Five former Metropolitan Police chiefs have warned cuts to numbers and the “virtual destruction” of neighbourhood policing risk emasculating the force.
In a letter to the Times, the former top brass said the cuts – along with moves to undermine police powers – had led to a feeling of lawlessness both in the capital and the country as a whole.
The letter was signed by Lord Condon, Lord Stevens, Lord Blair, Sir Paul Stephenson and Lord Hogan-Howe, who collectively ran the Met from 1993 to 2017, as well as three other senior officers.
They wrote: “The reduction of police and support staff by more than 30,000, the virtual destruction of neighbourhood policing and the inadvisable undermining of lawful police powers such as stop-and-search, have taken their toll.
“Common sense suggests that these factors have contributed to the feeling of lawlessness generated by knife murders and ‘county lines’ drugs.”
It said the police service’s resources had been reduced to “dangerously low” levels.
The letter added: “Police and crime commissioners, however well motivated, do not have the skills or resources to address the emasculation of British policing experienced in recent years. If they become victims of crime, the public have perilously low expectations of the police today.
“This cannot be acceptable in our modern, diverse democracy. It is the first duty of any government to protect its citizens from harm.
“The responses to terrorism, cyber-crime and the restoration of police resources and confidence cannot be provided by a fragmented system comprising more than 40 territorial police forces.”
As well as increased resources, they called for a royal commission on policing to restore public confidence in the service.
The letter came just a day after the chief inspector of constabulary warned public safety could be put at risk unless “profound and far-reaching” police reforms are urgently introduced.
In his annual assessment of policing in England and Wales published on Thursday, Sir Thomas Winsor said if changes are not made, forces “face unacceptable compromises in quality of service levels of public safety”.
Sir Thomas called on police chiefs and politicians to make “bold and long-term decisions” to improve policing in his report for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
He said: “There are indications that some forces are straining under significant pressure as they try to meet growing complex and high-risk demand with weakened resources.”
In the report, which looked at the state of policing between April 2018 and May 2019, Sir Thomas said: “I believe some profound and far-reaching aspects of police reforms are called for.
“For these reforms to take place, leaders in central government, police and crime commissioners and chief constables will all need to make bold, long-term decisions.
“If they don’t, the wind-speed of police reform will fall to a flutter, leaving the police service increasingly unable to meet the demands it faces.
“The inevitable legacy of such an approach would be unacceptable compromises in both the quality of service the police can offer the public and the level of public safety and security the police can uphold.”