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Government is calling for 20,000 new police officer recruits. With less money, more crime and new recruitment procedures, how possible is it to achieve these numbers and still have a representative and inclusive workforce.

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New Home Office funding will increase the number of police officers by 20,000 across the country. Whilst this pledge is welcomed across the sector there are commentators who have voiced concerns about how those recruitment numbers can be achieved. At the same time, new recruits will undergo degree courses instead of certificate level recruit training. This move begs the following question: how will this change affect applicant numbers and applicant diversity?  

The challenge is to recruit in a way that improves diverse representation and offers communities across the country the reassurance that policing can be done for them, with them and indeed by them.

 

Training the Police
Police training has continued to develop and change over the last few years. Smaller forces have pooled their training resources at a local or regional level. Others have chosen to outsource elements of their training provision into the private sector.

 

The College of Policing is seeking to further accredit the training of officers with the introduction of the Policing Education Qualifications Framework. This new national standard offers a modernised curriculum and places recruits on one of three pathways, those who are not joining with a degree will gain a Policing Degree, meaning all recruits into the service have a degree within 3 years. This fundamentally alters how new officers are trained and there is a view that it could change how they are recruited, who chooses to apply, and who will actually apply; it is unclear if this will lead to a change in the diversity or socio-economic background of applicants or not.

 

It is difficult to argue that improvements to the quality and content of police training isn’t a good thing but these changes may also present some new problems and questions and the benefit of the degree requirement is hotly debated.

 

Having Less Money

Like most public services, policing experienced funding reductions from 2010 as the government sought to reduce public borrowing which had peaked at £152 billion in 2009. By comparison the Independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) now predicts Treasury income for 2019-20 to be £811 billion with a public spend of £840 billion and a much lower deficit of £29 billion, effectively meaning that we’re borrowing less each year. Home Office figures show that police officer numbers dropped between 2010 and 2018 by 21,752. The new spending pledges and recruitment targets for forces aim to reverse that trend and recover the pre-austerity numbers through increased borrowing.

 

Rising Crime

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that two out of every ten people will be a victim of crime each year. Some crimes have been rising over the last few years with increases in violent crime causing the most public concern. There is not a singular correlation between reduced police numbers and increases in crime. The impact of reduced public spending has been felt across the public, community and voluntary sectors and many of these services also have a significant impact on crime and offending.  Youth services, education, prisons, probation and local community programmes all form a part of the rich network that makes communities work safely.  

 

 

Violence involving a knife or sharp instrument

Up 12%

Robbery

Up 22%

Public Order

Up 30%

 

 

Representing Communities

Former Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, widely regarded as the founder of British Policing with the Metropolitan Police, developed ‘Nine Principles of Policing ‘ over 200 years ago. In one principle he notes that “the police are the public and the public are the police”. To achieve this synergy with communities it is widely understood that the police need to genuinely reflect the diversity of the people they serve in every way. Some improvements have been made, but a gulf remains between population data and the representation of black and minority ethic (BAME) groups in policing. Representation is about much more than BAME statistics, but the figures below illustrate scale of the challenge.

 

National Figures

 

Police Representation

UK Census

93.1% white

86% white

6.9% other ethnic groups

14% other ethnic groups

 

The differences can be even more stark in our larger cities.

 

London – Metropolitan Police

 

Police Representation

London Census

85% white

59.8% white

15% other ethnic groups

40.2% other ethnic groups

 

The proportion of BAME senior officers in England and Wales is currently 4% and has changed little since 2013.

 

Looking Ahead

It’s a complex picture. Less money has meant less police. Demand has risen and so has the complexity of that demand. 20,000 new officers will no doubt help, but it can’t just be about the simple uplift in numbers.

 

The development of degree level qualifications represents a positive step forward to improving the quality and content of police training, but real attention should be paid to how the development of an exclusive degree requirement would impact equality and inclusion. The creation of both degree and non-degree training programmes could help ensure wider social inclusion while also achieving the 20,000-new-officers goal. The key to a strong and ethical police force will always be how well these new officers represent their communities and work with them to keep them safe.                   

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