The Home Secretary conceded that public confidence in the justice system had been hit in recent years but said the Government’s decision to boost police numbers by 20,000, along with changes such as simplified stop-and-search rules, meant it was time to turn the tide.
New national targets on cutting crime would be introduced and police chiefs would be held to account for failure.
She warned she would be “unapologetic” about doing this, adding: “Police leaders should be visionary crime fighters and not pen pushers — that’s why you joined up in the first place.”
Ms Patel also called for a new drive to improve diversity in senior ranks.
Her speech to a joint conference in London of the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners followed the publication of official statistics showing the number of offenders being brought to justice at a record low.
The Home Secretary said that in response the Government was putting law and order “at its very heart”, and praised frontline officers for tackling “ruthless county-lines drugs gangs”, terrorists and other offenders.
But she warned that major improvements must be delivered by the time the 20,000 extra officers promised over three years were in place: “People must see a difference. Less crime. Safer streets. No excuses. The public won’t accept them, and neither should we.”
Ms Patel said forces would need to be more efficient and make savings.
Police chiefs were told a new Crime and Policing Performance Board would assess their progress in meeting new targets. These would focus on reducing “murder, serious violence and neighbourhood crime” as well as “victim satisfaction”, the “roll up” of county lines and helping “those whose lives are torn apart by domestic abuse”.
Ms Patel said it was an “ambitious list” but warned: “There must be no weak spots. So, these outcomes will be non-negotiable, and I will be unapologetic about holding you to account.”
NPCC head Martin Hewitt recently warned that the criminal justice system was “breaking” in places and victims were being “let down” as a result.