By Bradley Goodwin, volunteer.
For nearly 200 years, thanks to Sir Robert Peel, British law and order has been defined by the ‘bobby on the beat’. As Peel makes clear, police should prevent crime and disorder by maintaining public support, by “absolutely impartial service to the law” and the “offering of individual service and friendship to all members of society without regard to their race or social standing.”
With that vital role in mind, it seems that voters very much approve of the extra £750m police are to receive for the recruitment of 20,000 ‘bobbies on the beat’ by 2023, as announced by Chancellor Sajid Javid in his latest Spending Review. Even better, seemingly, is that an extra £45m is to be available this year to kick-start this recruitment drive.
However, if our police forces want to keep public support and prevent crime and disorder, a simple piece of advice to the police should be stressed: start spending our money in a way which maintains this support from the public.
Firstly, money must go to the frontline. The public won’t support police forces spending money to keep police officers off our streets. Last year the Metropolitan Police spent an eye-watering £4.62m flying its staff overseas. All this while the Mayor of London has bemoaned that the Government’s tight purse strings have left the Met helpless against the violent crime-wave that has befallen London.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The Met Police decided to waste an extra £10m last year for 10,000 police officers to find out what colour their personalities were. This, according to the Met, was part of ‘leadership training’ for the officers that took up 50,000 working days in total.
“You couldn’t make it up!” you say? Here’s another one for you.
Leicestershire Police decided that its officers and staff were to be kept off our streets to undergo “banter training”. The scheme was devised for police officers and staff to learn about offence and how our words can be interpreted by others. Yes, genuinely.
Although these examples seem ridiculous, they point to a serious point about the priorities driving police spending.
The prosecution of traditional crimes remains the single most important function that the police fulfil for most taxpayers. Cybercrime, though growing in importance, is not yet the key issue of the day. But hate crime is increasingly taking up much of the police’s focus. Tackling hate crime has become a high priority for the government too in recent years, with an action plan being published to tackle hate crime for the years 2016-2020.
Political focus on tackling hate crime has influenced police spending on this issue. The police are now spending money on a website called True Vision, dedicated to the reporting of hate crime by those who feel they have been affected by it.
Of course, it is obvious that discrimination towards any individual because of their personal characteristics is never acceptable. But the problem with the police focus on hate crime is that in a rush to tackle the issue of discrimination, money is spent on things that many taxpayers consider unjustifiable, at a time when they want bobbies to concentrate on the traditional crimes happening on their beats.
For example, South Yorkshire Police tweeted last year to encourage people to report ‘non-crime hate incidents’ saying these could include things like “offensive or insulting” comments. The Met Police website states: “Not all hate incidents will amount to criminal offences, but it is equally important that these are reported and recorded by the police.”
As Home Secretary Priti Patel will know, taxpayers will not thank the government for millions of pounds poured into policing if it is not being used to investigate and prosecute the crimes they worry about. For police forces, it falls to them to make sure that they can justify every penny they spend on the front page of newspapers, or to town halls of angry residents.
We all respect the police and the work they do. But if they want to fulfil Peel’s vision of maintaining public respect, they can start by making sure money is being spent directly on the bobby on the beat.