June 22, 2021 00:16

Understanding the existing criminal justice funding landscape is crucial in the defund debate

The defund the police Transatlantic debate has led many people to reflect on how the UK funds the police and other services that are there to protect the public. Many people – citizens, policy makers and even people in government – are asking whether we have the right balance in funding police and other interventions to tackle crime and the fear of crime.

For some, defund could be the belief that the police receive too much public money and are not using this fairly; for others it could mean reallocating the funding provided to police forces to other organisations whose job is to keep people safe.

So what exactly does defund the police mean? It means different things to different people. For some it could be the belief that the police receive too much public money and are not using this fairly; for others it could mean reallocating the funding provided to police forces to other organisations whose job is to keep people safe. The question is, is everyone aware of the community safety and criminal justice landscape?

To understand this situation better, let’s first explore how police funding works, then look at the legislative framework, and how other funding is allocated and spent to protect people from priority crimes. We can then consider whether the balance of these interventions is right – and if not, what changes need to be made?

What police numbers and funding looks like

The amount of funding invested across policing in England and Wales in 2020/21 is £15.2 billion (an increase of £1.1 billion from last year). The Government has set a ‘Police Uplift’ recruitment target of 20,000 new police officers over the next three years, and has allocated another £700 million to cover this. The recruitment target is split into 6,000 in the first year and 7,000 for the following two years.

Government figures reveal that by September 2020, more than 5,800 new additional officers had been recruited from the 6,000 additional officer allocation for the year; these numbers are in addition to those who have been recruited to replace officers who leave the service.

But increasing police officer numbers is not the only part of the equation. The majority of police time is in fact spent on incidents that do not relate directly to tackling crime or the fear of crime.

The uplift recruitment programme uses a baseline staffing level of 128,472 officers; by the end of September 2020, the provisional headcount was 134,885 officers – 5,824 recruited from funding for the Police Uplift programme, and a further 589 additional officers had been recruited through other funding streams.

But increasing police officer numbers is not the only part of the equation. The majority of police time is in fact spent on incidents that do not relate directly to tackling crime or the fear of crime. Data from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) shows that only 24% of the incidents that forces responded to related to crime, while 64% were non-crime related – including road traffic accidents, mental health incidents and missing person cases; the remaining 12% focused on anti-social behaviour[1].

Incidents relating to mental health are also widely reported to be placing additional strain on the police. The College of Policing estimates that up to 20% of incidents reported to the police are linked to mental health issues, while the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health estimates that mental health incidents account for up to 15% of police time.

The wider community safety landscape and policy framework

On 14 July, 2019 the Government announced it would introduce new legal duties on public services to work together to prevent and tackle serious violence. This formed part of its new ‘public health approach’ to tackling violent crime. It should be noted that previously, public bodies often worked together and cooperated under existing legislative frameworks.

Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 placed a duty on local authorities, the police and other public bodies such as schools, fire services, charities and businesses to cooperate in a strategy for tackling crime and disorder in their areas. This Act also made it a statutory duty for local authorities to set up crime and disorder reduction partnerships (CDRP) to coordinate this strategy.

The aim is to ensure that these organisations work together to share data, intelligence and knowledge to understand and address the root causes of serious violence including knife crime, to enable them to target their interventions to prevent and stop violence at an early stage.

The new public health duty is set to cover the police, local councils, local health bodies such as NHS trusts, education representatives, and youth offending services. The aim is to ensure that these organisations work together to share data, intelligence and knowledge to understand and address the root causes of serious violence including knife crime, to enable them to target their interventions to prevent and stop violence at an early stage. In addition, the Government has said the Crime and Disorder Act will also be amended to make serious violence a priority for Community Safety Partnerships.

The premise of the public health approach is to treat violence like an infectious disease. It suggests that policy makers should search for a ‘cure’ by using a range of tools and methods to identify what causes violence, and find interventions that work to prevent it spreading. The approach involves multiple public and social services working together to implement early interventions to prevent people from becoming involved in violent crime.

The legislation needed to introduce the legal duty for a public health approach to tackling violent crime, along with the amendments to the Crime and Disorder Act, will be contained in the Serious Violence Bill unveiled in the Queen’s Speech in 2019. Unfortunately a combination of the impact of COVID-19, and the volume of Brexit-related legislation, means the Bill has yet to come before Parliament, and may still be some way off.

Funding for the wider community landscape

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic the Government has allocated £750 million funding to the voluntary and community sector. This will support more than 300 charities and community groups.

In addition, there is a further £200 million support allocated through the Youth Endowment Fund which is administered by a partnership led by Impetus, alongside the Early Intervention Foundation and Social Investment Business, to help prevent young people being drawn into a life of crime and violence.

The Government has also established 18 Violence Reduction Units (VRUs). These bring together different organisations – including the police, local government, health, community leaders and other key partners in local areas – to tackle violent crime by understanding its root causes and driving a co-ordinated response.

In their first year the VRUs invested in 175 programmes designed to help young people at risk of being drawn into violent crime. They include prevention work in schools, communities, prisons, hospitals, pupil referral units and police custody suites. More than 100,000 young people have received support from initiatives funded by these 18 specialist units.

Is the defund debate necessary?

The wider picture therefore is one of the police at the frontline, often working in partnership or collaboration with a range of charities and voluntary sector organisations, many supported either directly via the Home Office through the Youth Endowment Fund, or indirectly through VRUs.

Given this range of funding to a wide variety of organisations, it could be argued that the defund debate designed to move financial support from policing to other organisation and agencies is not even necessary.

This activity sits alongside further interventions, diversions and support funded by police and crime commissioners, with proposed new legislation and planned amendments to the Crime and Disorder Act to create a legal duty on a public health approach.

Given this range of funding to a wide variety of organisations, it could be argued that the defund debate designed to move financial support from policing to other organisation and agencies is not even necessary.

Instead, I would advocate inviting external community scrutiny of police crime plans (which I believe should be a joined-up document between the PCCs and local forces), community safety partnerships, VRUs, the Youth Endowment Fund and all other bodies, though a community-focused group that is in turn measured and monitored by HMICFRS.

The same group should also have a role in overseeing police recruitment to help ensure that forces look like the communities they serve, and work for their localities.

 

[1] Comptroller and Auditor General, Financial Sustainability of Police Forces in England and Wales 2018, Session 2017–2019, HC 1501, National Audit Office, 2018, p. 27.

 

 

The post Understanding the existing criminal justice funding landscape is crucial in the defund debate appeared first on Policing Insight.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top