The Police Foundation have published the first phase of a strategic review of policing in England and Wales. It considers the nature of the public safety challenge including how people feel about crime and their perception of their own safety how this challenge has changed over recent years and how it might evolve over the next 20 years. The second phase of the review will be concluded in 2021 and will focus on how the police should respond to these challenges. In recognising that the public security challenge has changed and that the role of the police needs to be re-examined, the review could in time help to change the approach to policing young people.
The research highlights the following changes in the public safety challenge.
- A large fall in traditional volume crime since the mid-1990s with significant drops in violent crime, theft, domestic burglary and vehicle related theft. Data suggests that when fraud and computer misuse are excluded, traditional crime has fallen by 70%. However, the report highlighted that not all crime should be counted equally and there are difficulties attributing these falls to public policy in England and Wales due to similar trends in other wealthy countries.
- A significant rise in internet crime with digital technology creating new opportunities for cybercrime. Fraud is now the most commonly experienced type of crime: in 2019, fraud and computer misuse offences comprised 44% of all crime. Online child sexual abuse has also been rising: from 2015 to 2019 8.3 million unique images were added to the Child Abuse Image Database.
- Organised crime is becoming a more sophisticated and complex policing challenge as organised crime groups diversify their operations, collaborate in new ways, and make increasingly sophisticated use of technology. Related to this, there has been a rise in county line drug trafficking where young people are exploited by organised crime groups to export drugs.
- Society is less tolerant of abuse in homes or other private institutions. There has been a significant increase in the reporting of violence and sexual abuse in private settings, with increased confidence amongst victims in the criminal justice system.
- Those who suffer multiple disadvantages face greater risks to their health and wellbeing. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in incidents involving people with mental health problems and missing person cases.
- There are signs of rising social tensions that can be seen in the increase of hate crime, political extremism and terrorism. Over the last decade, the number of protest events per year has risen steadily: from 83 in 2007, to 280 in 2016.
- There are increasing risks of major disruptive events that can cause widespread harm such as incidents related to climate change and pandemics. Coronavirus has revealed how a major emergency can impact a country’s health and economy and bring unprecedented challenges for the police force.
The report found evidence that crime has been rising as a public concern since 2015. In 2019, 20% of people rated it as a top issue facing Britain. This is linked to the fact that most people think crime is rising. The report also noted that fear of crime is unequal and concern is highest amongst people who live in deprived areas, those on low incomes and non-white people.
Although the study recognised the difficulties of predicting the future, it highlighted certain structural trends which are likely to impact the public safety and security challenge in the next 20 years. These include climate change, global shortages of resources, a growing population and changes in demographic.
The research then considered the implications of these changes for public safety and the role of the police. For example, in response to a growing, unregulated digital world there is the need for more regulations and for the police to be equipped with the necessary digital tools to manage this. Another implication is the need for the police to become increasingly flexible and agile as disruptive events become more likely and social tension rises.
The final chapter of the report lists a number of working assumptions it has reached when considering the purpose of the police. These are that the police are not simply crime fighters as they protect society from a wide range of threats, that the police should operate as part of a wider system of members who contribute to public security, and that the police should be proactive in preventing crime and harm rather than simply reactive. It also concluded that policing relates not only to what the police do but how they do it, and that the role of policing has shifted towards safeguarding those with multiple disadvantages. These assumptions will form the basis of stage two of the review which will consider what the future of policing should look like in the light of the challenges highlighted in this report.
The report sets out useful findings on how the public safety and security challenge has changed over recent years and highlights that the role of the police needs to adapt to meet these new challenges. It is hopeful that in recognising this, the review could lead to a change in the approach of policing young people and children, dealing with specific problems cited such as county lines drugs trafficking and child sexual abuse. The next stage of the review will be particularly useful for examining in more detail how the role of the police should evolve in the future.