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2020 vision

Police Professional

8 September 2011


While sights are firmly set on the short to medium-term policing requirements, discussions on what policing will look like in ten years’ time show how important decisions taken today are on the future for the service.

Those engaged in managing and governing policing may be excused from looking beyond 2015 as there is enough going on between now and then with police reform and budget cuts to occupy the best leaders. That is why Policy Exchange, together with PA Consulting Group, has today published a summary of discussions on what policing in 2020 is likely to look like, in an attempt to kick-start debates among future leaders and policy-makers.

This month will no doubt see debates focus on the Government’s reform agenda as the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill is resubmitted to Parliament, radically changing governance arrangements for policing. We are also likely to feature the changes to remuneration and pensions as proposals for radical cuts are also pursued. The return of MPs to Parliament and the party conference season are also likely to feature the 20 per cent cuts to police funding, with the opposition determined to force a vote in the Commons.

On top of all this, inquiries into corruption, policing riots and the impending Olympic year mean it is very difficult for anyone in policing to raise their eyesight above the 2015 horizon.

Policing in 2020 was published in order to stimulate the service and those connected with it to do just that, as the authors believe that it is only by identifying the kind of policing required in the future that important decisions can be taken now.

Policy Exchange and PA Consulting engaged in a wide-ranging discussion with serving police officers and staff (of various ranks), representatives from policing bodies, government officials and advisors, academics, representatives of the private sector and members of the home affairs media. It also conducted a detailed survey with members of the High Potential Development Scheme (HPDS) many of whom are destined to be the police leaders beyond 2020.

The current reform agenda clearly informed the discussions. Over 75 per cent of MHPDS members said they expect policing in 2020 to be quite or significantly different to policing in 2011.

The report reflected on changes in the past ten years as a sign of how much policing might change by 2020. In 2001, there weren’t any Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), nor was there a national intelligence database and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) was in its infancy.
But, it says, 2020 is not that far away and given the acceleration of social and technological change, the importance of a debate on the future is clear.

The presumption in the report that it is important to look to futures is shared by others. The Association of Chief Police Officers has a portfolio led by Chief Constable Mark Rowley whose role is to do just that and who contributed to the study. Indeed, as part of the research, the report’s authors were told by Police Professional’s Editor that discussions in the private sector tend to look well beyond 2020 and it was right for the service to do the same.

The Policing in 2020 project looked at three key themes; the policing mission, responsibilities and delivery and governance mechanisms that will exist ten years hence.

Policing Mission

The government has ruled out a Royal Commission on policing but Policing in 2020 recognises that a debate is needed on what should constitute the policing mission in the future.

There has probably been more said in the last 12 months about the principles set out by Sir Robert Peel in the foundation of the Metropolitan Police Service in 1829 than at almost any time in history. Following the Home Secretary’s announcement that the sole measure of policing performance should be a reduction in crime, the principles have taken on new relevance and are quoted by politicians, and some senior police officers, at almost every opportunity.
Researchers for the report undertook a survey of the principles to see if they are still relevant, asking HPDS members what they thought about all nine and if there was a need for a tenth, and what that might be.

Just over a third (37 per cent) of the HPDS said they thought the Peelian principles needed updating while just under half (45 per cent) disagreed.
The first of the Peelian principles – “the basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder” – scored the highest (with 80 per cent strongly agreeing).

Respondents were more divided on whether the “test of police efficiency” was the absence of crime and disorder (Principle 1), with 25 per cent disagreeing with this principle. The report suggested this might reflect a view that many agencies share responsibility and social and economic conditions can drive crime trends.

The survey of HPDS members also found:

  • The emphasis on public approval ranks highly, demonstrating an institutional awareness of the value of public trust in the police, and there was high support (94 per cent) for the principle of the police relying on “persuasion” over “physical force”.

  • A sense of separateness, with the police seeing themselves more as a disciplined service alongside the public than a uniformed citizenry, might explain the relatively low score for the 7th Principle (just 58 per cent agreed or strongly agreed).

  • The introduction of quasi-judicial powers for the police through disposals like Fixed Penalty Notices has changed the traditional role of the sworn officer – perhaps diluting the appeal of the 8th Peelian principle (25 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed) and the conventional police role which limited the officer to detection, apprehension and investigation of criminal suspects.

When asked whether a tenth Peelian Principle would be justified for 2020, they also made the following suggestions:

“The police officer should be as skilled at their profession as much as one would expect a doctor or barrister”

“The police should work efficiently with partners in all arenas as appropriate to the problem or issue they are engaged in resolving – be that public, private or voluntary sectors”

“Police decision-making should always consider what the public value and what adds value to the public”

“Police actions should reflect common sense and proportionality, and not the will of party politics”

“Not everything is the police’s fault!”

There were mixed views as to whether the service should have an overarching mission statement. Most officers observed that the police had never had a formal ‘mission’ or statement of what they should do, but instead simply sought to “keep the peace, enforce the law, protect property and investigate crimes”.

Researchers found that, on the whole, senior officers did not feel there was a particular need for a formal mission statement, while those outside the service and HPDS members were more supportive of an “explicit, well-publicised mission statement”.

Policing Responsibilities

Demands on policing are said to have increased significantly over the past twenty years especially through a greater involvement in public protection, terrorism, fraud and cyber-crime policing.

The feedback to the research was pretty conclusive that demand is almost universally expected to increase over the next ten years.  Respondents identified many areas where they expect growth in demand and few where it will fall.
The report also said the “conventional demand (crime)” would probably rise in the future and affect the responsibilities placed on the police. With fewer resources, the police may have to be more explicit in prioritising their responsibilities.

As demand was expected to grow in the years leading up to 2020, but resources predicted to remain below 2010 levels, respondents predicted a gap in resource provision, adding to what they already said was the current “over-stretch”.
The report highlights respondents’ prediction of a faster growth in national and international demand by 2020, especially through asymmetric threats (such as hackers and terrorists) and cross border crime.

Respondents said there may be a need for a change in balance in how the service tackles these demands with greater weight given in the future to national and international concerns. A number suggested the increase in officer numbers seen in the last ten years have been allocated to national and international responsibilities, with local policing resources remaining static.

If this trend is accurate and continues, the report suggests, local policing will come under sustained strain and may need re-conceptualising.

Among the areas expected to see growth in demand, public order, gun crime, the threat from terrorism, economic and cyber-crime worryingly feature heavily.

Police and academics also predicted a continued growth in diversity of demand. Growing separation of rich and poor will lead to continued challenges on public order, domestic extremism, acquisitive crime and terrorism through disaffected and radicalised youth.

Role of wider policing family

Policing in 2020 considered the role of others in assisting with an increase in demand with several contributors saying communities would not accept disengagement in many areas of activity, such as schools liaison officers.

The report suggests this shows a need for the engagement of others outside of the view of the police family being sworn officer, police staff, PCSO and special constable. This could possibly include the private and third sectors, and individual members of the public as an active citizenry.

There was a divergence of views on the extent of the potential involvement of wider policing family. Senior officers were less enthusiastic than HPDS members and the private sector was naturally enthusiastic while those outside the service thought there has been a long-standing need to tap into the supply of civic minded individuals.

There was an acceptance that the police need to consider the right role and remit for other agencies, such as health, local government, criminal justice and education, in helping to tackle the growth in demand.

Members of the HPDS predicted a growing role for both the private and the third sector in the provision of policing services in 2020. Fifteen per cent expected each sector to have a “major role” in 2020, and half of respondents said the private sector would have a “major” or “sizeable” role. Just ten per cent thought the private sector would have only a small role.

Policing delivery and governance
The third theme of Policing in 2020 is probably the one most influenced by current reforms with respondents saying that the future governance of policing will reflect changes already underway to establish direct democratic accountability and the demands from a more informed, engaged public.

However, a significant finding was the view of many that expect to see fewer police forces in England and Wales by 2020. The near universal view of interviewees was that “43 is the wrong number, the wrong structure”.

The report said police leaders were concerned about the golden thread (i.e. ensuring there is a strong connection between local and national policing, so operations stretch “from street to border”) and that 43 forces was too many in number, with some forces struggling to fulfil some policing functions (though some felt this may be mitigated by collaboration and the arrival of the National Crime Agency after 2013).

Conversely, others were concerned that 43 was too small a number to allow the police to foster a genuine local identity that allows the public to feel ownership over their police force. A number of academics and others outside of policing wondered whether there could be merit in having more forces – reinforcing policing links with communities by splitting some of the larger cross-county forces that were established during the 1970s.

The ‘43’ force structure, some respondents said, will be set in stone through the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners after 2012. However, the HPDS group felt there would be significantly fewer forces by 2020 and the current debate in Scotland about moving to a single national force was deemed to have real influence over the course of the debate in England and Wales, even if movement was unlikely because of Parliamentary (and wider public) opposition to mergers.

Linked to this question about the right number of forces was the question of whether the government’s plans for a redesigned national policing landscape would be fit for purpose through to 2020 and beyond.

There was uncertainty about how much the arrival of the National Crime Agency (NCA) in 2013 would meet growing national demand, and how this “national policing” responsibility could be reconciled with a smaller service (in budget and personnel terms), and one with more pressures to focus on local policing, particularly with the potential arrival of locally-elected PPCs )police and crime commissioners).

Some respondents welcomed the arrival of the NCA as providing greater clarity of role for national policing and organised crime. Many predicted growing regionalisation – if not of police forces, then at least of administrative functions and some operational units – to drive efficiencies.

The planned reforms to replace police authorities with directly-elected police and crime commissioners from May 2012 were seen as a significant change, and unlikely to be reversed once enacted.

Most officers among the HPDS respondents predicted growing tension between chief constables and elected commissioners as each sought to assert their own position; and a change in policing priorities towards the local, potentially at the expense of dealing with police demands that are cross-border, or less visible to residents.

Role of specialists

Several respondents remarked upon the shift, over the past ten years, towards more specialists (and away from  generalists) in policing. Most of our respondents felt that this need for specialists was likely to remain, and that the omni-competent officer was an out-dated concept.

A few respondents (mostly from academia) argued that the trend towards specialists was unsustainable financially and would need to be reversed by 2020 and that there would be a return to generalists to ensure resilience. If generalists were to be needed in greater number by 2020, this would require a significant change to training and development in the next decade.

However police respondents felt that in 2020 a large number of specialists will almost certainly be required – for example, those tackling cyber-crime and financial crime. A few questioned whether these skills would be better if brought in from outside, rather than grown internally.

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.


Several contributors pointed out that many great advances in policing have been rooted in technology – for example, DNA, ANPR, PNC, PND and IMPACT. They also acknowledged that policing historically has tended to be slow to embrace some of these technological developments (in the view of some due to mindset of decision-makers, conservative culture of the organisation and poor procurement), or had them resisted by civil libertarian concerns of public, politicians or pressure groups.

Respondents acknowledged that future leaps in policing capability are also likely to have technological roots, and, if history is a guide, these leaps would take much longer than necessary to bear fruit, with the police continuing to operate with technology that was some way behind the private sector curve.
The report said one of the barriers to this is the lack of connectedness across the 43 forces – despite the best efforts of many – and disjointed and erratic procurement.

Respondents felt that if this is to change in future, a new mindset is needed on the part of the police to move towards early adoption, plus an ability to address lack of connectedness across the service on ICT.

Police leadership

The leadership of the service was a key element to this section of the report and the views of the HPDS make interesting reading. It suggested that in nine years’ time, chief constables will be those currently serving as chief superintendent or assistant chief constables.

“Their careers so far will have focussed much more on operational policing than on the organisational skills and knowledge necessary to lead police forces of 2020,” it said.

There was recognition among interviewees and respondents that effective police leadership increasingly relies upon the ability to lead large organisations that have collaborations and partnerships with many others to deliver their aims. This need places a premium on good partnering skills, as well as first class financial and cost-management skills.

Meanwhile, some interviewees expressed scepticism about the benefits of partnership, asking whether the time the police invest in such work really deliver the value it should.

Respondents were divided on whether police leaders need direct experience of other sectors (private, third sector, other agency) – whether via secondment or direct entry at ranks more senior than constable – so as to be able to bring new insights and expertise to police leadership.

Most of those interviewees currently within policing felt that police leaders would need to come from within policing (i.e. have operational experience), whilst those outside policing had mixed views. Respondents from outside policing felt that operational policing experience was likely to be less critical for the management of policing organisations in 2020.

This report was not meant to produce a conclusion but merely to begin a debate. As PA Consulting’s Neil Amos explained: “If there’s one key theme emerging from this study, it’s that core principles will remain the bedrock for policing as it undergoes significant change over the coming years.

“This Policing in 2020 study is one of the first times that High Potential Development Scheme members have been involved in a published survey. Scheme members have, through their contribution, provided some fascinating insights into the views of future police leaders. The majority feel, for example, that senior police officers would benefit from having non-police and private sector experience; and that there will be a growing role for both Third and private sectors within policing.”

Policy Exchange and PA Consulting will now host a series of events to tease out responses to the paper and progress the debate further and Policy Exchange will publish a further visioning exercise in 2012.

Blair Gibbs, head of Crime and Justice at Policy Exchange, said: “The financial challenges facing police forces today are very real but that shouldn’t stop us from
asking fundamental questions about the mission and responsibilities of policing, especially as decisions taken now will still be having an impact in ten years’ time.

“A Royal Commission is not going to happen but that doesn’t mean we cannot lift our sights and start debating the sort of police service the public will expect in 2020.”

Hopefully having lifted sights further than the current spending review period, the authors are keen to hear the whole service’s views.

For further information or to contribute your thoughts email

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.

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