Police ‘standing in for social services’

A senior police chief warned today that public spending cuts will lead to more officers being diverted from fighting crime to tackling social issues.

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said the workload of forces could increase as they fill the gaps left by other professionals in areas facing cuts.

Mr Orde said police were often left to deal with social issues because no one else provided a 24-hour service. He said thousands of police hours were spent looking after mentally disorientated people found in the street and waiting for mental health workers to arrive.

Officers were also called to pick up vulnerable youngsters who had absconded from children’s homes and were then responsible for them until social workers turned up.

Sir Hugh said while police forces faced 20 per cent cuts, other public services were also being slashed. He called for more recognition of the vital work carried out by police away from front-line crime-fighting. “The Government should change how they judge the police to include all the non-crime work the public is not aware of,” he said.

Sir Hugh cited one recent example when 350 police officers and staff from three regions were involved in manning a casualty bureau in the UK for possible families of victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

He added: “Police do a lot of non-emergency work because simply there’s nobody else to do it.”
He wants to see this type of additional work included in future appraisals of police effectiveness.

Sir Hugh also repeated concerns about government plans for directly elected police commissioners. He said there was a danger that Commissioners would focus too much on local problems to the detriment of wider regional or national issues.

For example they could cut the number of police tackling regional crime gangs or terrorism.

He said: “There are increasing threats to this country but it’s at a national level. Local crime is falling. It’s threats like international terrorism, cyber-crime, domestic terrorism and organised crime which are increasing.

“You cannot have a situation in this country where policing is driven to a political agenda rather than a professional agenda.

“We need absolute clarity about the role of the commissioner and absolute clarity about the role of the chief constable. It has to be spelled out and put on the face of the Bill that’s going through.”