Have cutbacks to cash harmed UK justice?

Hampshire Constabulary's chief constable Andy Marsh, left, with Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire Simon Hayes
Hampshire Constabulary's chief constable Andy Marsh, left, with Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire Simon Hayes

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  • Grant cuts have forced police in Hampshire to save £80m
  • Fewer officers on the street has changed how crime is dealt with
  • Chief constable and crime commissioner looking at alternatives to criminal justice system
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Police have moved into libraries, courts face being closed and fewer officers are left to deal with crime.

There have been heavy cuts to the police and justice system – but has dramatic change driven by cost-saving created a new approach to justice?

Ultimately, the government has been forcing a change in the face of policing across the country

Simon Hayes

Unprotected from the Treasury’s cuts, the Home Office and Ministry of Justice are expected to have to slash their budgets.

Further cuts may be at a rate of 25 to 40 per cent – Hampshire police could lose £12.5m.

And while efficiencies have created innovation they have also put a strain on police officers and staff.

Police funding grants will be announced in December with the Provisional Police Grant Report after the Comprehensive Spending Review next Wednesday.

Policing minister Mike Penning repeatedly says crime has fallen since 2010 according to the crime survey. This year recorded crime increased in Hampshire.

But those on the ground within Hampshire police say they are struggling.

‘We deal with a lot of stuff that isn’t recordable crime,’ a source at Hampshire Constabulary told The News.

‘That’s the kind of stuff that’s going to be gone.

‘There will be crime people phone up about and we can’t deal with it.’

In January, the force moved to its new model – aligning policing boundaries with local authorities, making response teams work in a borderless way and centralising CID teams.

Shortly after, workloads increased in the investigations team with a spike of around 2,300 live cases in March.

The force said it has reviewed the model and now eased pressure on its officers, with slightly more than 2,000 live cases in August.

Amid the pressure, chief constable Andy Marsh is clear that his force will pursue, investigate and bring criminals to justice.

But the way in which police handle reports has changed – meaning a visible bobby on the beat is no longer the answer.

Hampshire’s resolution centre was set up in February last year in the wake of £25m the force was ordered to make on top of £55m savings from 2010.

It has led to more than 40,000 fewer deployments of response and patrol officers to incidents.

‘We’re dealing with significantly more low level crime and incidents on the phone,’ says Mr Marsh.

‘If we feel that a member of the public needs to see a police officer and needs to be protected, we would respond.’

But he said criminal damage and theft cases can often be dealt with on the phone.

Other police forces across the country are turning to Hampshire to see how the reduction in demand has happened.

But it does not mean the force is not investing. Work to support vulnerable victims is a priority and has seen the establishment of a vulnerable victim interview team called Amberstone.

Back in 2010, 4.87 per cent of the workforce was tackling public protection – such as child sex exploitation and domestic abuse prevention – but now this has increased to 5.74 per cent.

And phone examiners’ work on child sex exploitation has ballooned from making up 16 per cent of their work in October 2013 to 48 per cent today.

A programme called Cautioning Against Relationship Abuse also looks to tackle such crime out of court – cutting cost.

Mr Marsh adds: ‘We will continue to respond to emergencies, serious incidents and catch offender.

‘However, after almost 30 years in policing what I can say is in my opinion the criminal justice system isn’t always the most appropriate way of dealing with offenders.

‘There are other priorities and a significant one is to reduce reoffending.’

The force has set up a pilot peer court in Fareham tackling youth crime, which has made sure young offenders are not criminalised.

Few have re-offended during the year-long pilot.

But Tim Sparkes, a criminal defence lawyer at the Rowe Sparkes Partnership in Portsmouth, says low-level crime appeared to be dealt with on the streets by means of cautions or simply not acted on.

He says: ‘I don’t know how many are falling through the cracks.

‘Quite a lot of them are being dealt with on the streets.’

Mr Sparkes, talking about low-level crime, adds: ‘It’s not a bad idea to not put people through the trauma of custody.’

While not criticising alternative means of dealing with crime, Mr Sparkes says there had been no political debate about whether this should be done.

Instead, cuts have driven the change – and not all will agree with the move away from courts for certain crimes.

Hampshire police is yet to decide what crimes it will prioritise in the wake of more cuts.

Inspectors have said the force is well prepared for more cuts and is efficient.

Mr Marsh says he will consult with the public when the choices need to be made.

Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner Simon Hayes believes social change is key.

He says: ‘My role is not simply governance – I am driving a social change agenda.

‘By reducing crime and reoffending, victims of crime will be reduced; by reducing low-level crime and anti-social behaviour, the pressure on police time to deal with these issues is reduced and they will be able to focus on protecting the most vulnerable members of our society and tackle serious crime.

‘Ultimately, the government has been forcing a change in the face of policing across the country.

‘The reality is that as a result of the cuts imposed to date – and an additional £12.5m of cuts that are anticipated here – the public may see fewer officers out on their streets, but we will always respond to the needs of vulnerable people and to serious crime.’

In a statement Mr Penning, minister for policing, crime, victims and criminal justice, said since 2010 the government had cut red tape and bureaucracy leaving officers to make decision with professional judgement.

He added: ‘Decisions on the operational deployment of resources are matters for chief constables and police and crime commissioners, but there is no question that the police still have the resources to do their important work.

‘As HMIC has shown, what matters is how officers are deployed, not how many of them there are in total.’

BUILDINGS

THE closure of police stations has been controversial.

But Simon Hayes, Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner who is leading the estates programme, says it will fund front-line policing.

Closures include Hayling Island, Fareham and Gosport station with neighbourhood teams moving into libraries and council offices.

Response and patrol teams in Fareham and Gosport have moved to Fareham Reach.

A new police investigation centre with cells is due to be built in Portsmouth.

A location has not been found and in the meantime building work at Fratton station, in Kingston Crescent, will be done to improve the ‘substandard’ premises for CID teams based there.

Mr Hayes said: ‘These modern facilities, such as those on Hayling Island and the new station due in Portsmouth, deliver neighbourhood policing direct to the communities that live there.’

FEDERATION VIEW

THE government has treated the police with contempt.

That is the view of John Apter, Hampshire Police Federation chairman, who represents rank-and-file officers

He said: ‘Government has treated policing and the safety of the public with contempt.

‘The government have not given policing the priority it needs.

‘The public will miss it when it’s gone.

‘We’ve gone through a lot of pain. It’s going to get worse.’

He said the increase in demand and reduction in officers has created huge pressure within policing.

He added crime makes up just 20 per cent of police work and said that means while crime has dropped over time, there is still a huge demand.

‘The demand is not only still there, it’s increasing,’ he said.

He added: ‘We carry on trying to be all things to all people.

‘It’s not sustainable.’

POLICE NUMBERS

THE number of officers and staff has changed, along with the way they do the job.

Changes at Hampshire police include:

n Reduction from 3,748 officers in March 2010 to 3,064 this year.

n Commitment to keep PCSOs at 333.

n Staffing levels have dropped from 2,424 to 1,652.

n Abolition of police authority and replacement with directly-elected police and crime commissioner.

n Introduction of 20,000 body-worn video cameras, which has led to a 33-per-cent increase in guilty pleas in domestic abuse cases compared to having no BWV.

n Overall budget cut of £80m from Home Office grant.

n 93 per cent of officers on the frontline in 2015, up from 87 per cent in 2010.

n Reduction of 90 buildings to 25 by 2020, with revenue savings of £2m to 3m a year.

n Base force strategic HQ at Hampshire Fire Service.

CLOSURE THREAT

CRIMINALS brought to justice are dealt with through courts.

But Fareham Magistrates’ Court is slated for closure.

A HM Courts and Tribunals Service consultation said reform would allow cash saved to be reinvested.

Official figures show it handled 920 trials in 2009/10 and the number stayed around the same until 2012/13 when it dropped to 838, where it has remained about the same to 832 in 2014/15.

Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court had 1,373 trials listed in 2009/10 and 935 in 2014/15.

HMCTS said Fareham has a usage rate of 43 per cent, was built in 1994 and is in a ‘generally poor’ condition. It has a leaky roof and a heating system that broke last year.

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage, a justice minister, said: ‘In the future there will need to be modern, digital ways of interacting with the justice system with fewer people needing to come to court in person.’