Cut ‘symbolic gestures’, Braverman tells police in England and Wales

Suella Braverman has ordered police chiefs to spend less time on “symbolic gestures” and more time on policing.

In an open letter to police leaders in England and Wales, in which she set out her policing agenda, the new home secretary said diversity and inclusion initiatives “should not take precedence” over tackling crime.

“Unfortunately, there is a perception that the police have had to spend too much time on symbolic gestures than actually fighting criminals,” she wrote in the letter, published on Saturday.

“This must change. Initiatives on diversity and inclusion should not take precedence over common-sense policing.”

Admitting that recent years had been “challenging” for police forces, she said she was “dismayed by the perceived deterioration of public confidence in the police”.

Singling out the Metropolitan police, she added: “We have seen too many high-profile incidents which have shattered public trust in communities across the UK. Culture and standards in the police have to change, particularly in London.

“It is absolutely vital that trust is restored and to address this, we must have visible and responsive policing. It must deliver the public’s priorities, and it must treat victims with the respect they deserve.”

Laying out her priorities, she said police must “get the basics right”, including reducing antisocial behaviour, responding to burglaries, and cutting homicide, serious violence and neighbourhood crime by 20%.

She said drugs, vehicle theft, vandalism and graffiti were “not being treated seriously enough” but praised police for their “brilliant work” on county lines.

However, the former attorney general added: “We need to go further and faster on other drug-fuelled crimes and antisocial behaviour.”

She said she was also “deeply concerned” by the low proportion of cases being investigated and converted into charges and prosecutions – especially rape and sexual offences.

“I want to investigate how we can improve charge rates, which have dropped for many crimes, but none more so than for rape and sexual offences against women and children,” she wrote.

“I will expect all forces to engage with the learning from the Operation Soteria pilot and strongly encourage you all to take up the national model when available from June 2023 for all forces. Simply put, the system needs to work better together: we need more police referrals and more CPS charges.”

She promised hundreds of millions of pounds in funding, that has already been committed by the government for 2022-23, and an additional 20,000 officers through the police uplift programme.

She said she expected all chief constables and police and crime commissioners to meet force level allocations by March and then maintain numbers.

Police must work “effectively and transparently” and “improve performance and accountability”.

“At its best, policing in this country is the best in the world,” she added. “That must and can be the standard that all forces hit. You have my full support in making that happen.”

She also thanked police for their work during the period of mourning after the Queen’s death, when she said they faced “an unprecedented security challenge”.

“You have demonstrated to the world the high standard of British policing. On behalf of the nation, thank you.”

Her comments quickly attracted criticism. Nazir Afzal, the former chief crown prosecutor for north-west England and ex-chief executive of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said policing issues did not lie in gestures but in public-service funding cuts.

“Police are not ‘taking the knee’ instead of fighting burglary. They are not ‘doing the Macarena’ instead of catching criminals,” he wrote on Twitter. “They are looking after mentally ill people cos the NHS can’t. The problem is HER Govt have decimated public services inc policing.”