Police forces have to prioritise crime

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Police services are being unconsciously rationed, the inspector said - PA Archive/PA Images

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has approved new powers to issue the police with more powerful Taser stun guns, which will doubtless be welcomed by officers placing themselves in danger in the line of duty. But a far more pressing problem for the Government is highlighted in the report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) into the effectiveness of policing in general.

The massive increase in sexual abuse cases, historic offences and reported domestic assault is overwhelming the investigative capacity of many forces.

It shows that the changing nature of policing is having a significant impact on the ability of forces to cope. In particular, the massive increase in sexual abuse cases, historic offences and reported domestic assault is overwhelming the investigative capacity of many forces.

Rightly or wrongly, these used to be much lower priorities; now they are near the top. The police have responded to greater popular expectations for these crimes to be dealt with. But this comes at a cost, which is that other offenders get away with it because there are too few detectives available.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey - Credit: Norfolk Police 

Some obvious remedies suggest themselves, such as the sharing of detectives across force boundaries and greater rationalisation, perhaps with a national murder squad – a role once taken on by Scotland Yard. While merging constabularies has never been popular with local people, there is no reason why they cannot collaborate routinely in investigations.

Encouraging more officers to become detectives never used to be a problem, but appears to be now. Whereas uniformed officers were once keen to move into plain-clothes detective work, modern pressures on CID departments and the level of expertise required for some specialist investigations are such that there is a growing reluctance to join.

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Dealing with this problem is not going to be easy nor always palatable. Simon Bailey, the chief constable of Norfolk, this week proposed that men viewing child pornography on the web could be cautioned rather than arrested, tried and jailed – with all the resources of the criminal justice system that entails. This would free up the police to deal with the really dangerous offenders, he said.

But even before anyone had considered whether his idea was worth exploring, it was denounced by all and sundry. A rational debate about priorities in policing is impossible in such a climate. And yet without one, the problems highlighted by HMIC can only get worse.

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