How Theresa May’s careless cuts destroyed Britain’s police service | Letters

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The Guardian

Dal Babu’s article (I was a senior officer – and even I struggle to get the police to investigate crimes, 11 August) follows the report on police failings by the chief inspector of constabulary. Like Babu, I too was a chief superintendent, and then served as a deputy police and crime commissioner (PCC) before retiring in 2014. We are now suffering the consequences of the actions of the worst home secretary in living memory, Theresa May, supported by her austerity boys George Osborne and David Cameron.

Under the guise of reform, May hollowed out the police service. The loss of tens of thousands of officers and support staff stripped the service of vast experience, well-established processes and, most importantly, time. She stripped away the ability to investigate. Those left on the frontline, with no support behind them, are simply not able to undertake what is expected of them.

As a deputy PCC, I witnessed this destruction first-hand. On Home Office instruction, the force’s property assets were sold off and cash reserves emptied; staff contracts were terminated and officer recruitment frozen. Gone were decades of experience and opportunities for progress. Protecting the frontline became all important to keep the facade that policing remained. Officers without training found themselves expected to do everything that the previous experienced support departments had done.

In 2010, May also removed the requirement that chief officers serve in another force prior to their appointment. This had ensured decades of innovation, sharing of good practice and new blood. The result now is that most chief constables are internal appointments, doing things they have always done, with no experience of alternative methods. Nepotism is back, and the focus is inward and – given the level of criticism – on keeping your head down. Expect more of the same. The service will take a generation to recover, if it ever does.
Mark Dennett
Deputy PCC, Northumbria, 2012-14

Your leader comments trenchantly on the police failures identified in the report by the chief inspector of constabulary, Andy Cooke (The Guardian view on police priorities: doing the wrong things badly, 11 August). These types of experiences do not generate confidence in the police. As you say, good policing requires a community-based approach.

The regulation of police conduct in custody suites should be handled by the community. Conduct in custody suites, where there are on average 20 deaths each year and a disproportionate number of deaths of Black, Asian and minority ethnic detainees, is almost entirely self-regulated.

We do have a statutory scheme for regulating police conduct in custody suites: the independent custody visiting scheme, which facilitates unannounced visits by members of the local community to check on the welfare of detainees.

The original proponents of custody visiting saw its purpose as the deterrence of misconduct by the police. But the scheme has been designed by the Home Office and the police so as to cause the least trouble to the latter. My findings from a PhD – published in 2018 as Regulating Police Detention – were that the scheme was not independent, had no effect on police misconduct and obscured the need for reform. The scheme should be reformed to make it an effective regulator, operated by the community.
John Kendall
External associate, Centre for Crime, Justice and Policing, Birmingham University

August 16, 2022 at 10:03PM Letters

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