Crime barely featured in either of the last two general election campaigns, yet is steadily rising back up in the public’s consciousness. The IPSOS MORI Issues Index shows that “crime, order and anti-social behaviour” have in the space of three years risen from the 12th most important concern facing the country to the third, with 22 per cent listing it amongst the most important issues facing the country in June 2019 (up from 8 per cent in March 2016).[_] Dealing with crime should be the bread and butter of government - but it is being neglected in the chaos of Brexit. This undermines confidence in the state. It is also an affront to social justice: crime and the fear of crime disproportionately affects those in the most disadvantaged areas.
As we set out in our paper published last autumn, the statistics clearly demonstrate that patterns of crime are shifting. The big downward trends in “volume crime,” which began in 1995, have broadly continued (though it appears burglary is on the rise again), but there has been a sharp increase in lower volume “high-harm” offences, such as knife crime, robbery and gun crime. In particular, a story is emerging of interconnected crime types (including violence, acquisitive crime, and anti-social behaviour) driven by rising demand for and supply of drugs, fuelled by the phenomenon of “county lines” and a lack of effective diversion and enforcement.[_] This aligns with the spreading of violence outwards from cities into Britain’s towns and surrounding rural areas.
The changing nature of crime has been accompanied by an absence of political leadership from the Home Office, which has lost control on crime. In particular, no attempt has been made to understand or address the inter-relationships between different types of crime - anti-social behaviour, violence and organised crime - and its impact on communities. Since the arrival of police and crime commissioners (PCCs) in 2012, the Home Office has largely taken a back seat on crime and policing, treating it as an entirely devolved matter.
Meanwhile, there is a growing disconnect between stated policy on crime and its practice on the ground. Twenty years since the creation of crime and disorder partnerships in 1998, which established the structures for a joint approach to tackling crime, community safety is largely absent from the crime vocabulary and local government has retrenched. Hard-pressed police forces are increasingly left as the only line of defence confronting crime and anti-social behaviour in many areas, and yet funding has been met with increasing demand.
A radically new approach is needed on crime. This report sets out the state of play, argues for an ambitious strategy to disrupt the supply of and demand for harmful drugs, to tackle crime in its inter-connected forms, and meet the challenges and demands of 21st-century Britain.
The crime statistics paint a mixed picture. While the volume of crime continues its long-term downward fall, this masks dramatic increases in several categories of crime, from knife crime to burglary.
Serious violence is increasingly rapidly. Such violence is increasing in volume and severity; is spreading outside of urban areas; and often involves a blurred line between victims and offenders.
The long-term decline in acquisitive crime appears to be going into reverse. Recent statistics show rises in burglary and vehicle theft.
Experiences of anti-social behaviour are at their highest point in over a decade. Thirty-seven per cent of the surveyed public reports experiencing or witnessing anti-social behaviour in the last year, with increases driven heavily by drug-related behaviour.
These trends are not isolated phenomena, but part of an interconnected story around the demand for and supply of dangerous drugs. The crime types most associated with drugs on both the supply side (e.g. serious violence) and demand side (e.g. acquisitive crime) are rising in threat. Meanwhile, long-term falls in drug offences contrast with markers of increased use, increased purity, and reduced price, for some of the most harmful drugs, such as crack cocaine.
The people most impacted by crime - both victims and perpetrators - are increasingly among the poorest and most vulnerable communities. Dealing with crime is a social justice issue.
In this context, it is vital that the government utilise all the resources and levers at its disposal to tackle the problem. Instead, the Home Office appears to have lost control of the problem.
There has been a lack of leadership and grip from the centre on crime. Since the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners, the Home Office has looked like a department unsure of its role. Government strategies have been limited in scope, and have missed the points of interconnection between different types of crime. This absence of vision has been compounded by the political paralysis occasioned in Whitehall and Westminster by Brexit.
The system for dealing with offending is creaking at the edges. Despite recorded crime being on the rise, the rate at which offenders are arrested, charged and prosecuted has declined rapidly (see Figure 1[_]).
Early intervention efforts are piecemeal. The government is unable to say what proportion of young people are at risk of violence and cannot assess the impact of cuts to local preventative services.
Police funding has been stripped away, with reductions in officer numbers coming at a time of increased demand. The current home secretary now says 20,000 additional police officers are required to deal with rising crime - virtually the exact number that were cut by the Conservative-led coalition government between 2010 and 2015.
Total recorded crime, arrests as a proportion (%) of recorded crime, and proportion (%) of recorded offences leading to charge, years ending March, England and Wales
Principles for reform
The government should respond to this crisis by setting out a five-year plan on crime, backed by serious investment and the political willpower to use all the levers at its disposal to deliver it. This report argues that such a plan should be oriented around the following key principles:
National leadership, to ensure greater coordination and focus from the centre of government and that police funding keeps pace with demand;
Getting serious about prevention and early intervention, in particular, by addressing problems in the small numbers of individuals and families responsible for a large share of crime;
Effective enforcement, by bearing down on the small proportion of offenders who commit the majority of crime;
Embedding multi-agency partnership working at the local level, with local mayors and PCCs empowered to pool budgets and drive service integration.
As part of such a plan, government should consider a broad suite of reforms to tackle crime and its root causes in equal measure:
Stronger leadership from the Home Office, including through the creation of a new National Crime Prevention Board reporting directly to the prime minister and a ‘Police Performance and Standards Unit’ in the Home Office to support local forces’ improvement.
A long-term funding settlement for the police, which ensures that the number of officers and staff matches keeps pace with demand. At a minimum, this will require an additional 20,000 officers at a cost of £1 billion over the next three years.
Systematising early intervention backed by a new cross-government Early Intervention Taskforce (chaired by a cabinet minister) to coordinate policy and ensure early intervention is a central focus of the next spending review.
Reprioritising enforcement activity around the goal of disrupting the supply of harmful drugs into the UK, ensuring the National Crime Agency is focused on the drugs threat and that there is a targeted drugs unit within every force in England and Wales to improve investigation and prosecution of drug dealers.
Better use of technology underpinned by changes in procurement and regulatory frameworks to ease the use of life-saving technologies.
Re-invigorating community safety partnerships – empowering city mayors and PCCs to pool budgets and drive service integration locally e.g. around probation and prolific offending.
The scope of this paper
This paper focuses on the major categories of domestic crime currently being dealt with by the police, such as acquisitive crime, violence and anti-social behaviour. It does not look at transnational components of crime and/ or serious and organised crime, terrorism, nor does it focus on internet-enabled crime, which will be the subject of future work by the Institute. It is also largely addressed to those areas of policy currently falling within the remit of the Home Office: it does not attempt to provide a complete analysis of the courts, probation and prison systems.
Patterns of crime have changed dramatically over the last ten years. While the total volume of crime has continued to decrease, high-harm offences, such as knife and gun crime, have increased significantly since 2014. A growing proportion of crime takes place in “hidden” spaces, away from the public realm, while the cohort of offenders coming before the courts appears to be getting younger and more prolific.
In particular, there is an emerging story of interconnected types of crime driven by the demand and supply for drugs. On the demand side, the need for money to satisfy addiction is motivating acquisitive crime (such as burglary), with over 60 per cent of such crime estimated to be drug-related. On the supply side, shifts in drugs markets are fuelling violent competition between groups, most visibly manifested through the phenomenon known as county lines.[_] Drug-use is also driving a rise in anti-social behaviour.
The changing nature of crime
The total volume of crime, as measured by the Crime Survey for England and Wales, has been decreasing steadily over the past two decades, falling from a peak of 19,780,600 offences in the year ending December 1995 to 11,041,000 in December 2018.[_] However, the aggregate trends mask a whole series of ways in which patterns of crime are changing, and crimes are becoming increasingly interconnected. These are explored in more detail below.
Trends in violence
The evidence on violent crime in England and Wales is mixed, with different sets of figures apparently telling us different things. Total violence recorded by the police has increased dramatically since 2014. However, this may partly be a function of police forces having improved their recording practices, as well as changes in what types of offences are classified as violent (including the recent inclusion of offences such as harassment). For example, the recent rise in the number of sexual and domestic violence offences recorded by the police is believed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to be primarily due to a greater willingness to report offences, coupled with improved recording practices. It is notable that the recorded figures contrast with statistics from the Crime Survey of England and Wales, and Cardiff University’s annual study of violence; both of which suggest overall violence has declined.[_]
On the other hand, there is a subset of low-volume, “high-harm” violence, such as robbery, knife crime, gun crime and murder, for which police figures are thought to be a more reliable indicator of underlying trends (and less affected by recording changes). Between March 2014 and March 2018, the number of recorded homicides rose by 33 per cent, now standing at its highest point since March 2008. Over the same period, recorded robbery offences also rose by 33 per cent, while firearm offences rose by 34 per cent, and selected knife offences rose by 58 per cent[_]:
Indexed trends in police recorded serious violent offences, years ending March, England and Wales
Not only is the volume of serious violence increasing, but the severity of violent offences is increasing too. Hospital admissions data highlights a substantial rise in the number of cases of ‘assault by sharp object’ dealt with by hospital staff over the last five years, rising by 39 per cent between 2015 and 2018.[_]
Hospital admissions in NHS hospitals in England for assault with sharp objects, years ending March 2004 - March 2018
There has been a similarly significant increase in knife-enabled robbery offences, rising by 45 per cent between March 2014 and March 2018 - and at a faster rate than the comparable increase for all recorded robbery offences (33 per cent).[_] As a result, it is reasonable to infer that robbery is becoming more violent in general.[_]
Contrary to popular perception, the escalation in serious violent offences is occurring most quickly outside of urban city centres. For example, increases in knife crime in London between 2014 and 2018 were more pronounced in outer-London boroughs such as Enfield (43.6 per cent) and Harrow (76.6 per cent) than they were in inner-London boroughs such as Southwark (38 per cent) and Lambeth (26.6 per cent).[_] Across the country, the three English forces experiencing the largest percentage rises in recorded knife crime offences between the years ending March 2014 and March 2018 were Warwickshire (230 per cent), Hampshire (168 per cent) and Norfolk (159 per cent), albeit from a much lower base[_].
Ten police force areas with the largest percentage rise in selected recorded knife crime offences, years ending March 2014 - 2018, England
This could be connected with the county lines phenomenon, involving the exportation of drugs (and associated violence) out of urban areas and into surrounding counties. While estimates of drug consumption are not produced at police force area-level, area classifications from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) do show a significant increase in class A usage in rural areas, with the proportion of adult residents reporting use in the last year doubling between 2014 and 2018[_]:
Increase in the proportion (%) of 16 to 59 year-olds reporting use of any Class A drug in the last year by Output area classification, 2013/14 - 2017/18
Victims and perpetrators
Violence is increasingly affecting younger individuals, many of whom are being used by drugs gangs in exchange for financial reward.[_] Incidences of violence with injury against children aged between 10 and 15 have increased over the last year from 330,000 to 383,000.[_] And as the chart below demonstrates, a significant proportion of the increase in homicides since 2014 has been driven by victims in the 16-24 age bracket[_].
Number of recorded homicides by age group of victim, England and Wales, year ending March
There is also a considerable overlap between victims and offenders within serious violence. In London, 220 of the 306 suspects named in 2017 homicide investigations had previously been a victim of crime (72 per cent); furthermore, 26 per cent had been a victim of knife crime specifically prior to the investigation.[_] This chimes with anecdotal evidence from the police, suggesting that many individuals become stuck in cycles of tit-for-tat violence that move rapidly upwards in severity.
Analysis of when robberies are committed suggests a shift towards robberies committed after school, increasingly enabled by knives. This trend tallies with our qualitative research - the police have made clear that a large proportion of knife crime is linked to robbery against young people.[_],[_]
Proportion (%) of CSEW incidents of robbery by time of day, years ending March
Trends in acquisitive crime and drug offences
In addition to rising serious violence, there are signs that the long-term decline in acquisitive crime is reversing. Statistics from the Crime Survey (CSEW) indicate a stabilisation in the number of offences for acquisitive crime types over recent years, with a slight increase in the last year for vehicle offences. These trends are supported by police-recorded data, which show a recent increase in theft, burglary and vehicle offences, following many years of reductions.[_]
CSEW incidents of selected acquisitive crimes (thousands), years ending March (2002 - 2016) and December (2017 - 2018)
There is also huge geographical variation. As the chart below shows, Bedfordshire and the West Midlands have experienced approximately three times the increase in rate for recorded burglary – a generally well-recorded offence – as other forces.[_]
Ten police force areas with the largest increase in the rate of recorded burglary offences per 1,000 population, years ending December 2015 - 2018, England and Wales
We might expect to see rises in acquisitive crime mirrored by an increase in drug offences. In fact, the opposite appears to be true: fewer drug offences are being recorded by the police, with a 19 per cent drop in England and Wales from the year ending December 2014 to the year ending December 2018.[_] However, there are solid reasons to believe that this reflects lower levels of detection and enforcement on the part of the police, rather than a genuine reduction in drug dealing and use. These are explored in more detail below.
The aim of drugs supply disruption by law enforcement agencies should be twofold. By increasing drug seizures, it aims to cause supply shortages that theoretically will drive up prices (assuming reasonable elasticity) and/or reduce purity, leading to a reduction in demand. In parallel, it attempts to force dealers to leave the market, resulting in reduced overall harm. However, neither of these aims is currently being achieved.
Firstly, figures indicate that police forces and the Border Force are conducting fewer seizures, with a fall of 40 per cent between 2010 and 2018.[_]
Number of drug seizures made by police forces and the Border Force, England and Wales, years ending March 2010 - 2018
This trend is borne out by responses to a recently commissioned government inquiry into the increase in the use of crack cocaine, which stated that:
Treatment workers and service users observed that there were generally fewer police on the streets, and there appeared to be less capacity to target drug dealers or people carrying small amounts of drugs. Also, some police officers reported that their forces no longer had dedicated drugs squads.
Participants in several areas said that deals were often carried out quite publicly, and some dealers made little effort to hide their activities. Police officers also commented that a lack of capacity made it difficult to prioritise drug-dealing, as they had to prioritise serious violence or crimes with a safeguarding element, such as those involving children and vulnerable adults.[_]
Secondly, evidence from drug markets suggests a substantial increase in availability and purity of certain drugs. As the chart below demonstrates, retail prices for cocaine and heroin have been steadily decreasing over recent decades.[_]
Standardised UK street price (£) of cocaine and heroin per gram, 1990 - 2016
In previous years, cocaine retailers have maintained revenues by adjusting purity, allowing them to keep street prices relatively consistent. However, the last few years have bucked this trend, with increases in the purity of powder and crack cocaine. This suggests a flooding of the cocaine market with cheap, high-quality product that has disrupted the practice of established UK retailers.[_]
Mean purity/potency (%) of small quantity drug seizures of certain illicit drugs in England and Wales, 2003 - 2016
These shifts are driven by both domestic and international factors. For example, the widespread use of social media and improvements to communication technology have opened up new channels of opportunity for those involved in drug supply to quickly and easily shift drugs around the country. “County lines” is a phenomenon in which gangs and organised criminal networks export illegal drugs into new markets around the country, facilitated through dedicated mobile phone or social media ‘lines’ by which individuals may order new provisions. In 2018, there were approximately 1,000 branded lines within the UK, primarily supplying crack cocaine and heroin (accounting for 69 per cent of all drugs supplied by branded lines).[_]
Alongside that, there have been substantial changes in global and European cocaine markets in recent years that have led to a glut of cheap and high-purity product.[_] In 2016, global coca bush cultivation is estimated to have increased for the third consecutive year, rising by 76 per cent since 2013, due in part to an expansion of activity in Colombia. The presence of cocaine has become more widespread geographically, whilst sophistication in cocaine manufacturing methods has increased.[_]
Meanwhile, organised crime groups are establishing increased control over the UK market, exploiting the aforementioned county lines to rapidly distribute cheap, pure product, and reducing retail costs by establishing direct relationships with suppliers and cutting out wholesalers. Recent police intelligence suggests that Albanian gangs, in particular, are sourcing cocaine from cartels at some £17,000 per kilo less than rivals paid through wholesalers.[_]
Thirdly, consumption of Class A drugs and drug-related illnesses are on the rise. According to the most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales, 3.5 per cent of adults had taken a Class A drug in the last year, an increase of 0.5 per cent compared with the previous year and one decade ago.[_] Class A drug use among 16-to-24 year olds has been steadily increasing from 2011/12, with a substantial rise in the proportion claiming to have used such drugs up from 6.2 per cent to 8.4 per cent in the space of six years. The proportion of 16- to 24-year olds reporting cocaine use in the same period doubled from 3 per cent to 6 per cent.
Deaths related to poisoning by drug misuse have increased by 38 per cent since 2007, and hospital admissions for drug-related mental and behavioural disorders have increased by 9 per cent over the same period.[_] The National Crime Agency (NCA) reports particular concern with the emerging use of fentanyl, carfentanil, analogues and precursors (FCAP).[_] These products have already contributed to an ongoing synthetic opioid epidemic in the US and Canada. According to the ONS, deaths related to fentanyl have increased by 29 per cent in the last year (from 58 to 75), with deaths from fentanyl analogues rising sharply from 1 to 31 per cent.[_]
The impact of increasing drug availability and consumption stretches beyond acquisitive crime. Academics have long recognised the link between overly-saturated drugs markets and serious violence, for example, through competition between rival criminal groups for market dominance. A recent government inquiry into crack cocaine use found that:
Dealer-on-dealer violence sometimes involved ‘turf wars’ between London-based groups in areas where county lines dealing was taking place. There were also reports of violence between county-lines groups and local drug-dealing groups, as the county-lines groups tried to move into the local drugs market.[_]
Given this context, the fall in recorded drug offences would appear to disguise highly concerning trends for crime and violence in particular, rather than being a cause for celebration.
Statistics on anti-social behaviour demonstrate the effect that increased drug supply and use can have on communities, another critical point of interconnection with other crime trends. Anti-social behaviour incident data recorded by the police shows a consistent downwards trend over the past decade, with a 39 per cent drop over the past seven years (years ending December 2012 to December 2018). However, public experience does not bear out the same trend. For example, the Crime Survey for England and Wales records 37 per cent of respondents experiencing or witnessing anti-social behaviour in the last year - the highest proportion since the data was first collected in March 2012 - while the proportion of respondents to a poll by BMG Research who state that crime and anti-social behaviour is either a “very big” or “quite a big” problem in their local area has increased by 10 percentage points over the last year:[_],[_]
Number of recorded anti-social behaviour incidents and personal experience/witnessing of anti-social behaviour in the last year ending December, England and Wales
The discrepancy between recorded incidents and public experience may be due to a change in the way anti-social behaviour is categorised. The ONS suggest that some anti-social behaviour incidents are now classified by police forces under “public order offences”, a category for which recorded crime has increased by almost 200 per cent over the last five years.[_],[_] If true, this would fit with public experience, and would represent an important upwards trend in overall levels of anti-social behaviour.
The most significant rises in personal experience of anti-social behaviour relate to vehicle-related behaviour, drug use and dealing, and groups hanging around on the streets. This appears to reinforce the trends for acquisitive crime and drugs identified above, and highlight the cross-cutting effects of increased drug supply and demand on communities.[_]
Change in the proportion (%) of CSEW respondents personally experiencing/witnessing individual types of anti-social behaviour, years ending December 2014 - 2018
The profile of offenders being dealt with by the police and courts has changed considerably over the last decade. While the proportion of offenders who reoffend has fallen since 2008, those who do reoffend have become significantly more prolific over the past decade, with a higher number of previous offences.[_]
Reoffending statistics for cohorts in years ending March 2006 - 2017, England and Wales
Similarly, while the number of offenders cautioned or sentenced for indictable offences with no previous convictions or cautions has decreased by 67.1 per cent since 2008, the number of those with 36-or-more convictions or cautions has risen substantially.[_]
Change in the number of offenders cautioned or sentenced for indictable offences by number of previous convictions/cautions, years ending December 2008 - 2018, England and Wales
The statistics explored above paint a concerning picture, with increases in serious violence, acquisitive crime and anti-social behaviour suggesting government has lost a grip on crime. These trends are not isolated phenomena, but part of an interconnected story regarding the role of the drugs market in fuelling both the “demand” and “supply-side” of crime. On the demand side, patterns of rising drug use appear to be fuelling rises in acquisitive crime and anti-social behaviour. On the supply side, an increasingly brutal drugs market is playing its part in an epidemic of serious violence, with low fear of enforcement and a ready supply of pure and cheap cocaine facilitating the spread of drug-related violence outside of urban areas. The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, Cressida Dick, recently reiterated this point, stating that “undoubtedly, the drug markets are a big part of the problem”, and telling the Home Affairs Select Committee that “the vast majority of those young people [perpetrating and becoming the victims of serious violence] are engaged in drug activity one way or another.”[_],[_]
Why it matters
Policymakers should be concerned by these trends for several key reasons:
Impact on wellbeing
The highlighted crime types can exercise a particularly deleterious effect upon personal well-being and health. In a 2012 study, Christian Dustmann and Francesco Fasani identified a “significant, and negative, impact of overall local crime rates on the mental distress of residents in urban areas”, driven by property crime and “routine” violent crime.[_] Increased fear of crime can lead to psychological consequences and “constrained behaviours”, including curtailed exercise and even criminalisation through weapon-carrying.[_],[_],[_],[_] Recent research also indicates that this fear is contagious, meaning that generalised feelings of insecurity can be spread quickly even if the rate of crime slightly decreases.[_]
Loss of control
Serious violence and acquisitive crime and anti-social behaviour fuel a narrative of the state having lost control. A pervasive sense of physical unsafety is likely to affect economic growth, as businesses, investors and shoppers are deterred.[_] This is concerning in a UK context, especially given that 57 per cent of respondents to a July 2018 ComRes poll agreed with the statement: “Police officers have lost control of our streets and criminals no longer have any fear of being caught and brought to justice.”[_]
Cost to public services
Thirdly, rises in crime incur significant costs to society at large, including through lost output and the cost of increased personal security. They incur particularly high costs for public services (e.g. police, the courts, and the NHS), all of whom are forced to meet demand increases usually through a reallocation of existing resources that can lead to decreases in the quality of provision elsewhere, for example, through the deprioritisation of “lower-harm” offences that feed serious offending further down the line.
Statistics published by the Home Office demonstrate the impact of these costs. For example, each homicide results in a cost of £819,530 to public services, while each robbery incurs a cost of £5,450. Using calculated crime statistics for 2015/16, the Home Office estimate these costs for all crime and for selected offence types to be as follows:[_]
Overall cost (public services)
Violence with injury
Troublesome cohort of offenders
The rise in prolific offending indicates the presence of an increasingly difficult cohort for whom prison is not working. Moreover, the trends identified in this section suggest that this cohort may expand and become more problematic in the future. Home Office research shows that most prolific offenders begin their criminal careers with minor offences such as theft (shoplifting in particular), and that prolific offending is strongly associated with drug use.[_] Given the signs of an end to the decline in acquisitive crime, coupled with evidence of increased drug use (especially for acquisitive crime-related drugs such as crack cocaine), a future increase in prolific offending appears to be likely. This makes it especially important that the government intervene.
Disproportionate impact on poorer communities
Finally, crime and the fear of crime disproportionately affect the poorest communities within society. Modelling of the indices of multiple deprivation (IMD) identifies a strong correlation amongst local authorities between general deprivation and crime deprivation (comprised of indicators for violence, criminal damage, theft, and burglary).[_],[_]
Rank of average rank of overall IMD with respective deprivation rank for IMD (crime)
Fear of crime also appears to be concentrated around the most deprived areas. The most recent findings from the Crime Survey show that concern about violent crime is ten percentage points higher in the 20 per cent of most deprived areas than in the 20 per cent of least deprived areas, and is five points higher amongst households with an income of less than £10,000 than any other income group.[_]
Part 1 identified a challenging picture for crime and disorder, with interconnected increases in serious violence, anti-social behaviour and acquisitive crime aggravated by shifts in drug markets, and the presence of a small group of increasingly troublesome offenders. The effects of these trends are wide-ranging and severe, with the impact falling disproportionately on those communities most in need.
However, while these trends reflect deep-rooted and complex problems, they were not inevitable. Part 2 will chart the ways in which the current system has failed to rise to the challenge.
Lack of leadership and grip from the centre
The most significant reform to policing structures over the past decade has been the introduction in 2012 of directly-elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs), replacing police authorities, with a remit to set police force priorities and agree the budget. While PCCs have introduced much-needed local accountability into policing, this has been accompanied by a ‘stepping back’ by the Home Office, which appears to have become a department without a clear sense of vision or purpose on crime, treating it as an almost entirely devolved matter.
To give one relatively small but significant example, research and analytical outputs that inform policy development appear to have withered, particularly on areas such as policing, drugs, and alcohol. The last research paper to be published by the Home Office’s alcohol and drug research team dates to November 2016.[_] Meanwhile, the policing research team has published just three papers since 2012.[_]
This absence of analysis is symptomatic of a broader lack of strategic direction within the Home Office. The closest the Department has come to a “vision” on crime is the publication of a “crime prevention strategy” (2016), which is largely a list of ongoing programmes, and a series of individual crime-specific strategies with varying levels of ambition.[_] Similarly, despite an increased level of threat, the Strategic Priorities set by the home secretary for the National Crime Agency (tasked with disrupting drug networks) fail to mention significant challenges including the supply and demand for drugs.[_]
As a result, police forces and PCCs lack a clear conception of what the government wants to achieve on crime, and problems (e.g. stark rises in knife crime) are only identified and addressed when it is far too late. During the 1990s and 2000s, a series of landmark pieces of legislation were passed, establishing new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour, organised crime and violence, underpinned by a clear vision for criminal justice originally set out in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. In recent years, such vision and legislation has been absent. Instead of being ahead of the game, the government has been playing catch-up.
This absence has been noted by senior police leaders. In October 2018 the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Sara Thornton, told the Home Affairs Select Committee that “the recent focus has been on the local”, adding, “accountability is local” and “most budgets are local”. But she observed that this “does beg the question about what is the role of the centre and how do the various pieces at the centre work together.” Similarly, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said that the police service’s relationship with the Home Office “sometimes feels as if there is not much central push; it is, ‘Get on with it and good luck.’”[_] In an interview in November 2018, the Commissioner went further, stating that “the Home Office has stepped back a lot?… I do see a greater leadership role for the Home Office than the one they have chosen to take recently.”[_]
The legislation that has been passed has failed to have its desired effect, hamstrung by the aforementioned lack of strategy and resources to drive their use. For example, the 2014 legislation relating to anti-social behaviour introduced a “community trigger”’, which was to be activated when complaints made about anti-social behaviour were not addressed. The power was intended to give local residents some leverage to galvanise action, but its success was dependent on an informed and empowered community and an integrated community safety response from the local authority. However, neither of these components have accompanied the introduction of the legislation. In a 2016 survey, only 3 per cent of the population was aware of the existence of the community trigger, and the most recent available data shows that the average number of community triggers activated per year is just 2.6 per local authority.[_],[_]
This absence of vision has been compounded by the political paralysis occasioned by Brexit. Promised reforms from the current prime minister on issues from childhood obesity to long-term plans for social care have been shelved, as Civil Service resources have been diverted to preparations for different Brexit scenarios.
A creaking system
One of the most visible manifestations of this lack of grip has been an inability to listen to practitioners and act accordingly. In May 2015, then Home Secretary Theresa May told the police to “stop crying wolf” over cuts, accusing officers of “scaremongering”. Repeated warnings from the front-line about a system close to collapse have been ignored. The consequences can be perceived at every stage of the “offender journey”.
Efforts to prevent crime are piecemeal and not systematic
There is substantial evidence to suggest that many of those who get caught up in crime have experienced significant adversity in childhood. A longitudinal cohort study carried out by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in 2012 found that 24 per cent of prisoners claimed to have been in care at some point during their childhood.[_] Twenty-nine per cent had experienced abuse and 41 per cent had observed domestic violence; meanwhile, 37 per cent of surveyed prisoners reported having family members convicted of a criminal offence.
The failure to intervene early can be measured and quantified. The most recent estimates from the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) suggest that the cost of late intervention (measured in terms of the impact on crime) is £5.9 billion.[_]
Government ministers have often lauded the benefits of early intervention work in improving overall life chances, with Theresa May herself arguing in August 2017 that “we know that early intervention, along with giving young people the confidence to access support, is key”.[_] However, the government’s actions on early intervention have not matched its rhetoric.
While a number of (relatively small) grants have been allocated specifically toward early intervention, these have not been accompanied by any wider attempts at system reform, to ensure that schools, social services and local authorities have both the incentives and the means to intervene at the right point in children’s lives i.e. before they start offending. The Home Office’s Serious Violence Strategy (published in 2018) earmarked £22 million for early intervention. This equates to just £1.67 per young person under the age of 18.[_]
At the same time, significant pressure on local authority budgets, along with an increase in the number of children in care, has resulted in a major reorientation of spending on children services. Around half of total children's services spending now goes to the 75,420 looked-after children (whose numbers have increased by 25 per cent since 2006).[_],[_] A further 38 per cent is spent on safeguarding and family support, with the number of children on child protection plans increasing from 43,190 to 53,790 between 2012/13 and 2017/18.[_] This has led to very significant cuts to non-statutory children’s services with the total funding spent on Sure Start children's centres and youth services (including youth offending teams) cut by 60 per cent in real terms between 2009/10 and 2017/2018[_].
As a result, children are currently unlikely to get help until they are on the cusp or (already involved in) offending, by which point it is often too late. As the Children’s Commissioner points out: “Children do not arrive in extreme need overnight and many could be prevented from getting to that point if we helped them sooner in a more effective way. We are, in effect, attempting to manage and contain crises in children’s lives after allowing it to escalate.”[_]
Similarly, police-related prevention initiatives remain piecemeal and inconsistent. An investigation by Schools Week found that at least 13 police forces do not possess any dedicated police officers in schools, with one academy using its own resources to fund the presence of an officer.[_]
One of the few government initiatives focused on systematic early intervention is the Troubled Families Programme, established by David Cameron in 2012, under the leadership of Dame Louise Casey. The programme, which built on efforts by the previous Labour government to build respect within communities, was designed to improve the way that services are delivered to families with multiple problems, including crime, anti-social behaviour, school attendance, domestic violence, employment and health problems. A recent evaluation suggests the programme is achieving promising results. For example, when compared to a matched comparison group, the programme was found to have reduced the proportion of children on the programme going into care by a third and reduced the proportion of adults on the programme going to prison by a quarter and juvenile convictions by 15 per cent.[_] However, the programme remains dependent on the investment of local partners, and without strong and visible government backing, faces an uncertain future.
Government’s approach to enforcement has been incoherent and half-hearted
In recent years, some politicians on the left have hesitated to call for tougher enforcement, preferring to focus on issues such as police numbers that command a broader base of political support. However, for these additional resources to be effective, they must be accompanied by genuine powers of enforcement to tackle criminality at all levels; if not, the presence of more officers will do little to deter criminality. What is more, there is strong evidence to show that the likelihood of being caught is more of a deterrent than the severity of punishment given.[_]
The dramatic fall in drug-enforcement activity has already been described. However, we can assess this further by looking at four examples of specific enforcement techniques: arrests/charges, stop and search, civil justice and police technology.
Over recent years there has been a consistent decline in the number of arrests made by police and the proportion of offences leading to charge, in spite of rising levels of police recorded crime. In the year ending March 2018, only 12.9 per cent of total recorded crime led to arrest, while only 9.1 per cent of offences led to charge (see Figure 1 in the Executive Summary).[_] This has fallen from 31.6 per cent and 16.2 per cent respectively in 2011.
Moreover, the number of individuals being dealt with formally by the criminal justice system is at its lowest point since 1970 (1.59 million), while the gap between this figure and total recorded crime is at its highest point since that same year[_]:
Total recorded crime (years ending March) and number of individuals being dealt with formally by the criminal justice system (years ending December), 1970 - 2018, England and Wales
Not all of this decline is about poor performance. For example, some of it is likely to be explained by the growing complexity of crimes being dealt with by the police and the additional investigative burden incurred through the need to download and sift vast amounts of digital evidence. Nonetheless, there is considerable evidence that crime is responsive to police presence - and that the fear of detection can deter potential offenders.[_] As such, the decline in those being caught, arrested and prosecuted is a worrying development.
Stop and search
This reduction has also been witnessed with regards to stop and search. Stop and search can be an effective tool in preventing and deterring certain types of crime.[_] However, limitations on its use have proven to be one of the few areas in which the Home Office (under former Home Secretary Theresa May) have taken a proactive role. The effects have been dramatic. Arrests have fallen by 56 per cent from 108,161 to 48,014 between 2014 and 2018. Looked at another way, each year approximately 50,000 offences now go unpunished where they would otherwise have been subject to sanction.
While policymakers should avoid measures which unnecessarily “widen the net” (for example, by incentivising the police to arrest offenders for relatively minor offences) the falls that have occurred in recent years have been just as likely to be for serious offences. For example, the number of arrests for offensive weapons has decreased by 5,768.[_]This is especially concerning given the fact that all else being equal, falls in drug stops result in fewer knives being taken off the streets:[_], [_]
Number of searches (under section 1 of PACE and associated legislation) and resultant arrests, and proportion (%) of searches resulting in an arrest, England and Wales
The use of civil orders has long been a means of restricting illicit or undesirable patterns of behaviour, outside of the formal criminal justice system. The last Labour government introduced anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) to tackle anti-social behaviour from 1998 onwards.[_] The Conservative government committed to a dual system of anti-social behaviour injunctions (ASBIs) and criminal behaviour orders (CBOs) in 2014, and in response to significant public pressure, the home secretary recently announced his intention to legislate for new “knife crime prevention orders”.
Used appropriately, civil powers provide relief for victims, and protection against criminal activities. However, statistics on convictions for breaches would suggest that the use of civil powers has been steadily decreasing overall.[_] This is not surprising as civil orders are often issued by local authorities, who are increasingly shrinking away from community safety-type activity. The graph below demonstrates that despite the introduction of CBOs in 2014, total use of civil powers has continued to decline (though earlier data and data on issuance of civil injunctions is not consistently published)[_]:
Number of convictions for breaches of anti-social behaviour orders and criminal behaviour orders, 2009 - 2018
In October 2018 the Home Affairs Select Committee reported that “police forces’ investment in and adoption of new technology is, quite frankly, a complete and utter mess”.[_] Forces are facing rapidly-evolving threats from criminals who exploit new technology in advanced and innovative ways, yet their own technological solutions are not always up to the task. There are enormous opportunities for policing, including greater use of artificial intelligence and the exploitation of data, but the service is often failing to take advantage of them.
This is not only about a lack of investment. There has been a systematic lack of coordination and leadership around the use of technology within policing over many years. For example, many police forces still struggle to get crucial real-time information from each other, which is a serious impediment to effective investigations. Despite repeated commitments from government, police databases and communications systems are not unified. While fully integrated systems risk large-scale IT failure, an alternative way forward could adopt common standards for data entry and publish application programming interfaces (APIs), providing police forces with real-time updates of other systems without the need to unify them into one system.
This has been compounded by the government’s failure to kick-start a public discussion about the merits (and risks) of allowing the police to deploy technologies such as face-recognition and predictive policing. In fact, the police have largely been left to try and have that debate on their own. Meanwhile, limits on police capability have meant that existing enforcement-based technology has not been utilised to its maximum capacity; for example, while forces possess vast quantities of data, they lack the sophisticated data-mining tools and infrastructure needed to analyse it.[_]
The architecture for gripping prolific and drug-related offending has been stripped away
The arrangements pioneered by previous governments in an effort to divert prolific offenders away from crime (such as the Prolific and Priority Offender scheme) were abandoned by the Conservative-led coalition government.[_] As highlighted above, this has been accompanied by a significant upwards turn in the number of previous convictions per offender.
Diversion and treatment schemes for drug-related offending have been similarly hollowed out. In particular, having wound down and removed central funding for interventions specifically addressing the overlap between drugs and offending, central government has failed to set a new direction or examples of best practice, even in the face of changing patterns of drug misuse.
As part of its ten-year strategy to tackle drugs misuse, the previous Labour government introduced an initiative specifically focused on the intersection between drugs and crime. Implemented in 2003, the Drugs Intervention Programme (DIP) aimed to get adult drug-misusing offenders who misuse heroin and cocaine/crack cocaine out of crime and into treatment.[_] This was delivered locally through integrated partnership teams (Criminal Justice Integrated Teams) with a case-management approach, offering treatment from arrest through to sentencing and resettlement into the community, and functioned closely alongside other initiatives such as the Prolific and Priority Offender scheme. Research from the University of Liverpool indicates that DIP programmes “reduce crime, improve quality of life and reduce subsequent drug use”, resulting in an average net saving of £668 to broader society (through costs including crime response and reduced emotional/physical impacts on victims).[_]
Home Office funding for DIP programmes ceased in 2013, with responsibility for drug-related provision devolved to local areas. This has led to variation in the level of provision and in the quality of service. For example, a RAND evaluation of equivalent liaison and diversion schemes for mental health also funded locally found that local control was “resulting in variable coverage and content of services, and potential missed opportunities for identifying needs and improving mental health and other outcomes”.[_]
The government’s 2017 Drugs Strategy failed to provide a meaningful alternative to the previous DIP model. Instead, the commitments made on treatment were broad; the strategy promised to “encourage wider use of drug testing on arrest”, and to “build on and expand” existing signposting to relevant services from within the criminal justice system. Similarly, no new commitments were made on ‘problem-solving courts’ (involving judges overseeing treatment progress through court reviews), or on reinstating central direction for the drug-offending aspect of Integrated Offender Management schemes (IOM), themselves also devolved to local areas. The damage this has done to drug-related offending is already clear. Furthermore, a recent government inquiry highlighted the need to develop the same kind of intervention measures abandoned by the current government some years earlier:
This inquiry has highlighted the need to explore more effective methods of getting crack users into treatment and to provide a more attractive treatment offer which is tailored to their specific needs.
It has also identified the need for more effective links from the criminal justice system into treatment services for these individuals, for example through greater availability of arrest referral schemes and improved monitoring of drug rehabilitation requirements.[_]
Victims’ needs are not addressed
Codified support for the victims of crime was first placed on a statutory footing in 2004 (through the Victim’s Code), and subsequently evolved into the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime.[_] This code explains the service that victims ought to receive from involved agencies at all stages in the criminal justice process. For example, clause 1.5 of chapter 2 states that adult victims are entitled to be informed within five working days of a suspect being arrested, interviewed under caution, released without charge, or released on bail, with full reasoning given by police. Similarly, clause 1.13 provides victims the opportunity to make a Personal Statement, whilst clause 1.1 allows for an assessment of victim need, with relevant information offered on support services.
However, although the Code is statutory, its provisions are not legally enforceable and no single agency is responsible for monitoring compliance. In 2015, research from Victim Support found that six out of ten victims nationally were not receiving their due entitlements, while only one in six were given the opportunity to make a Victim Personal Statement in 2018. A recent review by the independent victims’ commissioner for London, Claire Waxman, found that:
...the Victims’ Code of Practice (VCOP) is failing to deliver the improvements and sense of change required because of fundamental, systemic problems that need fundamental, systemic change to resolve. Victim needs are not being met by it and agencies are struggling to deliver it. Reform is urgently needed.[_]
The impact of poor provision for victims is clear from statistics on crime outcomes. While other factors may play a role, the proportion of offences for which investigations yield no charge/disposal due to evidential difficulties related to victims not supporting action has almost doubled since 2015. This is critically important, as it shows that the failure to engage victims is harming conviction and prosecution rates[_]:
Proportion (%) of recorded offences by outcomes assigned, years ending December 2015/December 2018, England and Wales101*
The Victims Strategy 2018 promised a strengthening of the provisions within the Code, with an increased role for PCCs in monitoring compliance and a consultation promised for early 2019 on enshrining rights in legislation through a Victims Law.[_] However, little progress has been made since publication, with the promised consultation yet to launch.
The broader criminal justice system is at crisis point
This paper is focused on crime and policing, and does not attempt an overview of the entire criminal justice system. However, the story of a loss of central government control has been reflected across courts, probations and prisons, where profound problems are likely to be further exacerbated by the increases in serious violence. For example, courts are taking longer to resolve criminal cases, with the average number of days between offence and completion in the Crown Court having risen by 42 per cent between 2011 and 2018.[_] Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons has referred to “some of the most disturbing prison conditions we have ever seen”, with increases of 114 per cent in assaults and 120 per cent in self-harm incidents between 2008 and 2018.[_],[_] Similarly, the number of offenders recalled for breach of licence in the three months ending December 2018 stood at 6,413, a 43 per cent increase on the comparable period in 2013.[_]
The “Transforming Rehabilitation” reforms introduced by former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, which broke up the probation service, are widely considered to have failed, and a decision was taken by the current justice secretary to terminate the private contracts with Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) 14 months early and to re-nationalise probation. A report by the National Audit Office found that the reforms did not yield the expected progress or innovation; led to significant increases in the number of people being recalled to prison; and created ineffective services to support transition from prison back into the community.
Lack of police funding
Despite increases in costly types of offences in recent years, officer numbers have fallen dramatically. In the year ending September 2010, there were 145,015 full-time equivalent police officers across all forces; by the year ending September 2018 this number had dropped to 122,395, a fall of 16 per cent. Amongst police community support officers (PCSOs) the decrease is even more stark, with a fall of 40 per cent in numbers nationally.[_] This has left over half of all police forces with fewer than two officers per 1,000 population[_].
Number of police officers per 1,000 population by police force area, at 30 September 2018108
According to leaked Home Office research, cuts to police funding “may have encouraged” violent offenders, as the fear of enforcement diminished. This is reflected in charge rates; for example, while 76,154 robbery offences were recorded in 2017-18, only 14,976 arrests were made.[_] This reflects an arrest rate of 19.7 per cent, below half the comparative rate for 2009-10 (43.3 per cent).[_]
Furthermore, police funding per head of population has been decreasing while recorded crime in general, and serious violence in particular, is on the rise. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate has repeatedly warned that this has caused a reallocation of resources away from preventative policing and towards a focus on the more reactive elements of policing[_]:
Central government revenue funding in real terms (2018/19 prices) per head (£) and total police recorded crime (years ending December 2010 - 2018)111
Mental health demands on policing
There is compelling evidence that mental health-related incidents are having a significant impact on police demand. Overall 3.5 per cent of all incidents handled through command and control rooms have a mental health dimension.[_]
The volume and complexity of acute or urgent cases is increasing and there are gaps in local health arrangements, particularly in the provision of accessible support for those whose mental health is significantly deteriorating, and in respect of acute 24-hour mental health emergency response, including access to beds. Underinvestment in mental health services means that NHS capacity issues are impacting on the police and hindering efforts to shift from a police to a health-based response. Such cases are placing a disproportionate weight on police resources.
The number of people in contact with NHS secondary mental health, autism and learning disability services in the UK has almost doubled since 2010/11 and stood at 2.5 million in 2017/18.[_] The proportion of these admitted to hospital halved between 2010/11 and 2016/17, which means that more were being treated in the community.[_]
Police forces are, in the words of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), left to “pick up the pieces” for a crumbling system.[_] In a November 2018 inspection, HMICFRS found that police investment in mental health training is inconsistent, and that forces lack a clear understanding of the demand issues arising from mental health issues. For example, the top five individual repeat callers to the Metropolitan Police Service in 2017 called a combined total of 8,655 times, costing the service £70,000 just to answer the phones.[_]
As part of his pitch for the Conservative leadership, Home Secretary Sajid Javid pledged to prioritise £1 billion towards the cost of an additional 20,000 police officers by 2023 - almost the exact number that had been cut as a result of George Osborne’s deficit reduction programme between 2010 and 2015. It is impossible to read Javid’s intervention as anything other than an implicit acknowledgement that the cuts in policing budgets have contributed to an upsurge in crime.
Principles of reform
Reform of the system should be underpinned by four clear principles:
National leadership, to ensure greater coordination and focus from the centre of government and that police funding keeps pace with demand;
Getting serious about prevention and early intervention, in particular, by addressing problems in the small numbers of individuals and families responsible for a large share of crime;
Effective enforcement, by bearing down on the small proportion of offenders who commit the majority of crime;
Embedding multi-agency partnership working at the local level, with local Mayors and PCCs empowered to pool budgets and drive service integration.
As the lead department for policing, the Home Office must step up to the plate and play a much stronger role in crime and policing policy. While the creation of PCCs has strengthened local accountability and enabled greater innovation locally, many of the challenges outlined in this report - whether it be the lack of coordination on drugs policy between forces, or around the lack of strategic direction on serious violence - national leadership is required. When it comes to influencing or partnering with global internet companies, the NHS or the education system, individual police forces cannot match the power and influence of a central government department.
In recent years, the Home Office has been institutionally nervous about taking a more proactive role on policy, for fear of being accused of excessive central interference. However, there are signs that Ministers have recognised the problem and are beginning to shift departmental policy. For example, when asked about the role of the Home Office, including its ability to instruct forces to sign up to national programmes, the policing minister responded:
“That has not been our model, but we are moving into a different phase now where the Home Office is considering our role in relation to the system. As many in the police system, my view is that the Home Office needs to take a stronger view on a number of things.”
Such a shift - assuming it is carried through - is to be welcomed, rather than feared. Sitting back and leaving it to individual police forces is irresponsible.
Getting serious about prevention and early intervention
A core principle should be to shift the balance of public spending away from costly reaction towards early intervention and prevention. There are some challenges around delivering this in practice. For example, investment in early intervention rarely produces “cashable savings” in the short-term, and those agencies bearing the initial costs are rarely the same agencies realising the benefits later on, thus reducing the incentive to prioritise front-end spending.[_]
However, these barriers, while significant, are not insurmountable. With greater central coordination, it would be possible to ring-fence departmental budgets for front-end work, and drive departments to demonstrate how their spending plans will assist long-term crime prevention efforts. Equally important, given what we know about the impact on victims of serious violence, is a more integrated support system for victims that addresses the psychological, emotional and physical harms and bespoke services for those caught in up cycles of violence, as both offender and victim.
Moreover, rather than seeing “prevention” and “enforcement” as separate approaches, they should be viewed as two sides of the same coin. Enforcement should be used as a trigger for intervention, for example, with restored neighbourhood policing involved in ensuring that arrests of gang leaders are followed through with automatic wraparound support for the siblings and family members of those in the immediate vicinity.
The government’s incoherence on enforcement (from changes around stop and search to weakening of anti-social behaviour orders) stems in part from a fundamental failure to listen to those on the frontline about the tools they need to tackle problems in their communities. The current home secretary appears to be improving in this regard, unpicking many of the positions of his predecessor, encouraging greater use of stop and search, and introducing new tools such as knife crime prevention orders to restrict the movements and activities of known knife-carriers.
A more coherent approach to enforcement would entail an expansion of both police and civil powers, as well as reforms to unlock the potential for greater use of police technology.
Multi-agency working at the local level
The Crime and Disorder Act 1998, passed over 20 years ago, explicitly set out to recognise the role of local public services in community safety, rather than relying solely on the police. Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (now known as Community Safety Partnerships) - comprising health, local councils, police and probation - were the most visible manifestation of that approach, underpinned by a statutory duty to cooperate. In recent years, those partnerships have been allowed to wither and in many parts of the country have become inactive. They need to be reinvigorated.
This has been partially recognised by current Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who in April 2019 announced his intention to consult on the creation of a new “duty to cooperate”, albeit focused solely around violence and additional funding for a “public health approach”. However, the creation of new legal duties - overlaid onto existing local governance arrangements - will not itself be sufficient to achieve the kind of step-change required in multi-agency working.
To achieve sustainable change, reforms at the national level need to be accompanied by a commitment to empower city mayors and PCCs with the tools they need to drive service integration locally. For example, while many of the policy levers for reducing reoffending lie at the local level – such as housing and homelessness support, substance misuse and mental health provision - the current system of offender management is highly centralised and fragmented. Local agencies lack the incentive to invest in services to tackle reoffending, because they do not financially benefit from it, while services are split across a range of structures with overlapping geographical jurisdictions. Now that the government has announced its intention to reverse Chris Grayling’s probation reforms, there is an opportunity to give local areas both the means and incentive to pool budgets and join up services.
Similarly, government should be seeking to support and scale up multi-agency schemes to target the small number of offenders who drive a large proportion of total crime. Some forces have proactively adopted models of neighbourhood policing that involve co-locating the police with other public services. In Greater Manchester, for example, Integrated Neighbourhood Teams comprise PCSOs and/or neighbourhood officers working in the same office as a number of other practitioners, such as housing officers and mental health professionals, who work together on multi-agency interventions for individuals who repeatedly come into contact with a range of public services.
Below we identify a series of policies that would begin to restore order to our communities and reduce crime. Implementing them would certainly incur an upfront cost to the Exchequer, though we believe that the net effect would improve outcomes (in the form of lower crime) and thus deliver savings over the long term.
In truth though, solving the current crisis is as much about the level of leadership, focus and grip as it is about resources. That is not measured in individual policies, but in a clear and visible determination to use every lever at government’s disposal to tackle the problem over a sustained period.
The crime and disorder challenges facing the country require the Home Office to play a more proactive role in shaping and driving crime and policing policy.
The Home Office should publish a Crime and Policing Five Year Forward Plan, which sets out how policing will evolve to meet new challenges, such as shifts in drugs markets and the rise in serious violence. Such a plan would set the strategic framework and vision in which individual police forces operate, the steps (and hard choices) needed to get us there, and the actions required of others.
The plan should be coordinated and driven forward by a new National Crime Prevention Board - reporting directly to the prime minister - involving leaders from the police, local government, probation and health services. The Board should be specifically tasked with influencing other parts of government - the NHS or schools - as well as the private sector and global internet companies.
This should be underpinned by a long-term funding settlement for the police, which ensures that the number of police officers and staff keeps pace with demand. The current home secretary has said the police require an additional 20,000 police officers by 2022 at a cost of £1 billion. This needs to be the starting point for any settlement.
The Home Office should create a new Police Performance and Standards Unit to support local forces in driving improvements. Rather than a crude command and control-type body, this Unit should be dedicated to working with local forces in identifying and unblocking barriers to delivery, becoming a repository of good practice, and enabling national benchmarking, for example, around better use of technology.
Early Intervention and Prevention
Government should make early intervention a central objective for the next Spending Review - with an explicit commitment to steadily increase the proportion of total expenditure devoted to early intervention. This should be informed by a comprehensive review of how much local authorities currently spend on early intervention services.
The government should establish a new Early Intervention Taskforce - headed by a cabinet minister - to coordinate and drive system change across government, through:
More systematic identification of children most at risk of offending, such as those excluded from school or persistently truanting and those who have been victims of crime;
A particular focus on children experiencing domestic abuse in their family;
Whole-family support for children at risk of violence including siblings of those already caught up in violence;
Recognising the threats from outside families that can draw children into criminal and other risky behaviour through exploitation.
The Home Office and Department of Health should jointly pilot a new and expanded Drug Intervention Programme to address the underlying causes of those whose criminality is driven by drug misuse. Such a programme needs to be comprehensive, addressing emerging drug trends and changes to drug markets and should ensure:
Community safety partnerships are proactive in minimising the harm caused by street-level drug dealing;
Enforcement is a trigger for intervention, with offenders routinely triaged and diverted into treatment (from arrest through to sentence);
Investment in front-line drug workers with expertise in, and responsive to, the increased range and potency of new/emerging drugs.
Drug legalisation: a panacea?
Some commentators and campaigners have advocated for decriminalisation of drugs possession, along the lines of the 2001 policy pioneered by Portugal.[_] This would mean that possession of drugs of all class types (including cocaine and heroin) for personal use would no longer be deemed a criminal offence, with the respective “administrative violation” generally leading to voluntary participation in diversion services.
There are three main arguments for legalising possession:
The desire to restrict the size of the illicit market;
Limiting the incarceration of vulnerable drug users;
To regulate drug use in a safer way.
These arguments deserve to be considered seriously and in an evidenced-based way, rather than dismissed out of hand. However, there are reasons to be sceptical that such an approach would offer a panacea to drug-related harms. For example, decriminalising possession would not necessarily eradicate the illicit market. Despite the legal status of tobacco, the selling of fake cigarettes is estimated to cost the UK taxpayer £2 billion a year in lost revenue.[_] Similarly, there is little evidence that decriminalisation would make a significant dent in our prison population. Analysis of MoJ sentencing data shows that out of all those committed to immediate custody in 2018, only 1.17 per cent had been found guilty of drug possession offences.[_]
Perhaps more importantly, decriminalisation of the possession of all drugs would do little to address the supply-side situation relating to drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin, which are driving serious violence and the exploitation of vulnerable children. In this context, legalisation of the possession of such drugs can be seen as something of a distraction, aside from the merits of any potential legalisation of cannabis.
Notably, despite the 2001 reform, Portugal has adopted a tough approach on disruption of the supply-side of the drugs market, with the total number of drug seizures increasing significantly since 2007.[_]
The MoJ should develop a new programme of support for victims of violence which addresses psychological, emotional and physical harm. This programme should form a core part of the MoJ contribution to a new Early Intervention Taskforce (see above) to ensure that this work is linked to protecting those victims who are at risk of being drawn into crime. This programme should also consider the development of alternative responses to group violence, such as services to de-escalate violence working closely with the police and voluntary sector.
The Home Office should support the police to reprioritise enforcement activity around the goal of disrupting the supply of harmful drugs into the UK, including through:
Re-focusing the Strategic Priorities of the National Crime Agency (set by the home secretary) so that they explicitly include the disruption of harmful drugs markets, such as heroin and crack cocaine;
Ensuring there is a targeted drugs unit within every force in England and Wales, to strengthen local intelligence around shifting drugs markets;
Encouraging the police to work with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to improve investigation and prosecution of drug dealers;
Making better use of existing civil orders and injunctions to control drug-related anti-social behaviour, and consider introducing further injunctions to limit county lines activity (including through restrictions on travel).
Government should use the recently announced reforms to probation as an opportunity to review and strengthen current approaches to managing prolific offenders. Specifically, this should look to learn from the approach pioneered in Greater Manchester, where “integrated neighbourhood teams” (comprising police, housing, mental health, probation officers) work together on multi-agency interventions for individuals who drive much of the demand across local public services.
The Home Office should extend the range of tools and powers available to tackle new and emerging threats, such as the criminal exploitation of young people, and to restrict the movements of those involved in criminal activity. This should include a national consultation on:
Extending police and local authority enforcement powers, focused on stop and search and civil injunctions, e.g. by limiting travel of those involved in moving/ dealing drugs across multiple locations;
Using civil orders as a trigger for wraparound support - protecting victims of criminal exploitation;
Building trust in enforcement powers (such as stop and search) through compulsory community review panels, evaluated to ensure faithful community representation and meaningful feedback channels to officers.
Government should publish a national strategy on police technology, providing the investment, guidance, and legislative clarity needed to maximise crime prevention opportunities while securing public consent. This should provide:
Targeted transformation funding for police forces and PCCs to ensure the police are in a position to maximise new technologies;
A nationally-coordinated approach to procurement of technology;
Robust governance and oversight to facilitate public understanding and consent for the use of new police technologies, such as predictive policing.
Multi-agency working embedded locally
The new National Crime Prevention Board should be tasked with rebuilding capability and capacity to drive action locally and empowering mayors and PCCs to drive service integration. This should include:
Reinvigorating Community Safety Partnerships - supporting police forces and local authorities on taking a place-based approach to tackling crime and disorder in their communities;
Empowering city mayors and PCCs to pool budgets and drive service integration locally. In particular, there is an opportunity to grant city mayors (in London, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the West Midlands) the ability to shape and commission probation services in their region, enabling them to coordinate probation with other key services in the local area and invest in early intervention.
Tackling crime in all its forms and keeping people safe is a fundamental role of government. From the ‘high-harm’ offences that leave victims, families and loved ones bereaved, to the anti-social behaviour that disrupt communities and leave residents feeling unsafe, the effects of criminality are as severe in damage as they are extensive in scope. The psychological effects are particularly acute. Adverse childhood experiences from episodes of trauma (including domestic abuse) are strong predictors of future offending. Meanwhile, public anxiety at rising crime constrains behaviour, and damages trust.
In recent years communities have been let down by inattention at the highest levels of a government that has lost direction on crime. Positive moves towards devolution have offered the Home Office a cover with which to absent themselves on crime, settling for a piecemeal approach to policy and research. This has been accompanied by a reactive approach to emerging trends that has allowed serious problems from drugs to prolific offending to become embedded. Laudable language on tackling crime and its causes only helps when it translates into genuine change. Failure to provide that change leaves the victims of crime and practitioners on the ground out in the cold.
There is another way forward. Progressives should champion a long-term plan on crime, underpinned by common principles and a clear understanding of what works to tackle offending in all of its connected forms. By championing community safety, low-level criminality can be tackled at source, with proactive intelligence fed upstream to assist enforcement against complex, “high-harm” crimes. By laying out a progressive governance framework for police technology coupled with genuine investment, government can bring enforcement into the 21st century, supported through reasonable expansion of effective enforcement powers to tackle knife possession and drugs. By supporting Early Intervention and victim services, coupled with a commitment to modern drug and offending diversion programmes informed by cutting-edge analysis, the routes to criminality could be cut off at source. All could be underwritten by a long-term funding settlement, insured against unreasonable demands for immediate results.