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Crime: Police Numbers

Volume 800: debated on Tuesday 22 October 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the relationship between the number of police officers and the level and types of crimes committed.

My Lords, many factors impact on crime levels. More reporting of hidden crimes, recording improvements and some genuine increases in offending have all contributed to recent increases in recorded crime. We also know that increases in fraud, cybercrime and high-harm offences have intensified pressure on police resources.

My Lords, the previous Prime Minister and the previous Home Secretary seemed to suggest that there was no link between the level of crime and the number of police officers, but the actions of the present Prime Minister and the present Home Secretary suggest that they agree with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police that there is such a link. Who should I believe?

As I explained to the noble Lord, these things are multifactorial. The increased pressure on police, the increased demand on police, the changing nature of crime and certainly some of the issues we have seen in the last couple of years have placed unprecedented pressure on police. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, often mentions the efficiency and effectiveness of the police, as well as the resources and capabilities that we support them in having.

My Lords, there is documented evidence from the College of Policing that stop and search is effective only up to a certain level, after which increases produce no drop in crime. Certainly in knife crime hotspots, the amount of stop and search is above that effective level. Why are the Government making it easier for the police to engage in stop and search without any reasonable suspicion? Does the Minister accept that excessive stop and search can be counterproductive? I speak as someone who was involved as a police sergeant in the 1981 Brixton riots.

It is important that police officers have good relationships with their communities so that there is an element of trust in the police and what they do. As we have discussed before, it is also important that stop and search is intelligence-led rather than just being indiscriminate in certain parts of London and other areas of the country, as the noble Lord talked about.

My Lords, the Minister referred to several factors that are relevant in these matters. Will she accept that, if the Government keep their word and employ some 20,000 additional police officers, they will consult closely with local police commissioners to ensure that the needs of the local areas are taken into account in coming to allocation decisions?

My Lords, there would be no point in doing it if we were not committed to the needs of local people. Local areas have their own specific requirements on intervention from the police, so I agree that communication between the police and the Government is important, but PCCs should also be free to deploy the types of police officers that they feel are necessary for their local areas.

Are Home Office Ministers aware of the enormous pressures that police feel are upon them as a result of their numbers reducing over the last few years, as fewer and fewer policemen are expected to deal with more and more issues? If the Minister is not aware of that, can she give some indication to the House of how many individual chief constables feel that they are understaffed, so that some specific way can be found to fill up the obvious deficiency?

Pressure on the police is one of the major factors in the announcement by this and the previous Home Secretary on the ambition to recruit 20,000 police officers. The noble Lord is absolutely right that, as crime goes up, different crimes emerge. It is very important that the police have the resources and capabilities at hand to tackle it.

Does my noble friend accept that there is widespread concern at the number of offences that are not investigated? Will she assure the House that as we build up the numbers of police we will also build up the numbers of crimes that are thoroughly and properly investigated?

The police will prioritise, and it is important that crimes are investigated. Locally, it is up to police to ensure that they are.

My Lords, the previous Home Secretary indicated that he would increase stop and search, saying that we needed to do so to reduce crime. If that is the case, how do the Government square the circle of their talking about reducing stop and search?

As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, some of the indiscriminate, random nature of stop and search in the past has been replaced by a move to a much more intelligence-led stop and search, so that people—particularly young people—do not feel that they will be stopped every time they leave the house because of the colour of their skin, as the noble Baroness has said to me in the past. When they go out, people need to know that the police are stopping them because there is an intelligence reason for doing so.

My Lords, of course this is about not just the number of police but what they do. East Lancashire 25 years ago was one of the pioneers of modern, community neighbourhood policing in Lancashire. That is now a pale shadow of what it used to be, as there is only half the number of officers and PCSOs. In such areas, will the increase in police which the Government are promising allow us to go back to the kind of effective community policing we used to have? Nowadays the crime levels are going up again.

The Government and the Home Secretary have been clear that they want the police to invest in front-line, much more visible policing that deals with communities in a much closer way than perhaps was previously imagined. The answer is yes.