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Public Services

Rebuilding Trust and Delivering Safer Communities: New Polling Shows the Public Want to See Meaningful Police Reform


Paper3rd July 2023

Our Future of Britain initiative sets out a policy agenda for a new era of invention and innovation, based on radical-yet-practical ideas and genuine reforms that embrace the tech revolution. The solutions developed by our experts will transform public services and deliver a greener, healthier, more prosperous UK.

This is a critical moment for British policing. At a time when the challenge from crime is becoming more complex, performance standards are deteriorating, with fewer crimes being solved, fewer offenders being charged and brought to justice and public confidence at an all-time low. The fundamental principle of policing by consent upon which British policing is built is at risk; deep reform is needed.

To inform our research, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) commissioned a survey from Deltapoll asking people about the state of policing in the UK and their priorities for reform. The findings confirm that the public are deeply concerned about crime and policing, but also point to areas where they believe progress is possible, such as the use of digital identification to reduce online fraud.

Trust in Policing

First, we asked the public how much they trust the police in comparison to other public services and institutions. Our polling shows that while a majority continue to say they trust the police, the police are now trusted less than social services and the courts – neither of which would historically have been more trusted than the police.

Figure 1

Public distrust in the police occupies a mid-ranking position, dwarfed by distrust in government

From what you might have experienced, seen or heard, how much, if at all, do you trust each of the following public-service institutions to deliver their service effectively or to the standard expected of it?

Source: Deltapoll for TBI. Note: Due to rounding of the polling data, the data visualisations may not add up to exactly 100%.

Concern About Crime

Concern about crime is high. Nearly half of respondents nationally said that crime is a “very big problem” or “quite a big problem” in their area. There was some regional variation in people’s responses. The highest level of concern was in London and the lowest in the rest of the South, followed by Scotland.

Figure 2

Nationally, 45 per cent of the public – and in London nearly 60 per cent – say crime is a problem in their area

How much of a problem is crime in your area?

Source: Deltapoll for TBI. Note: Due to rounding of the polling data, the data visualisations may not add up to exactly 100%.

People were most worried about knife crime (18 per cent), online fraud (16 per cent) and burglary (12 per cent) – although anti-social behaviour (ASB) is the most commonly experienced incident (45 per cent have personally experienced or witnessed ASB in the last 12 months).

When segmenting by gender, the biggest differences between men and women were in concern about rape and other sexual offences (10 per cent women, 5 per cent men), burglary (14 per cent women, 11 per cent men) and knife crime (19 per cent men, 16 per cent women).

Experience and Reporting of Crime

One in five people have experienced a crime in the past 12 months – men at a higher rate than women (27 per cent and 13 per cent respectively).

When it comes to reporting a crime, the survey found that, of those who had personally experienced or witnessed a crime in the last 12 months, a very high proportion of the public did not do so, with the proportion rising even higher among women.[_]

Figure 3

41 per cent of people who experienced a crime did not report it to the relevant authorities

Of those who witnessed or experienced a crime, did you report this/these crimes to the police or other relevant authorities?

Source: Deltapoll for TBI. Note: Due to rounding of the polling data, the data visualisations may not add up to exactly 100%.

For those who chose not to report, the main reason given was that they did not feel the police would take it seriously or that they did not see the point (42 per cent). With charge rates for rape and other serious sexual offences already at historic lows, this is a finding that merits further scrutiny.

This apathy is likely to be negatively reinforced by what the public perceive to be an unsatisfactory response from authorities following the reporting of a crime. Nearly half of respondents who reported a crime to the police said that they were dissatisfied with the response they received from the authorities when they reported a crime, with respondents in the 55 to 64 age group particularly dissatisfied (69 per cent of those who had reported a crime).

Figure 4

People who report a crime – especially older complainants – are unlikely to be satisfied with the response from police or service received

Of those who reported a crime, how satisfied or dissatisfied were you with the response/service you received from the police or other relevant authorities?

Source: Deltapoll for TBI. Note: Due to rounding of the polling data and/or a focus on visualising specific responses, the data visualisations may not add up to exactly 100%.

The major reasons for dissatisfaction were:

  • “Didn’t get to see an officer face to face” (27 per cent)

  • “Police were dismissive/didn’t take me seriously” (23 per cent)

  • “Police were incompetent” (21 per cent)

  • “Police took too long to respond” (20 per cent)

What the Public Would Like to See From Their Local Police

Public expectations rest on the basic functions of policing being carried out routinely and to a high standard. “Answering 999 calls rapidly” is the most important function for the police to get right, according to respondents, closely followed by victims being kept informed on the progress of their case and having officers who are friendly, professional and approachable.

However, when asked how well the police perform on these basic functions, the public were clearly unimpressed.

Figure 5

A majority of the public think the basics of policing are important but a significant percentage do not believe the police are performing those basics well

How well or badly do you think the police currently perform on each of the following?

Source: Deltapoll for TBI. Note: Due to rounding of the polling data and/or a focus on visualising specific responses, the data visualisations may not add up to exactly 100%.

“Neither visible nor approachable” was the predominant view of local policing just about everywhere, although most strongly held in the North.

Figure 6

The public predominantly view the police as neither visible nor approachable, with variations by region

Just focusing on policing where you live, which one of the following best describes your view?

Source: Deltapoll for TBI. Note: Due to rounding of the polling data, the data visualisations may not add up to exactly 100%.

According to the public, visibility and approachability are getting worse. More than half of all respondents (51 per cent) said that the police are “less visible and approachable” than they used to be.

On the question of prioritisation, the public are evenly split between people who think the police should focus on the most harmful offences, such as violence (40 per cent), and those that think the police should respond to every incident, no matter how big or small (37 per cent). Interestingly, there is very low support for the idea that the police ought to be viewed solely as “crime-fighters”, with only 16 per cent agreeing that the police should only focus on crime and not emergency call-outs for non-crime incidents.

Figure 7

People are split on whether police should prioritise the most serious offences or respond to every incident, big or small

What should the police be prioritising?

Source: Deltapoll for TBI. Note: Due to rounding of the polling data and/or a focus on visualising specific responses, the data visualisations may not add up to exactly 100%.

What the Public Think About Police Powers

There is majority support for the widening of police powers to collect DNA, for example from those who are charged, rather than just those convicted.

The public are also in favour of greater police powers to tackle online crime, with the exception of being able to trace back online messages to individuals, which was perceived to be a threat to privacy.

Figure 8

Percentage of people who believe the police should have the following powers to most effectively fight crime

Which of the following should the police be allowed to do?

Source: Deltapoll for TBI. Note: Due to rounding of the polling data and/or a focus on visualising specific responses, the data visualisations may not add up to exactly 100%.

We also asked respondents to what extent they would support ending online anonymity and found that most respondents would either fully support or partially support reforms to end online anonymity if it helped to cut crime (83 per cent). Across age demographics, baby boomers were most likely to fully support online anonymity (59 per cent), while millennials were less likely to fully support online anonymity (46 per cent).

Figure 9

A majority of people would support reforms to end online anonymity and the rollout of a system of digital identification to reduce online fraud

To what extent would you support reforms to end people's ability to be anonymous online, for example, by requiring users to verify their identity before opening social media accounts, as a way to cut bullying, abuse and misinformation online? And to what extent would you support or oppose the rollout of a system of digital identification i.e., a system that proves people are who they say they are when online, as a way to reduce online fraud?

Source: Deltapoll for TBI. Note: Due to rounding of the polling data, the data visualisations may not add up to exactly 100%.

One mechanism which could be used to reduce online fraud is a system of digital identification. The public were generally in favour of this, with a clear majority of respondents saying that they would “fully support” or “partially support'' digital ID if it helped to cut crime. Again, younger people were more inclined to exemptions for certain groups such as whistleblowers or victims of rape.

Respondents were in favour of the police doing more to seize the proceeds of crime, with 88 per cent in favour of seizing assets from organised criminals who have been convicted of a crime and 58 per cent in favour of seizing the assets of suspected criminals.

People wanted technology companies to take responsibility for cleaning both criminal and harmful content from their platforms, with half of respondents saying they thought “big tech” should remove not only criminal content, but all harmful content online. Millennials were most concerned about the impact that removing harmful content online would have on other liberties, such as free speech (40 per cent).

Figure 10

A significant percentage of the public believe tech companies should remove both criminal content and all harmful content from their platforms, but free-speech concerns exist

As you may know, politicians have debated whether technology companies should be required to remove criminal and harmful content from their platforms. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your view?

Source: Deltapoll for TBI. Note: Due to rounding of the polling data, the data visualisations may not add up to exactly 100%.

Restoring Trust

When asked which would be the most appropriate way to rebuild trust in the police, the public were most in favour of better vetting of candidates who want to join the police. This was closely followed by a full root-and-branch review, which might involve sacking senior officers.

Figure 11

Percentage of the public that support specific interventions to rebuild trust in the police

Some people have told us that given high-profile criticisms they have lost trust in the police force. Which, if any, of the following do you think would be the most appropriate response to try and rebuild any lost trust?

Source: Deltapoll for TBI. Note: Due to rounding of the polling data, the data visualisations may not add up to exactly 100%.

Finally, we asked respondents to tell us what they thought the government’s most urgent priority should be when it comes to addressing issues in the criminal-justice system. The public were slightly more in favour of punishment than rehabilitation. Of the respondents, 31 per cent said that they were in favour of tougher punishments in the community as an alternative to prison, whereas just 18 per cent said that the government’s priority should be better support to rehabilitate offenders.

Figure 12

A higher percentage of people support tougher punishments over rehabilitation

Thinking about the criminal justice system as a whole, which one of the following do you think the government's most urgent priority should be?

Source: Deltapoll for TBI. Note: Due to rounding of the polling data, the data visualisations may not add up to exactly 100%.

Conclusion

These findings underscore the urgency of reform within policing, with the consent-based model under serious threat. They also show, however, that the public understand that if the police are going to be tackle new and emerging threats, such as online fraud, new thinking may be required, including an expansion of powers in the online space, such as the use of digital identification.

These insights have informed our work to develop a multifaceted programme of reform, with recommended policy changes that fall into five broad categories:

  1. Putting prevention at the heart of policing, with a new neighbourhood-policing guarantee and greater focus on diverting prolific offenders away from crime.

  2. A modern and flexible workforce, with multiple new entry routes into policing to encouraging new skills.

  3. A new focus on professional standards and responsiveness, with forces judged by HM Inspectorate to be failing to be subject to intervention from the centre and new ways for the public to drive action on issues of local concern, such as anti-social behaviour.

  4. An overhaul of structures, with a new national force to tackle threats that cross force boundaries and require a strategic response, encompassing counterterrorism, serious organised crime and cyber-crime.

  5. Smarter use of technology to prevent criminality, including digital identity to tackle online fraud and an expansion of facial-recognition technology.

Our full policy paper detailing this proposed reform programme is also published today.

Polling: Sample Details

Polling conducted by Deltapoll for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change looked at crime and policing public perception. Deltapoll interviewed 1,576 British adults online between 24 and 26 April 2023. The data have been weighted to be representative of the British adult population as a whole.

Full data tables can be viewed here

Footnotes

  1. 1.

    This is in line with polling undertaken in 2022 by TBI, which found that nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of the public did not bother to report ASB.

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