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Policing in 2020 - what issues must be addressed now that will affect policing in England and Wales in ten years’ time?

PA, in collaboration with Policy Exchange1, has conducted a piece of research that maps out the issues that will confront policing in England and Wales in ten years’ time. The aim of the report is to spark debate on the likely challenges and opportunities for the police leaders of 2020 and beyond, not least because decisions taken on policing reform now will have far-reaching consequences for the future.

Following interviews with experts within and outside the police, and an online survey of the likely policing leaders of tomorrow, 'Policing in 2020' identifies key questions that will shape the future of policing. These centre on the following themes:

  • What are the police for?

  • What will the police do – and what won’t they do?

  • How will policing be delivered and overseen?

What are the police for?

The police in the UK have never had a formal ‘mission’ or statement of what they should do, but instead have simply sought to “keep the peace, enforce the law, protect property and investigate crimes”. Among those we consulted, there were mixed views as to whether an explicit mission statement is necessary. On the whole, senior officers felt an explicit mission was not necessary, while those likely to be the leaders of the future were more supportive.

We asked officers on the police High Potential Development Scheme (HPDS) specifically about the future relevance of the principles set out by Sir Robert Peel in 1829. While there was modest support for updating them to reflect modern demands, a greater number of respondents were opposed to this.

Among the HPDS cohort, there was very strong support for the first of the Peelian principles that “the basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder”. There was also strong support for the principle that the police should rely on persuasion over physical force, and for the emphasis on public approval of police action.

What will the police do – and what won’t they do?

With social and technological change accelerating, it is clear that policing in 2020 is likely to be significantly different to policing today. Public order, gun crime, the threat of terrorism and economic and cyber crime are all areas where our respondents expected to see a growing demand for policing. And there are very few areas where they expected to see demand fall. As a result, given that the police are likely to have access to fewer resources in the future, the police may have to be more explicit in prioritising their responsibilities.

Respondents acknowledged that the police had given up certain responsibilities in the past and might feel the need to do so again. Suggestions for police responsibilities that could be given over to other agencies in future included: fraud investigations, lost property, crime scene guarding, reassurance patrols in rural areas, evidence gathering and bail enforcement.

Given the increase in threats from hackers, terrorists and cross-border organised crime, respondents felt that the national/international element of the police’s remit is likely to be given greater weight in future. The allocation of officers to specialist national/international roles, especially counter-terrorism, will put local policing under sustained strain if the trend continues.

How will policing be delivered and overseen?

How well the police are equipped to deliver the type of policing required in 2020 will depend on a number of factors: skills, leadership, technology and governance.  

Skills - The requirement for more specialists and less generalists that has emerged over the last ten years is likely to persist. As a result, most of our respondents felt that the concept of the omnicompetent officer will become outdated. Some respondents felt that those who had been trained as warranted officers should put their training to best effect by being placed only in roles that specifically required those powers, and that civilianisation could go wider and deeper. Young officers on the HPDS predicted a growing role for both the private and the third sector in the provision of policing services in 2020.

Leadership - Our interviewees and survey respondents recognised that effective police leadership increasingly demands the ability to lead large organisations that collaborate with many others to deliver their aims. Future police leaders will need to have operational experience amongst their numbers, while those outside policing felt that operational policing experience is likely to be less critical for the management of policing organisations in 2020.

Police use of technology - Technology has led to some significant advances in policing, for example DNA, Automatic Number Plate Recognition and a searchable Police National Database, however the police have historically been slow to embrace some of these developments. Future leaps in policing capability are likely to have technological roots, but if history is a guide, technology used by the police is likely to be some way behind that in use in the private sector. Unless addressed, lack of connectedness across the 43 forces will be a barrier to the adoption of state-of-the-art technology.

Governance - In future, the governance of policing is likely to reflect changes already underway to implement the Government’s ambition to establish direct democratic accountability for the police, and to reflect new demands placed on all public services by a more informed, engaged public. The redesign of policing will produce a group of national bodies, along with 43 police forces. The near-universal view of our interviewees was that “43 is the wrong number”. Some felt that 43 would create too many small forces that would struggle to fulfil some policing functions. Others felt 43 would produce too few forces to allow the police to foster a genuine local identity.

There was also uncertainty about whether the Government’s plans will deliver a national policing landscape fit for purpose through to 2020 and beyond. Some respondents were unclear to what extent the arrival of the National Crime Agency in 2012 would meet growing demand for national policing (although others felt it would provide greater clarity on the role for national policing and its ability to tackle organised crime).

Please contact us now for a full copy of the report.

If you would like to take part in discussions on the future of policing in England and Wales we invite you to join 'The Police Debate' discussion group on LinkedIn.

In addition you can follow the progress of our 'Policing in 2020' discussions and research via Twitter using #Policing2020.

1Policy Exchange is an independent, non-partisan educational charity seeking free market and localist solutions to public policy questions.