Feature image: Avon and Somerset Police/ Twitter
In 2017, Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police Andy Marsh broke rank and criticised the government. Sustained cuts and a rise in serious and complex crime had seriously undermined the force’s ability to police the streets of Bristol and the region.
The Tipping Point, a report issued by Marsh and the elected Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Sue Mountstevens, said that funding cuts had left the force struggling to police the dramatic rise in sexual exploitation, violence, domestic abuse, rape and hate crimes.
To the dismay of police forces nationwide, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond did not heed their calls for more funding at the autumn budget that followed.
“I am disappointed that the Government has ignored the concerns of PCC’s and Chief’s (sic) across the country”, PCC Sue Mountstevens complained.
“We’ve all said that the current position is not sustainable and risks the safety of local people.”Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens
In 2017 the force got £4.5m in extra funding according to the Home Office, but that figure wasn’t big enough to plug the resource gap. As may be expected from a cash-strapped public authority drumming up the case for central government investment, the Tipping Point report painted a bleak picture.
Two years on, the data behind the prose reveals that violent crime is a growing issue. To take a snapshot, in January 2015 the force recorded 991 violent and sexual offences. In January 2019, the number of recorded incidents had doubled to 2041. This increase is consistent with a steady rise in violent and sexual crimes over the last four years.
The picture in Avon and Somerset constabulary is reflected across the country. Violent crime across England and Wales rose by 19% in the 12 months to the end of September 2018, Home Office figures show.
While correlation does not simply mean causation, the increase in violent and sexual crime has occurred as the number of police that serve the area has fallen. In the last nine years, ASP has had 19% of its police officers cut, with 626 fewer officers policing the streets in 2019 than 2010.
According to FullFact, an independent fact checking service, the number of police officers in England and Wales fell by 20,600 between March 2010 and March 2019, down to 123,200 officers.
The two main parties have vied for the ‘tough on crime’ mantle this election. Each have made election promises on policing. Prime Minister Johnson has tried to reassert the Tory’s position as the party of law and order, after years of Theresa May scaling back police funding. Indeed, both Corbyn and Johnson have presented their party’s as ‘under new management’, with the commitment to tackling violent crime.
The Tories have promised 20,000 new police officers. This will in effect mean a return to 2010 levels. Labour have matched the Tory’s pledge and more, promising 22,000 extra police, and investment in crime prevention and youth services to divert people from pathways towards crime.
Corbyn has said that should Labour win, he would ‘reverse a decade of cuts to police’. For people who think the Labour leader is weak on crime and security, this commitment may seem an odd fit. But if successfully communicated by the party, it could galvanise support among voters who want to resuscitate neighbourhood policing and stem the rising tide of violent crime.
Pollsters Yougov have determined that the issue of crime has become Brits’ third most important priority. A report released in November stated that: ‘In May 2017, just 11% considered it one of the most important issues facing Britain. Now over one in four Brits (28%) believe it is one the most pressing issues facing the country today.’
In less than 48 hours time, the keys to 10 Downing street will be in the hands of the new Prime Minister. After nine years of police cuts and the slashing of preventative services, could Labour’s pledge to increase the number of police chisel away at Johnson’s vote share, or will it be lost in the noise of all the election promises?