Overstretched police forces struggling to cope amid rising crime, MPs warn

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Policing is at risk of becoming “irrelevant” as neighbourhood presences are stripped back and vast numbers of crimes go unsolved, a major new report warns.

Forces in England and Wales are “struggling to cope” and there will be dire consequences for public safety unless they are provided with additional funding, according to the Commons Home Affairs Committee, which also accused the Home Office of a “complete failure of leadership”.

Its inquiry found “volume” offences including robbery and vehicle-related theft are increasing at an alarmingly steep rate.

While recorded crime is up by nearly a third (32%) in three years, charges or summonses have fallen by 26% and the number of arrests is also down, according to the assessment.

It said data suggests forces have lost at least a fifth of their neighbourhood policing capacity on average since 2010.

Flagging up the role played by neighbourhood teams in tackling terrorism and gang crime, the report said: “It is absolutely vital that this cornerstone of British policing is reaffirmed throughout the country, to ensure that trust and legitimacy is maintained.

“This is particularly important in communities in which distrust of the police – and in public authorities more widely – is rife, and in which those local links are all the more important.

“Nevertheless, in all neighbourhoods, without local engagement, policing is at risk of becoming irrelevant to most people, particularly in the context of low rates of investigation for many crimes.”

The wide-ranging review also found:

– Only a tiny proportion of online fraud cases are ever investigated and the police response needs a fundamental overhaul;

– Forces are “woefully under-resourced” for the volume of online child sexual abuse investigations they must carry out;

– Forces are failing to meet the challenges of the digital age, with investment in and adoption of new technology a “complete and utter mess”.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the committee, said: “Police officers across the country are performing a remarkable public service in increasingly difficult circumstances, but forces are badly overstretched.

“Crime is up, charges and arrests are down, and the police service is struggling to respond effectively to emerging and growing challenges, such as online fraud and online child abuse. Policing urgently needs more money.”

Internet child sexual abuse is reaching “epidemic” levels, with law enforcement estimates suggesting 80,000 people may present some form of sexual threat to children online, the committee found.

Police are struggling to deal with ‘epidemic’ levels of online child abuse, the report warned (PA)

MPs also called for the private sector to do “much more” to reduce the demand on policing from the two crime types.

The committee concluded policing is suffering from a “complete failure of leadership” from the Home Office, saying: “As the lead department for policing, it cannot continue to stand back while crime patterns change so fast that the police struggle to respond.”

Urging ministers to prioritise policing in the Autumn Budget, the report said: “Without additional funding for policing, we have no doubt that there will be dire consequences for public safety, criminal justice, community cohesion and public confidence.

“Policing is struggling to cope in the face of changing and rising crimes, as a result of falling staff numbers, outdated technology, capabilities and structures, and fragmented leadership and direction.”

The findings chime with a recent warning from Whitehall’s spending watchdog, while earlier this month a chief constable warned policing has reached its “tipping point”.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Secretary has already been clear that he will prioritise funding for the police.

“We have been on the front foot in engaging with police.

“The policing minister has spoken to leaders in every force in England and Wales to better understand the demand and changing nature of crime faced by forces.

“We are now working closely with the police to gather the evidence to ensure they continue to receive the resources they need at the next spending review.”

The department added that the Government had delivered a £460 million increase in overall police funding in 2018/19, including increased funding for local policing through council tax.

National Police Chiefs’ Council chairwoman Sara Thornton said the report “rightly recognises that forces and officers have come under ‘serious strain’ and concludes ‘that forces are badly overstretched’ as they deal with rising crime and demand that is more complex”.

She added: “It demonstrates that the threats and challenges we face require a response across the whole system and cannot be developed by institutions acting alone.”

Police Federation of England and Wales vice-chairman Che Donald said: “If Government don’t listen now, they can’t say they haven’t been warned.

“They need to recognise the true cost of policing, or else the police will not be able to fulfil their duties and keep the public safe.”

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