In his annual assessment of policing in England and Wales for 2019, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Thomas Winsor recognised the sensitivity and dedication of the police service in collaboratively responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency. He encourages police forces to continue to work in collaboration in order to provide a more effective and efficient service to the public.
On policing the COVID-19 pandemic, Sir Thomas Winsor said, “COVID-19 has tested police forces in dealing with the lockdown, the greatest curtailment of individual freedom this country has ever known. To its great credit, the service has responded well. The initial and rare inconsistencies and mistakes over how the lockdown measures were applied were soon eclipsed by the commendable sensitivity and proportionality of officers towards their fellow citizens, through explanation and encouragement well before enforcement.
“Very regrettably, as lockdown conditions have been relaxed, the police now face a harder task. In some cases, they have been faced with resistance and violence. They have also faced violence when policing public demonstrations. Nothing justifies violence. Police officers are our fellow citizens, doing the tough work we ask them to do, in hazardous and demanding conditions, to keep us safe. Hard enforcement against those who assault police officers and other public service workers should be firm and fast.
“The national police leadership which has intensified because of the pandemic has been welcome, and that greater degree of cooperation amongst police leaders and forces must be maintained.”
In his assessment Sir Thomas also explores where further reform is needed in order to meet the current and future demands placed on the police service.
On the 43-force policing structure in England and Wales, Sir Thomas said, “There is an increasingly pressing need to develop an effective and efficient single system of law enforcement, with clear local, regional and national components. There is an important role for the Home Office to play, particularly in making regional and national functions work more efficiently and effectively, whilst respecting local conditions and priorities.
“The lines on the map that delineate force boundaries too often act as barriers to the exchange of intelligence, to cooperation, and to true effectiveness and efficiency.
“The time has come to establish a much higher degree of single-system operation in the 43-force structure of England and Wales. This doesn’t mean redrawing the map of 43. Single-system operation can be achieved far more efficiently and effectively, and without legislation, turf wars and wasteful management introspection.
“Chief constables and their police and crime commissioners can pool their sovereignties, by adopting a network code based on those used in other safety-critical essential public services. Using a mechanism of qualified majority voting, with appropriate minority protections and checks and balances, decisions on policing policies and practices which need to be common, stable, efficient and effective can be made. There are not 43 best ways of doing the same thing.”
Sir Thomas welcomed the decision to recruit an additional 20,000 officers over the next three years. That is a long-term investment in policing. He added, “One-year financial settlements for the police are not conducive to the making of sound, longer-term investments in things such as information and communications technology. For efficiently-run forces, the Home Office should consider providing multi-year financial settlements.
“The recruitment of the extra 20,000 officers also provides the police with an golden opportunity to improve the extent to which police forces reflect the communities they serve.”
On policing policy, Sir Thomas said the greater hands-on approach by the Home Office is necessary quickly to create and enhance the essential conditions for the police to become more efficient and effective. He said, “The best victim of crime is someone who isn’t. Prevention is the first objective of policing. It saves lives from being shattered or lost. These are the lives of victims and their families, and they are the lives of offenders who could have been diverted from crime, and their families too.
“Effective prevention also saves colossal amounts of the time, energy and financial costs of the police and the many other public services concerned with the causes and effects of crime. It reduces demands on the criminal justice system, health, social services and education. And it enhances public confidence, the confidence of people that they are safe from those who would do harm.”