I imagine I will be among the few Labour politicians to offer my congratulations to the government for hitting its target to hire 20,000 police officers in England and Wales.
However, I believe in giving credit where it is due. The government set itself a target and followed through on time.
But, of course, it would be misleading to say there are now 20,000 more police officers. The recruitment drive was only necessary because the Conservative and coalition governments cut police numbers by about the same number between 2010 and 2019.
The new staff are replacements. And, rather than retain experienced officers, the turnover means the police force is now populated by more junior, often younger officers.
Currently, almost 40 per cent have fewer than five years’ experience. It’s yet another example of the false economy of austerity.
The question remains, however, whether we will see any extra officers in Farnham. Many readers will remember the closure of our police station and that Surrey police force numbers were slashed by more than 400 in 2015/16. Since then, the police precept has increased faster than most public sector pay packets (above the percentage amount offered to nurses, for example.) So, one would hope, we’ll see a more responsive service.
But I don’t think this is just about numbers, it’s also about credibility and effectiveness.
I can’t escape the sense that the policing system is broken. Last month, the Casey Report found the Met Police in London was institutionally sexist and racist. Surrey Police is clearly not in such trouble, but we mustn’t be complacent – there were 528 complaints about Surrey police officers in the year to April 2021, and no misconduct action was taken.
And though our county still experiences one of the lowest levels of crime, reports of rape, sexual offences and domestic violence have increased substantially. Resources clearly need to be redirected to these crimes. That’s why I’m delighted by Labour’s focus on this issue.
The party has promised to halve violence against women and girls, and reduce knife crime.
In conclusion, I believe the government is guilty of focusing on police numbers rather than lower crime. Ask yourself why Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt haven’t paraded the fact they’ve kept a manifesto promise? Perhaps because they don’t actually want to talk about the state of the police?