Under-strain police budgets are now reaching a “tipping point”, the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police has warned.
New research by the force, shared exclusively with the Yorkshire Evening Post, shows crime levels in the county are expected to rise by nearly a fifth by 2021.
Chief Constable Dee Collins said: “If these projections are right, something drastically needs to change or we will very definitely not be able to meet some of that demand.”
In recent years, police forces across the country have faced the twin pressures of constrained budgets and rising demands.
Now the new predictions carried out by West Yorkshire Police show that in three years’ time it expects to see an extra 50,000 crimes committed a year across the county, with steep rises in domestic abuse incidents and 999 calls.
Without an increase in funding, Ms Collins said, the force would have to further restrict the service it gives to the public.
Ms Collins said they would always prioritise serious crime and emergencies but neighbourhood policing could face cut-backs, unless funding increased.
The force was already facing losing at least 400 officers due to the Treasury’s controversial decision to hike the amount forces contribute to employee pensions.
She said: “I recognise this is really emotive stuff. What I’m worried about is we have worked really, really hard with an awful lot of support and an awful lot of understanding of the public and other agencies to get ourselves into a position where this year, for the first time, we have actually been able to invest in neighbourhood policing. My concern is that at the stroke of a pen, all of that is going to be put at risk.”
This year, for the first time, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has asked forces to compile longer-term predictions of their workloads.
Ms Collins said she was voluntarily publishing West Yorkshire Police’s findings because while she did not want to alarm people, she wanted the public to know about the challenges they were facing. She said the assessments of each of the country’s forces, when taken as a whole, were likely to show “the criticality that policing is now getting to”.
Ms Collins said she was very aware that people were getting increasingly less satisfied with the service they received from the police.
The West Yorkshire force runs a controversial phone-based assessment when people report crimes, placing about half of incidents on file based on factors such as the seriousness of the offence and the strength of any evidence.
Ms Collins defended this practice, but said: “Do our public really think we’re managing? I think our public would say, ‘No you’re not. You’re not coming to all of our calls, you’re not answering the phone quickly enough, you’re screening out crime.’”
She said the complaints that really hit home were about victims of crime struggling to get through on the 101 non-emergency number, those left waiting for the police to attend or those who felt their incident was not properly investigated. She added: “It’s when you still hear about the sheer volume of things like domestic violence taking place in the home, of sexual offending against vulnerable young people, of people fundamentally not feeling safe within their own four walls, that really worries me, because if you don’t feel safe at home, where can you feel safe?”
Ms Collins said the complexity of police work was far above that which they had faced only 10 to 15 years ago.
After a lot of work battling child sexual exploitation, she said, they were now dealing with more child criminal exploitation, including the use of children in so-called County Lines drugs gangs. She said she was also “very nervous and concerned about what vulnerable adult exploitation may be taking place, so for example if you look over in America there are increasing numbers of cases in terms of elder abuse”.
“Then of course there’s all sorts of other types of crime that may emerge because of the cyber environment that we are now operating in,” she said.
The Home Office says there is £1bn more of public money going into policing than there was three years ago and Home Secretary Sajid Javid has pledged to proritise money for policing in next year’s Comprehensive Spending Review.