by Rebecca Tomlinson
28th January 2020

The last few years have seen increased public concern over the extent of misinformation in political debate and the idea that the mainstream media are purveyors of ‘fake news’. With that in mind, there was probably no claim more hotly debated than the one made by Boris Johnson last year to put 20,000 new police officers on the streets.

It was one of the first pledges made by the newly appointed prime minister, who said, “Getting more police on our streets is an absolute priority and I’m delighted our recruitment campaign for 20,000 new officers is now under way.” Likewise, the home secretary, Priti Patel, said: “One of the government’s first actions was to commit to putting 20,000 new police officers on our streets.”

It has since come to light that, in fact, this wasn’t entirely true, and it should actually be seen as a reinstatement of police numbers which fell by that very same number since the Conservatives came into power in 2010.

Home office figures say that violent crime recorded by police has risen by 19% in England and Wales. The number of homicides – including murder and manslaughter – rose from 649 to 739, an increase of 14%, in the 12 months to the end of September 2018. This is the highest total for such crimes since 2007.

But what can be done? Mike Hough, one of the UKs top criminologists suggests, in his new book Good Policing, that if the public had more trust in the police this would legitimise them and could, potentially, lead to falling crime numbers. As concern grows at the growth in crimes of serious violence, he challenges conventional political and public thinking on crime and scrutinises strategies and tactics like deterrence and stop-and-search. Contrasting ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ approaches to policing and punishment, he offers a fresh approach to policing that stresses the importance of securing normative compliance.

Governments old and new have wanted to be seen as being tough on crime, but how that works in practice is another matter. There’s no denying that budget cuts have left the police force at breaking point. Dave Thompson, the chief constable of the West Midlands force, said agreement was needed on what the police should stop doing in order to be able to function day to day. It is an idea discussed privately by police chiefs and carried out by stealth by some forces. “The public’s experience is policing that is less visible, less responsive and less proactive,” he wrote in a post on the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) blog.

This rhetoric about toughness being preferred to evidence-based policy for political reasons is one of the reasons our textbook series, Key themes in policing, is so relevant for students and practitioners right now. Books in the series reflect upon the changing landscape of contemporary policing as it becomes more politicised, professionalised and scrutinised.

It’s important that, as a society, we hold our police to account. It’s a vital part of upholding law and liberty but changing modes of policing delivery and new technologies call for fresh thinking about the way we guard our guards. Mike Rowe, in his new book, Policing the Police, explores issues of governance, discipline and transparency within the police to set out a game-changing agenda for ensuring democratic and answerable policing.

Similarly, with debate about police ethics intensifying, Dominic Wood considers afresh the fundamental role of officers and their relations with society in his new book, Towards Ethical Policing. He considers morality within the police force and how we can embed ethics within police operations, which is surely something police leaders should be thinking about.

Claire Davis and Marisa Silvestri, in their text Critical Perceptions on Police Leadership, present bold new conceptualisations of police leadership. This book provides a critique of contemporary reform to police professionalisation, training and education, equalities and diversity by situating these developments within wider historical, social and political context which, in today’s policing climate, is needed more than ever.

Finally, Tom Cockcroft, in Police Occupational Culture, tackles the important issues facing police forces today including diversity, police reform and police professionalisation.

It’s clear that the police service in England and Wales is facing massive challenges and the current political and economic climate have created an environment that is forcing them to undertake major changes. What this means for the future I’m not sure, but I’m certain it means we need these books more than ever, and the role of the academic or researcher is vital to us getting these ideas out into the public.


Image credit: artolympic, via iStock