Photo used for illustrative purpose.
Ed Dorrell, The Independent
It has recently become close to impossible to turn on the news and not hear the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Mark Rowley, either apologising for something appalling that one of his officers has done, or committing to fixing the policing system.
This media merry-go-round is a symptom of a fascinating and rather scary truth: that in relatively short order, the standard of policing and police work in this country has become a top-tier political and policy challenge.
It is now closing in on the cost of living crisis and the dismal economic outlook as one of the most important issues that will decide the next general election.
Setting to one side the politics of the problem for a moment, it is worth positing something that might sound slightly melodramatic (though I don’t think it is): that the collapse in public faith in policing in Britain represents a genuine challenge to the social contract (that is to say, the informal deal that citizens make with the state, giving it permission to govern).
Just take a look at some of the polling that has come out in the last few days on this issue. Results of a More In Common survey carried out by Public First (full disclosure, it’s where I work) are eye-watering.
A couple of stats really jumped out at me. For those who say they have been a victim of crime, most (54 per cent) say they were not satisfied with the police response, while nearly seven in 10 (69 per cent) say that the crime was not solved.
The sad truth is that people are not wrong to feel this way: there are fewer police on the streets than in 2010, and, perhaps most shockingly, the overall charge rate for crime is now 5.5 per cent compared with 15.5 per cent in 2015.
The More in Common polling doesn’t stand in isolation. Survey results from Savanta, published in this newspaper, found that more than 40 per cent of British people no longer trust the police at all.
To be clear, these are attitudinal findings of the kind that rock the foundational principles of society to their core. If you don’t believe the state can be relied upon to protect you from crime, what is it there for?
The problem senior police officers — and Suella Braverman’s Home Office — are faced with is that they are stuck in a pincer. On one side there is the everyday lived experience of communities across the country, of antisocial behaviour and unsolved crime running rampant. These are communities that feel almost abandoned by the police.
On the other, there is the growing belief that there is something morally bankrupt at the heart of the police workforce.
This second issue is driven by the horrific drip-drip-drip of stories of policemen (and it is men, specifically) who have carried out horrific acts while on the payroll of various constabularies. Rowley is on the radio seemingly every day, because seemingly every day he has come across yet another officer — or set of officers — who have done something terrible.
The details of the most recent wave of hideous cases were revealed last week when it emerged that at least 39 officers are to face misconduct hearings across England and Wales over the coming weeks, including 23 from the Metropolitan Police alone.
The most generous reading of this problem is that the system of vetting has gone horribly wrong; perhaps the least is that there is a deeply ingrained issue. It seems to me that most people — whatever their politics— not unreasonably suspect the latter.
At the risk of sounding politically cynical, this does present a huge opportunity for Labour, and one of which the party is already beginning to take advantage. Voters now trust the opposition on crime considerably more than they trust the Conservatives (a reversal of the normal state of affairs).
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, is right to call for a step change in community policing, and she is right to demand an increase in the number of police officers both employed and on our streets. Perhaps too quietly, she has called for 13,000 officers and community officers to be recruited, and for the training process to be overhauled.
The public know there is a problem. And so Cooper and Keir Starmer – and for that matter, the rest of the shadow front bench — must come up with their own version of New Labour’s “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”, and repeat it, time and time again.
The cost of living might be the biggest issue in Britain today, but crime could win Labour the next election.