which we are driving to the criminal justice system are so important, so that we drive down re-offending. I’ve seen some really encouraging examples of police officers working with the probation service to focus on prolific offenders and prevent them from returning to a life of crime. That’s anything but a departure from the core mission of policing. Half of all crime is committed by people who have already offended. Preventing re-offending cuts crime.
Of course the police carry out a wider role in protecting their communities. No-one who attended the Police Bravery Awards and met the relatives of officers who have lost their lives, or went to the National Police Memorial Day Service in Belfast, as I did, could fail to understand that. The heroic actions of officers like PC Bill Barker highlighted the bravery, dedication and sacrifice of officers in keeping the public safe.
Every day, whether it is through support at road traffic accidents, seeking missing children, or helping ensure major events and protests are safe, police forces carry out important activities to protect communities. The police will always have a duty to keep the peace, protect people from harm, and make sure events do not become emergency situations.
This doesn’t run counter to a primary mission to cut crime. It reinforces it - building the public’s trust and confidence and showing that officers are visible and available, on their side and keeping them safe. Polling shows that 91 per cent of the public want a more visible police force, patrolling their local area. It is a grave mistake to underestimate the importance of this demand. As Sir Paul Stephenson recently said, we need to give “people confidence we are there supporting them … through visible police patrol”. That’s why neighbourhood policing is so important. It provides a bedrock for all levels of policing.
Next week, the Government will announce a challenging set of reductions in public spending as we take the action necessary to address the deficit. The police will have to play their part. But we are determined to do what we can to strip out bureaucracy and unnecessary cost, driving efficiencies within and between forces. The frontline must be the last place to look for savings, not the first.
Policing pledge scrapped
That’s why we’ve scrapped the Policing Pledge and the confidence target. That’s why we’re determined to reduce the burden of central doctrine and guidance that imposes compliance costs and takes manpower away from the frontline.
We want to give officers more space to make decisions, reducing the need for interference and restoring professional discretion - for instance, by giving back charging decisions to the police for more routine cases. In exchange, the public must be able to hold forces to account. That’s why direct local accountability and greater transparency are so important. From 2012 it will be elected Police and Crime Commissioners who set local strategic priorities, in consultation with the chief constables they appoint. At the national level we’re creating the National Crime Agency to focus on serious crimes that cross force borders. That, too, will have a clear focus on cutting crime.
If the impression is given, even if inadvertently, that fighting crime is not the most important part of a police force’s job, or if the value of visible policing in the streets is demeaned, the public lose faith. The first duty of any government is to ensure public safety. Crime is the principal risk to that safety, which is why we must cut crime. I know from speaking to police officers why they joined the service and devote their life to the communities they serve - to cut crime. I know from the public that’s what they expect the police to do - cut crime. And as one former Chief Constable said to me, “if it’s not the police’s job to cut crime, whose is it?”’