Summarising the post-pandemic changes in police work and the decrease in public confidence.
Impact of Covid
Police work is returning to pre-pandemic patterns with less of a focus on non-crime activity. Total crime is at historically low levels but the picture over the past year is less clear. Police forces face the challenge of integrating new officers recruited through a government programme, but shortfalls remain in some localities and key areas such as fraud and investigations. Despite the increase in officer numbers, the proportion of recorded crimes being charged is at its lowest ever level and confidence in the police has fallen.
In 2020/21, £15.1bn was spent on policing in England and Wales; this was 6.4% more in real terms than in 2019/20. A large part of this rise came from a government drive to recruit more officers, which increased spending by £700m in 2020/21 with a further £400m allocated for 2021/22. The total additional funding available to the police for Covid was £200m.
The pandemic changed the nature of police work. There was a dramatic fall in traditional volume crimes such as theft and burglary. Police increasingly focussed on non-crime activities such as anti-social behaviour and mental health-related incidents, acting as “the service of last resort” as other frontline services withdrew.
Total crime is at historically low levels but the picture over the past year remains unclear. It is likely that overall crime (excluding fraud) has fallen and the rise in police recorded crime is largely due to improvements to recording practices, particularly of crimes reported by professional third parties such as social services. The proportion of recorded crimes that result in charges rose slightly in 2020/21 but fell to a new low of 6% in 2021/22, continuing the decline since 2014/15. These have fallen particularly sharply for some types of crime. Between 2014/15 and 2021/22 the charge rate for sexual offences, including rape, fell from 11.3% to 2.9%. The government’s end-to-end review of rape in England and Wales described this as a totally unacceptable situation and attributed it to complex factors such as increasing levels of digital data requested from victims, a national shortage of detectives and delays in investigative processes.
By June 2022, 13,790 additional officers had been recruited. A National Audit Office review found that new officers are not meeting current local or future policing needs and there continue to be shortfalls in specialist policing areas such as intelligence and investigations.
There is a wide range of survey evidence suggesting that public confidence in and satisfaction with police performance has fallen. In a survey carried out between July 2020 and June 2021, 46% of respondents said they either had not very much or no confidence at all in the police to deal with crime, compared to 39% a year earlier.