IN HIS annual assessment of policing in England and Wales, Sir Thomas Winsor has described how crime patterns have changed over the last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more crime now being committed online. Winsor also believes there is a strong case for greater sanctions in the Online Safety Bill to protect vulnerable people in the cyber domain.
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary feels the COVID-19 pandemic has also increased vulnerability in other ways, such as the lockdown leading to more calls for help from those suffering from domestic abuse.
In his 2020 report, Sir Thomas Winsor has outlined that some public services, including mental health, keep on failing. “Unless the health and social care system is fixed and people can access the support they need, more people will continue to be vulnerable and enter the criminal justice system unnecessarily,” he commented.
The Chief Inspector recognises that the chronic backlog in court cases has increased as a result of the pandemic, but also moves to question why waiting times have become inexcusably long when the number of cases going into the system is at its lowest level for decades.
“The pandemic has provided new opportunities for criminals and showed how essential it is that our public services work well together,” asserted the Chief Inspector. “It is highly regrettable that new legislation and lockdown restrictions made certain people more vulnerable and limited access to support services. As a result, many more people may have been suffering and this will have led to an increased demand on the police.”
He continued: “For policing to be effective, the wider criminal justice system and other public services must also be as effective as possible. If they are not, then many more people may be drawn to crime, enter into cycles of offending, become victims and lose confidence in policing.”
Further, Winsor commented: “I am disappointed on behalf of the public that so little has been done to fix the perilous state of the criminal justice system and failing mental health services. The Government’s next Spending Review will provide an opportunity to put right many of the problems in policing, while the other public sector agencies must do much more to match the commitment of the police service when it comes to protecting people from harm.”
The Chief Inspector has suggested that the planned recruitment of an additional 20,000 police officers by 2023 is undoubtedly a good thing, but that it also heightens the danger of people unsuited to policing – including those with extremist or racist views – being recruited.
Therefore, Sir Thomas Winsor has said that the quality of vetting needs to be consistently high. In his eyes, Directorates of Professional Standards should be staffed by some of the best detectives.
In parallel, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has responded to the Government’s confirmation of a pay freeze for police officers. NPCC chair Martin Hewitt said: “While we understand the pressures on Government finances, the confirmed pay freeze for police officers is a hard pill to swallow. Police teams have done exceptional and extraordinary work in the pandemic at a personal risk to them and their families. For many, it will feel unfair and that their contribution is undervalued.”
Hewitt continued: “In real terms, officers’ pay lags behind where it stood in 2010. It is out of step with current rises in the cost of living. As the Government makes spending decisions over the coming months, we are urging ministers to fund meaningful and fair pay increases from 2022 that properly reflect the important and complex work police officers do.”
In conclusion, Hewitt said: “In future years, it is essential that pay awards are fully funded and not only keep pace with inflation, but allow officers’ earnings to catch up, duly recognising the contribution they have made, and continue to make, in keeping us all safe. Without specific Government funding, any pay increases will come from police force budgets and will mean a reduction in service to the public or will otherwise put other vital jobs in policing at risk.”