Coping Without Cops
Many of us have felt the effect of the cuts over the past five years as spending has been reduced for many public services including the police. Since 2010 in England and Wales we’ve lost 17,000 police officers, a quarter of police helicopter bases have closed and some forces have retired almost half of their police dogs. This reduction in budget has led some people to take matters into their own hands. But experts warn that the actions of these people can cause serious problems for police forces under pressure and even make prosecutions more difficult.
One of the most celebrated images of the police is the bobby on the beat - but according to the Police Federation, having a visible police presence and a friendly copper you can talk to, is all but a thing of the past as they warn they are becoming an ‘endangered species.’ In some parts of the country the streets are patrolled regularly - but not by the police, by ordinary, unpaid citizens.
Street Watch is organised in association with, but independent from, local police forces. It’s about residents taking responsibility for their areas by patrolling their own streets. They provide visible reassurance - patrollers wear high vis vests - similar to what the local bobby would have done - but they do not have police powers. If they encounter any criminal or anti-social activity they call the police for back-up.
So are the police’s budgets so low that now ordinary citizens are doing their job for free?
Bedfordshire Streetwatch co-ordinator, Valerie Davidson thinks not. “We are their eyes and ears” insists Valerie, and says that if something happens the police are just a phone-call away.
Others are choosing social media to bring communities together and fill the void of fewer police officers. Taaliah Nazar set up a Facebook group called Sale West Voice after some violent attacks in her area left residents feeling concerned. The group now serves the community of Sale West in Greater Manchester but also provides a communication link to pass on information from the police and vice versa.
Private security firm Crown Protection Services say over the last five years there has been a rise in the number of people asking for private residential patrols with dogs. In the past this may have been something you may have expected very wealthy to pay for but CPS employee Mark Harry says that now it’s just, “people who are doing well and want to look after what they have.”
man with dog at night
The Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Sara Thornton told us that she thinks the private sector does have a role to play but warns against the social inequality that could arise.
I don't think we can be too precious about us [the police] having to do everything. It’s about what the public can do, what charities can do, what individuals can do and yes, of course the private sector has a role to play. But you have to be careful about that because what you don't want to do is have a situation where those who can afford to can pay for security and those who can't clearly are less safe.”
So there are lots of options for crime prevention that you can do without the police but we found that victims of crime are taking matters into their own hands too. Daisey Crossman runs antiques shops and when she was the victim of theft for the third time she fought back by putting an image of the perpetrator on a social media website. The first two crimes hadn’t led to convictions but this time, her post meant that several members of the public came forward to identify the man. Daisey passed this information to the police. The man was arrested, convicted and received a prison sentence.
When it comes to fighting back against criminals, some people go a good deal further than Daisey though. Dark Justice are so called 'paedophile hunters.’ They set up fake online profiles of young girls in an attempt to ensnare child groomers and sex offenders. If the conversation turns sexual they arrange to meet them with their video camera and then pass the evidence to the police. They say that cuts to police budgets has led them to carry out this work themselves. But the police warn that taking matters into their own hands like this is not only dangerous but could contaminate evidence that the police are already working on.
“The chances are quite high that when some of these self-appointed vigilantes go after somebody that they are already the subject of interest for the police. They’re going to stumble into the middle of an investigation, it may not be every time but if they do it two or three times it’s enough.”
Dave Sherry has been labelled a vigilante too but his target is bad drivers. Following a road traffic accident where he was knocked off his bike, Dave decided to rig his bike with video cameras. He records drivers who he says, break the rules. He then submits this evidence to the police.
Some experts say the funding has got so low that the service now needs a complete restructure to be able to deliver effective policing for a lot less money. Peter Neyroud says that the current structure we have which was conceived in 1967 is no longer suitable for policing today.
We’re at a point of no return. Taking seventeen thousand officers off the street and then taking another twenty thousand officers off the street which is the probable impact of the cuts means that something’s got to change. A structure invented in 1967 is no longer fit for purpose.”
We asked the Home Office whether they were intending to go ahead with the planned cuts to police budgets and if they thought the police could continue to provide the a good service with less money and they said:
Funding levels for this year and next will “be determined through the next Spending Review”. They “acknowledge that the police funding settlement is challenging” but that there is no question that the police “still have the resources to do their important work.” They say forces have shown that it’s possible to “do more with less” and what matters is “how officers are deployed not how many of them there are.” They didn’t comment on whether the police as a whole should be restructured.