Recruiting thousands of extra police officers will take years and cost billions, but the public demands swift action and results. Introducing new laws, regulations and directives – New Labour’s solution – will burden forces with extra bureaucracy. Grieve is therefore left with one practical option: he must get the Chief Constables to deploy the resources currently available to them in a more effective way.
This means slashing the paperwork burden on officers and introducing a framework based on decentralisation, responsibility and accountability.
Chief Constables would be urged to increase time on the beat from the current average (under 20%) to closer to 80%. And car patrols would be replaced by solo patrols on foot – to increase dramatically the level of contact with the public and thereby improve the flow of useful information.
Grieve should also press forces to give small teams of officers long-term responsibility for particular neighbourhoods. In this way they would develop a sense of ownership over their ‘patch’ and enjoy the benefits deriving from local knowledge and the trust of residents.
Change is also needed in the internal culture of the police. The beat should become central to officers’ careers and a route to promotion to the highest ranks.
In the USA such measures have been an outstanding success. They enabled Chief Ed Davis, in Lowell, Massachusetts, to cut crime by 70%.
So it can be done. An incoming Conservative Home Secretary will have a unique opportunity to reform policing practices. Through the better deployment of resources already in place he can cut crime without having to raise billions more from hard-pressed taxpayers.