My Lords, the latest police officer uplift statistics, published yesterday, show that police forces in England and Wales recruited a total of 17,872 officers between April 2020 and September of this year. There are now 139,908 officers in total, of which 11,053 can be attributed to the Government’s police uplift pledge. The most recently published data shows that forces recruited 1,198 police community support officers between April 2020 and March 2021.
I know the Minister will join me in congratulating the police and services across England and Wales on what is a very impressive recruitment programme, taking us back to the figures we had in 2010. However, given the incidents that have occurred recently, including the committal of a serving officer to custody on the accusation of rape yesterday, what guidance is now being given to forces on the vetting of those they are recruiting, the monitoring of those under training and access to social media accounts in order to protect the public from those who should be protecting them in the first place?
The noble Lord is absolutely right to ask that question, which has already been raised this week. New recruits are subject to a rigorous vetting and assessment process to assess suitability for the role of police officer, including testing against core behaviours and values. The College of Policing sets the standard through the vetting statutory code of practice. We utterly recognise some of the anxieties around vetting and have commissioned HMICFRS to carry out an urgent thematic inspection of force vetting arrangements, which will help to identify any areas to address.
My Lords, two weeks ago, Policy Exchange criticised the Metropolitan Police for its “unusual and unjustified strategy” of using stop and search in the face of the spike in knife crime. Compared with other metropolitan forces, such as Merseyside, it had the highest rate of stop and search and the lowest rate for apprehending drug dealers. Crucially, the Met also had the second lowest rate of officers involved in neighbourhood policing. Police community support officers form the backbone of community policing, playing a vital role in building trust and confidence and securing community intelligence, which is vital in fighting knife crime, but since 2010 their numbers have been decimated. What plans do the Government have to recruit more PCSOs, particularly in London? They have mandated recruitment of police officers; why not PCSOs?
In general terms, PCSOs will be recruited according to local need. The noble Lord is absolutely right that they are a very valuable resource for policing. They are very good at community engagement and deliver more than just that visible police presence. Prevention, problem solving and safeguarding the vulnerable remain key and PCSOs are most definitely at the forefront of this.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Blunkett highlighted the fact that this welcome uplift will bring police numbers nearly back to the level they were at before this Government cut them. We all welcome a sinner that repenteth, but is it right to gloat about such a repentance? Could the Minister also acknowledge that, for a police officer to be effective, they need the appropriate support structures and staffing, including not only PCSOs, as has just been mentioned, but forensics and all the other support services? None of that is covered in this uplift. What the Government are doing is recruiting police officers without the support structures they need. Will the Government remedy that?
I agree with the noble Lord on an awful lot, but I disagree with the term “gloat”. I do not think we have been gloating about it at all. This House has talked frequently about the need to increase police numbers. In light of the changing patterns of crime, we have done just that, in line with what the public want.
My Lords, I have good reason to be grateful to Gloucestershire Police, who helped me in January 2000 after the attack in my constituency office in which my assistant Andrew Pennington died. Is the Minister as concerned as I am to note yesterday’s report that Gloucestershire Constabulary has been graded inadequate in five out of 10 key performance indicators in a recent inspection, including safeguarding vulnerable victims? The chief constable says it is now undergoing a massive recruitment drive and the commissioner says he cannot guarantee he will be able to deliver on his election promises. Why have the Government left Gloucestershire with an inadequate number of police personnel?
My Lords, the police uplift programme—I gave the figures in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett—will enable the police to tackle crime in their areas. I understand the noble Lord’s concern over the report, but I am sure an action plan for improvement will be in place, and the numbers of new recruits should certainly help across the country in reducing crime and keeping the public safe.
I come back to the question raised by my noble friend Lord Blunkett. Am I to infer from the answer given that, despite recent abhorrent events and disclosures, no actual changes have yet been made in the vetting and monitoring process for new recruits to the police service? If I am wrong in saying that, could the Minister spell out what changes have already been made to this process?
My Lords, I outlined the scope of the inquiry and the two parts that the Home Secretary has announced. Part one will look at the vetting procedures to see if they are inadequate in light of what happened to Sarah Everard and how her killer managed to do what he did. The inquiry will look at precisely that.
My Lords, I worry that the recent policing scandals to which my noble friends Lord Blunkett and Lord Rosser referred have undermined the recruitment of women police officers and black police officers in particular. Because of that worry, I ask the Minister if her breakdown of the recruitment figures bears that out. Whether it does or not, will the Government now consider legislating for affirmative action to allow the recruitment of more black and female officers in particular, as requested by many chiefs in previous years?
My Lords, there is good news here. As of this September, there were 47,425 female officers in post, accounting for 33.9% of all officers. That is a big increase. On the same date, there were 10,690 officers who identified as belonging to the BME community. This is the highest level on record. I can understand the context of the noble Baroness’s question and why the figures might be different from what she would have expected, but I think this is really good news.