Sir Robert Peel’s first principle of law enforcement stated that the ‘basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.’ While much has changed since 1829, I think that there would still be broad agreement with that principle. The challenge is to ensure that what the police do in pursuit of that mission is both effective and efficient.
Over the last twenty years, evidence-based policing has followed evidence-based medicine in showing us how we can be most effective in achieving the overall purpose. There is no point in wasting public money on practices and activities that don’t work – in either policing or medicine. Chief constables will have to use the evidence to make difficult choices about their resources. In an interview last week on BBC's Victoria Derbyshire Show, I used burglary as a tangible example of where operational practice could change - this was highly emotive because of the impact of this crime on victims.
Research has shown us how to prevent repeat burglaries and that taking basic crime prevention measures work. Burglary rates are now at their lowest for thirty years. Evidence also tells us what works in solving burglaries. Either officers get there quickly and catch the offenders red-handed or forensic evidence is gathered from the scene. If the offenders have fled the scene before the police are called then fingerprints, footwear marks and DNA could be gathered without sending an officer. At the very least, a professional scenes of crime officer is the most appropriate person to retrieve such evidence. But as we all have access to more technology it is easy to envisage how victims might be able to quickly upload photographs or video on to digital crime reports that could enable officers to be sent to catch the offender much more quickly. If we are to catch offenders with stolen property, we know that every minute counts as ‘hot property’ will be sold or passed on within hours.
Over the last five years, policing has focused on being more efficient – of doing more with less. Over the next five years, the service will have to do less with more focus. That will partly rely on doing what we know works but will also need us to look at the way we do things. We need to make systems less complicated and therefore cheaper. Are all the steps in a process really necessary? Does it make sense to send a uniformed officer to the scene of a burglary to take a statement and look for forensic evidence, then a scenes of crime officer to gather the forensic evidence and finally a detective to investigate the crime?
The response to my comments about how the police service could protect the public and solve burglary in the future has been significant. I have read the coverage carefully. Some have interpreted my comments as a lack of compassion for victims of crime. It is quite the opposite – nobody should have their home violated by thieves. I want to ensure that precious police resources are focused on what works so that we can be more effective in protecting potential victims. As a police officer, I would prefer to maintain police posts so we can provide victim support but I am realistic about future levels of resources, which mean that alternative approaches must be discussed with candour, no matter how difficult that is.
The police service exists to prevent crime and disorder and that has not changed. However, the way in which we fulfil this basic mission can change without risking the safety of the public. Preventing and investigating burglary will always be important - how and when we do that may have to change. It is important I am honest with the public about that.