Our senior policy associate, Rebecca Roberts, has a piece in today's Independent, which questions the value of increasing police officer numbers.
In the aftermath of the UK general election and following a series of horrific terrorist attacks, there have been growing calls for better resourcing of the police. With the consensus about austerity starting to crumble Rebecca argues that we should use it as an opportunity to re-think how we organise and fund public services.
What is required is a managed and strategic withdrawal of policing from a range of social work functions. There is clearly a need for visible, local and accessible support workers. Rather than expanding the capacity of the police to fill the vacuum left by austerity – what is required is a shift in government budgets away from policing and towards services and training of staff who are focused on reducing harm and meeting needs. This would include housing workers, youth workers, community safety workers, health and safety workers, environmental safety workers.
This could free up the police to focus on more serious public protection issues of violence – terrorism for example. This would imply a significantly smaller and specialised policing function.
We need state-led and community-led interventions to respond to and tackle harm. However, the risk is that by focusing on police numbers, we forget to take seriously the root causes of harm and their connection to social and economic arrangements.
The electoral and political landscape has suddenly shifted and the opportunity for radical social change suddenly seems possible. If austerity is, indeed, starting to crumble then this is a huge opportunity to not only invest in public services, but to rethink their configuration and purpose. If we want to take community safety and harm seriously, the answer shouldn’t be more police, courts and prisons. The answers are out there. We just need to start asking the right questions.