Overstretched police risk becoming ‘irrelevant’, MPs warn

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Policing is at risk of becoming “irrelevant” as neighbourhood teams are stripped back and huge numbers of crimes go unsolved, MPs have warned.

A report by the Home Affairs Committee said forces in England and Wales were “struggling to cope” amid falling staff numbers and rising crime.

It also accused the Home Office of a “complete failure of leadership”.

The Home Office said it was engaging with police to ensure they get the resources they need.

But the report warned there would be “dire consequences” for public safety without additional funding and urged policing to be prioritised in the government’s Autumn Budget.

While recorded crime is up by nearly a third in three years, charges or summons have fallen by 26% and the number of arrests is also down, according to the findings of the 18-month inquiry.

Data gathered by the committee suggested forces have lost at least a fifth of their neighbourhood policing capacity on average since 2010.

Highlighting the role of neighbourhood teams in tackling terrorism and gang crime, the report said local links were particularly important in communities where distrust of the police was high.

‘Badly overstretched’

The report also criticised the Home Office for failing to provide leadership in the adoption of new technology and responding to changing crime patterns.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the committee, said officers were “performing a remarkable public service in increasingly difficult circumstances” but were “badly overstretched” and struggling to respond to growing challenges such as online fraud and online child abuse.

The committee found only a tiny proportion of online fraud cases are ever investigated and forces are “woefully under-resourced” for the volume of online child sexual abuse investigations they must carry out.

A Home Office spokesman said it had been on the “front foot”, engaging with forces to understand the demand and changing nature of crime they face.

“The home secretary has already been clear that he will prioritise funding for the police,” he said.

The department added that the government had delivered a £460m increase in overall police funding in 2018/19, including increasing funding for local policing through council tax.

National Police Chiefs Council chairwoman Sara Thornton said the report rightly recognised the “serious strain” forces were under and demonstrated how challenges could not be met by institutions acting alone.

Police Federation of England and Wales vice-chairman Che Donald said the government needed to recognise the “true cost of policing” or officers would not be able to keep the public safe.

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