So how and why did things get so bad? It is not just cuts to resources and burgeoning demand but also how decisions are made on how to deploy those reduced resources.
For most of my service, I worked in Brighton and Hove where I served at every rank from PC to Chief Superintendent. When I arrived in the late 1980s, I was nominated to crew the Moulsecoomb car.
This was a particular challenge as a double child killer had recently walked free and still lived close to that estate. The blame fell on the police. Responding to emergency calls, my partner and I found ourselves breaking up fights and dragging miscreants off in handcuffs.
Thank goodness for community beat officer PC Eric Macintosh. Over the years, the diminutive “Mac” had embedded himself so well he was as much part of the estate as any resident.
Despite his easy style, he stood no nonsense. Back then, only Mac could fearlessly walk alone around Moulsecoomb’s streets. He was a one-man Who’s Who of the estate’s complex crime networks.
This bottom-up model of neighbourhood policing worked. Every neighbourhood in the country had a Mac, who would be told: “I hate the police but you’re all right”.
But because their value lay in deterrence and intelligence rather than arrests, they were easy pickings when cuts came. Crime has become far more complex and policing must catch up, but as the Peelian Principles assert, to prevent crime by winning public support, police need to work with, not against, their communities.
A force’s policing style is determined by its chief police officer, almost always an experienced officer who has spent time at policing’s sharp end. That leadership makes all the difference and – until recently – operational independence was clear, and jealously guarded.
The introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in 2012 brought a sea change.
Replacing Police Authorities, PCCs hold chief constables to account. But whilst policing must be accountable, there is a risk in a single elected individual having the power to hire and fire their chief officer.
Over the three PCC elections since their inception, the country has moved from having 12 independents (mostly former police officers) to them all being party politicians. That’s not to say all PCCs are slaves to their political masters. Nor should all the blame for the state of modern policing fall on them.
But with their political baggage, coupled with a lack of operational experience, is there any wonder some opt for headline-grabbing, dare I say vote-winning, initiatives?
For most of my time in Brighton I was protected from political pressure. Either side of a local election, when power shifted, I stood my ground and had my boss’s backing to do so. I felt enabled to instil slower-burn, longerlasting policing styles which sought to reduce crime, strengthen neighbourhoods and retain community trust.
All but the last few months of that was pre-PCCs, however.
My recent novel Bad For Good, considers what might happen when policing is cut so severely vigilantism takes over. I set it in the near future but former colleagues tell me what I have imagined is real risk now.
Officers have become social workers, counsellors and security guards. No wonder public satisfaction is collapsing.
I am not putting all this at the door of Police and Crime Commissioners. They have their budget and must divide it as they see fit. What I am saying is politics and policing simply do not mix. The days of a Chief Constable calling operational shots have, in places, been subsumed by sometimes irrelevant and counter-productive influences.
These risk focusing on headlines, ignoring so-called “low-level” crime and disorder, and turning away from society’s most vulnerable.