So far, it has failed to compel of cuts’ and public service reform’s necessity. Crime can now be added to the list. Theresa May has blamed Labour for HMIC’s findings into the police’s failure to arrest anti-social behaviour. ‘Labour achieved nothing,’ she said. Fair enough, but this was an opportunity to husband a narrative for public service reform. HMIC is in no doubt that the police have not done enough to combat anti-social behaviour. It finds that elements of the police do not believe that aggressive hooliganism is criminal, and therefore they do not seek it out. The police, it concludes, have committed a grave strategic error by retreating from the street.
Alarming predictions have been made about falling police numbers since Sir Ronny Flanagan’s 2008 Policing report, but there are still nearly 144,000 officers in England and Wales – as there were in 2008-09. At the same time, the police’s public visibility is at a meagre 11 percent according to HMIC: too many policemen are chasing paper-clips.
To be fair to May, she echoed Nick Herbert’s argument that you can reduce police numbers whilst improving visibility by redefining police work and encouraging bobbies back out onto the beat where they are needed. But it must be sold in those terms. Saying ‘Labour achieved nothing’ is a dumb hostage to the certainty that the Tories will reverse Labour’s impressive police recruitment drive.