Bobbies on the beat to return as police admit ‘mistake’ in neglecting low-level crime

Bobbies on the beat are being reintroduced by police forces after accusations that they have disregarded anti-social behaviour and minor thefts for nearly a decade.

Two of Britain’s largest forces, the Metropolitan Police and West Midlands Police, are deploying an extra 1,100 officers to restore neighbourhood policing which police chiefs admit has been decimated since 2012.

The Met Police has announced that an extra 650 officers are being put back on the beat to tackle anti-social behaviour, as well as to focus on street harassment and violence against women and girls.

West Midlands Police is deploying 450 officers to be a “highly visible” presence in areas plagued by “low-level offending and anti-social behaviour”.

It follows damning evidence that the proportion of minor crimes being solved has plummeted, with as few as one in 50 thefts of property such as bikes being solved.

The proportion of thefts resulting in a charge has halved in the past five years, from 9.9 per cent in the year ending March 2016 to 5.6 per cent in the year to June 2021.

The proportion of robberies solved has fallen from 16.3 per cent to 10.3 per cent, while fewer than one in 18 cases of criminal damage now result in a charge compared with one in 12 five years ago.

The chances of a bike theft being solved has halved to one in 50 (1.8 per cent) in four years, with two police forces in England and Wales bringing no charges in a full quarter of last year, according to Home Office data.

‘Paying the price’ for reduced community policing

Simon Foster, the police and crimes commissioner for the West Midlands, admitted that community policing in the region had been “dismantled” in the past decade because of cuts in funding.

He admitted it had been a “big mistake”, adding: “It was counterproductive and a false economy. We have all been paying the price with less justice, safety and security.

“We need preventative, proactive, problem solving and visible community policing in the West Midlands. We must rebuild community policing.”

West Midlands has begun rolling out its first group of 177 officers tasked with policing specific neighbourhoods, with plans to expand numbers to 450. It is designed to reverse cuts that saw the force’s neighbourhood teams reduced from 1,800 bobbies on the beat in 2010 to 700 in 2018.

It follows the Government’s planned three-year, 20,000-strong uplift in the number of officers, with Boris Johnson demanding reduced crime rates in return for the extra investment.

The Metropolitan Police in numbers

The Met is deploying 500 officers to 19 town centre teams and a further 150 will join London’s dedicated ward officers. Sir Stephen House, the force’s deputy commissioner, said: “Londoners will see more officers on foot patrol in busy areas.” 

Norfolk Constabulary, Cumbria Constabulary and Cleveland Police are among the other forces where officers are making similar deployments to boost neighbourhood policing.

Rory Geoghegan, the Prime Minister’s special adviser on justice and home affairs, has himself trained and worked for five years as a neighbourhood police officer and is a strong advocate of the need for such policing to reduce crime and restore confidence in the police.

“If you compare neighbourhood policing with some of the fire brigade style of police where officers only ever turn up if something bad has happened, people don’t get to build that trust,” he said when he was senior researcher at the Centre for Social Justice.

“They only ever see the police with blue lights in a rush, potentially having to use force on people. So people’s perception of the police becomes distorted and you end up in a nasty spiral where people don’t report things to the police, and police start to think people don’t even want us here.”

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