Police Federation chair tells government to stop using crime as ‘political gimmick’

Liz Truss is pushing ahead with targets floated during her leadership campaign (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Archive)
Liz Truss is pushing ahead with targets floated during her leadership campaign (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Archive)

A police leader has accused the government of treating law enforcement as a “political gimmick” after the new home secretary announced targets to cut crimes including murder by 20 per cent.

The chair of the Police Federation, which represents more than 120,000 rank-and-file officers in England and Wales, also hit out at plans to compare regional forces using league tables.

In an exclusive article for The Independent, Steve Hartshorn wrote: “It pains us when situations are created where we are compelled to reason with the country’s top lawmakers about the basics of policing.

“It is even more disappointing, and dangerous, to see policies which have failed so disastrously in the past be promoted and presented as brand-new ideas.

“It has never been possible to police by a spreadsheet and a quick-fix solution of league tables will inflict lasting damage on those who call for help, the public.”

A letter sent by the home secretary to chief constables across England and Wales on Friday confirmed that Liz Truss is pursuing targets originally proposed during her successful Conservative leadership bid.

“Reducing crime is a key prime ministerial commitment, and I expect the police, working with local partners, to cut homicide, serious violence and neighbourhood crime by 20 per cent,” Suella Braverman wrote.

No further details were given on how the cuts would be implemented or monitored by the government.

Mr Hartshorn warned: “Crime cannot be controlled by a government issued, headline-friendly diktat asking police forces to cut serious crimes such as homicide by 20 per cent or else face action.

”Law and order must be free from the ebb and flow of politics and although policing may have to adhere to targets, the public doesn’t – and if we focus on one crime to satisfy a target, at the expense of another, the public lose out.“

A 2015 report found that previous crime targets created “perverse incentives to mis-record crime” and caused police to respond to some offences selectively “to the detriment of other calls”.

It was commissioned by the then home secretary Theresa May, who said at the time: “Targets don’t fight crime, they hinder the fight against crime.”

The proportion of crimes solved has been dropping in recent years, with prosecution rates currently at a record low of just 5.6 per cent of all offences while police-recorded crime is at a record high.

Official reports have warned of a national shortage of detectives, and said Boris Johnson’s push to recruit 20,000 extra constables in three years is “creating an inexperienced workforce”.

Mr Hartshorn said the uplift programme, which is due to be completed in March, has not fully replaced the officers and staff lost during the years of austerity from 2010 onwards.

He raised concern about the increasing number of voluntary resignations by police officers, adding: “A concerning number of recruits are leaving within months of starting their policing careers.”

Mr Hartshorn put the rapid departures down to pay, morale and increasing demand, which now includes a significant portion of non-crime matters such as medical emergencies and mental health incidents.

“The government must demonstrate it is serious and understands the complexities of policing,” he said.

“It has recently offered to provide the resources and tools our police forces require; we will be watching to ensure it does just that, as policing and upholding law and order is far too important to communities to be just a political gimmick.”