Loss of public confidence in policing a ‘serious problem’

The loss of public confidence in policing is a “serious problem” which the next Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) commissioner will play an “important part” in addressing, according to a former government adviser.

Feb 22, 2022
By Website Editor
Sir Michael Barber

Sir Michael Barber, who is leading a review of policing, said public confidence in the police is “falling” amid a wave of recent scandals and serious incidents in the past six months and that “can’t be good news”.

In a discussion on Tuesday (February 22) he set out three key challenges he thinks the police face, adding that if those can be tackled “then we can address the crisis in public confidence”.

His comments come just weeks before the Police Foundation think-tank publishes the findings of his Strategic Review of Policing, which is set to make more than 50 recommendations for the future of forces in England and Wales.

Sir Michael hopes that his report, billed as the most comprehensive review of policing for a decade, will mark a fundamental turning point in the modernisation of “a public service that matters deeply to us all”.

Public confidence fell “particularly in the Met most noticeably”, he told an audience at the Centre for Policy Studies webinar, adding: “The problem is significant. And that’s partly a result of the various scandals and really serious incidents that have been reported in the last six months, but it’s also a sense among the public that the basics aren’t being done as they need to be done.

“And so confidence is falling and that’s a serious problem because policing by consent… depends on the quality of the relationship between the public and the police and if public confidence is falling, that can’t be good news. And that’s why I think there is a crisis of confidence in policing.”

He said the next MPS chief will play an “important part” in addressing the issue, as well as leaders of police forces around the country and the Government.

While stressing there were “many thousands of police officers across this country who are doing incredibly tough jobs and they’re professional, they’re hardworking, they’re making an important contribution to all of our lives every single day”, Sir Michael warned: “But there are some major challenges.”

Although a recruitment drive to hire more police officers is welcome, “traditional bobbies on the beat” are not the answer to tackling all offences as the “nature of crime is changing dramatically”, with a large percentage of offences being carried out online, he said.

Police are also being “distracted by social problems”, Sir Michael warned as he highlighted the large amount of time officers are spending investigating missing person reports.

There has also been a big rise in the number of mental health incidents police attend, he said, adding: “The police, they’re social service of last resort and this is distracting them from the task I think the vast majority of public want them to do which is preventing crime and detecting crime.”

Sir Michael said there “aren’t enough police”, they “haven’t got the best technology” and they face an “organisational challenge” with crimes like fraud needing to be “strategically addressed from the centre” while forces around the country tackle local offending.

He added: “If we can get those three things right over the next few years then we can address the crisis in public confidence.”

Sir Michael served as the chief adviser on delivery during Tony Blair’s second term as prime minister, founded advisory firm Delivery Associates which aims to help governments deliver improved outcomes for their citizens and used to be the chairman of higher education regulator the Office for Students.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse told the event the “tumultuous phase” for the police over the past year means “it’s a good time for us to think about the future of policing”, adding: “The question we have to ask is what realistically do we want the police to be doing?”

He said the police “deserve a clear and prioritised mission”, and that “leadership and culture” should be considered as well as looking at the use of technology, adding that there are “basic requirements that the British people want from their police force that needs to be fulfilled”.

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