Famine to feast: what does the promise of additional numbers mean for the future of policing?

Photo by Joël de Vriend on UnsplashPhoto by Joël de Vriend on Unsplash

Published 15 September 2019

Boris Johnson has promised to fund 20,000 extra police officers in England and Wales over the next three years. Reception of this news has been, unsurprisingly, positive but the promise of additional funding raises a number of questions, which thus far remain unanswered.

Where should the new officers be placed to maximise their impact? Should all of them be allocated to the ‘front-line’, or is now the time to rebuild the police’s capability, for example, through better digital capability and intelligence? Does strengthening the ‘front-line’ mean boosting neighbourhood policing, which has been eroded since 2010, or investigative capability, given the national shortage of detectives and the growing emphasis on managing vulnerability? And, ultimately, will 20,000 be enough?

To help answer this question, Crest has developed a new analytical tool, enabling the police to predict demand on forces over the next four years and judge how best to allocate finite resources (more of this below).

The story on numbers

Officer numbers have fallen back below where they were in the late 1990s, before the big increase in investment that took place under Tony Blair’s government, though numbers have stabilised slightly over the last two years.

Numbers of warranted police officers (FTEs), March 1996-March 2019

(excludes British Transport Police, secondments and Special Constables)

These cuts have impacted public perceptions of the police and their effectiveness.

Public perceptions

Cuts to officer numbers have not gone unnoticed by the public with 47 per cent stating they never see police officers on foot patrol in the year ending March 2019, up from 26 per cent in 2011.

Trends in visibility of police foot patrols, 2007-March 2019

Perhaps more worryingly, public confidence in the police, which had been steadily rising since 2006, started to drop in 2016.

Trends in public confidence in the police, 2007-March 2019

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) - many of whom will be gearing up for elections in 2020 - will undoubtedly be keen to use any additional investment to address the public’s concerns over visibility, primarily by restoring neighbourhood policing. At the same time, Chief Constables will be reminding them of the urgent need to strengthen investigative capability, which has come under increasing pressure in recent years (and looks set to continue into the future), thanks to an upsurge in more serious and complex crimes.

Police effectiveness

The reduction in numbers has also impacted the police’s ability to fulfil core functions, such as detecting crime. Charge rates - as a proportion of all recorded crime - have dropped dramatically since 2014 (see chart below). Not all of this can be laid at the police’s door. In particular, there has been a suggestion (though as yet unevidenced) that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) may have raised the threshold for prosecution, which has depressed charge rates. Interestingly, the proportion of cases heard at court which are ultimately convicted has remained relatively flat, which would be consistent with a shift towards the ‘cherry picking’ of cases viewed as more likely to lead to a successful prosecution. Some of this is also likely to be a result of changes to recording practices, with more ‘marginal’ allegations being recorded since 2014. Nonetheless, the fall is stark.

The possible reasons for the disparity between charge and conviction rates in England and Wales is a matter to be explored in another blog (watch this space), but assists us here in the illustration of a service which is struggling to meet demand.

Charge rate (% of recorded crime resulting in a charge), and conviction rate (proportion of cases proceeding to court which result in a charge*), and total recorded crime (on secondary axis) years ending March, England and Wales

*Summary cases, fraud and miscellaneous offences have been removed so that the conviction rate is not skewed.

The Prime Minister has now promised to plug the gap with an additional 20,000 officers. Below, we aim to answer three questions:

  1. Will 20,000 be enough?

  2. Which roles/ functions should the new officers be assigned to?

  3. Which forces are likely to have the biggest claim on these new resources?

1. Will 20,000 be enough?

Crest's demand modelling methodology accounts for both crime and non-crime demand. We analyse crime and control room data to identify around 50 core components of demand (from missing persons to non-crime domestic incidents, and shoplifting to serious violence). Focus groups and surveys with officers indicate the level of resource associated with each component. And using a combination of statistical forecasting methods we project the volume of crime and non-crime incidents over four years and add in the levels of resource required for each component to provide forces with their expected demand in terms of hours per week required.

We estimate that there would be a shortfall of 32,000 officers by 2023 if staffing levels were maintained at current levels and operational practices remained broadly similar.

Using a combination of nationally published recorded crime data and control room data extrapolated from two forces, we have produced a national picture of demand. We estimate that there would be a shortfall of 32,000 officers by 2023 if staffing levels were maintained at current levels and operational practices remained broadly similar. In other words, while the PM’s commitment to recruit 20,000 officers will narrow the capacity gap, it still falls some way (12,000 to be precise) short of what would be required to meet demand.

Estimated reactive* demand/workload on the police across England and Wales

2014-2023 and available police officer hours (not including overtime)** nationally 2014-2018

*reactive demand accounts for the demand on police that stems from members of the public calling into the control room or reporting crime **only police officers allocated to reactive tasks (response teams, secondary investigation teams etc. have been included in this figure)

Even then, it's not just about the numbers...

2. Which roles/ functions should the new officers be assigned to?

An extra 20,000 officers is clearly welcome news to the service. But what should they do?

As well as predicting the volume of demand, our model can provide insights into the changing nature of demand - and the implications for workforce reform, prioritisation and caseload for prosecutors, the courts, prisons and probation further down the line.

In 2015, Chief Constable of the National Crime Agency (NCA), Lynne Owens, said:

"The police are now seeing an increase in the categories of offences which require complex investigation. There have been significant rises, for example, in sexual offences, domestic abuse and crimes committed online which often require medical, forensic or digital evidence to support the case"1

Our modelling bears this out. Over the next four years, demand will be driven increasingly by violent and sexual offences. We predict this will make up around 57% of the total workload by 2023.

Estimated proportionate (%) components of demand, 2014, 2018, 2023

This will have (and indeed is already having) huge consequences for police resourcing, structures, processes and priorities. Looking at the current split of the workforce (warranted officers) in England and Wales, we can see that it is weighted heavily around response teams and neighbourhood officers.

Split of 'reactive' warranted police officer workforce in England and Wales by job role, 2018

It is an open question as to whether the current split will continue to be appropriate given our projected trajectory of demand. Will the categories of ‘major investigation’ and ‘public protection’ need to be boosted? Certainly forces can expect - as a bare minimum - to need more officers trained in early evidence collection for sexual offences, more qualified to conduct ABE (achieving best evidence) video interviews and more PIP2-qualified officers (serious and complex crime secondary investigation qualification). Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg. For example, we suspect that increasing volumes of violent and sexual offences will also result in increasing quantities of digital evidence, which itself will introduce a level of complexity to investigative functions.

All of this points to a need to ensure recruitment is both strategic and demand-led: a generic campaign to hire more officers won’t cut it.

All of this points to a need to ensure recruitment is both strategic and demand-led: a generic campaign to hire more officers won’t cut it. Many of the new joiners will require different skills and capabilities, for example digital investigation (reflecting, amongst other things, the growth in complex cases). Chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, Martin Hewitt, has already raised concerns around the viability of recruiting 20,000 officers with a current rate of 1 successful applications in 10.

Pledging additional resources is the easy bit. Actually delivering it in a way that adds value will require Ministers, PCCs and Chiefs Constables to collectively oversee the implementation, drawing on expertise from outside government.

3. Which forces are likely to have the biggest claim on these additional resources?

In recent weeks, we have seen Chief Constables starting to stake claims on the 20,000 officers promised, including Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick, who wants 6,500 to deal with the rise of serious violence in London. Determining how to slice up the cake will be the next big question facing policymakers.

Rather than allocating the promised investment according to an outdated (and largely discredited) funding formula, the Home Office should look at which forces are forecast to see the steepest increases in demand. To assist this process, Crest has modelled future demand on each force to set out more clearly the likely geographical requirements.

Using published HMICFRS crime data in our forecasting tool, we ranked police forces by the difference in annual volume of crime 22017/18 to 2020/21. According to this cut of our analysis, the Met, West Midlands and Essex forces are projected to have the greatest increases in terms of the volume of crime overall, whilst Lincolnshire, the City of London and Essex will have the greatest proportionate increases.

Ranking by difference in annual volume of crime, FY 2017/18 and 2020/21

When we look at volumes only of violent and sexual offences West Midlands, West Yorkshire and Lancashire are predicted to have the largest increases in terms of volume, whilst Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Essex are expected to see the greatest proportionate increases.

Ranking by difference in annual volume of crime of violent and sexual offences, 2017/18 and 2020/21

Ranking by proportionate change in annual volume of crime of violent and sexual offences, 2017/18 and 2020/21

A different picture again is seen when we consider the forces likely to have the biggest capacity gap (i.e. the biggest difference between likely volume in crime and available police officers. Lincolnshire, Essex and Lancashire are predicted to see the biggest increases in the number of crimes per officer between 2018/19 and 2020/21.

Average number of offences per officer, 2017/18 and 2020/21

Whilst HMICFRS has started to drive forces towards using data to forecast future demand, the bunfight for funding is still clouded by a lack of evidence-based bids.

Whilst HMICFRS has started to drive forces towards using data to forecast future demand, the bunfight for funding is still clouded by a lack of evidence-based bids. We need a better national understanding of demand to support geographical and functional allocation decisions which will result in more effective policing nationally. The much mooted funding formulae review is long overdue.

Conclusions

To conclude, the 20,000 uplift will narrow the capacity gap, but won’t close it completely; a sizeable chunk of the new officers will need to be placed within investigative functions, and there is a need for better (more up to date) evidence to determine which forces get their fair share.

This is the first in a series of Crest blogs on managing police demand and a contribution to the national debate on police workforce reform. Watch this space for further insights over the coming months.

For further information about our work, please get in touch with Eleanor Covell at eleanor.covell@crestadvisory.com.

Authors

Harvey Redgrave

Chief Executive Officer

harvey.redgrave@crestadvisory.com

> Read bio

Ellie Covell

Strategy and Insight Manager

eleanor.covell@crestadvisory.com

  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-34218982

  2. Non-crime demand is not included in this forecast