Cuts drive UK police forces to ‘cliff edge’

New statistics show that across the UK, the number of police officers is falling as a result of cuts. The government denies that crime will now rise, but others are less sure.

For most British people, the phrase ‘bobby on the beat’ conjures a reassuring image: the firm, friendly and familiar neighbourhood policeman strolling through the streets ensuring peace and quiet. The visible presence of patrolling police officers makes most people feel safe and secure. Now, though, police numbers are declining, and some see trouble ahead.

Newly released statistics show that heavy funding cuts have meant the loss of 8,000 officers in the last year. Today there are fewer police in the UK than there have been at any time in the last decade.

The government claims that ‘front-line’ policing will not be affected. But with cuts continuing, police officers themselves are less optimistic. Yesterday morning the chief of police in Gloucestershire said that his force was heading for a ‘cliff edge’.

Supporters say a long and noble tradition of British community policing is under threat. London’s Metropolitan Police Service, they point out, was founded in the 19th Century and was the first accountable, professional and civilian police force in the world.

These Victorian policemen rarely carried guns and their first duty was to protect the people. This was very different to the heavily armed soldiers who had patrolled the streets through other periods of history. Most had been more interested in enforcing the will of the ruling classes than defending ordinary citizens.

The Roman Emperor Augustus, for instance, employed 14,000 soldiers to stamp out possible rebellions from the urban poor. And when Louis XIV of France founded the first true police force, his purpose was to ‘purge the city of disturbance’ – not to save his vulnerable subjects from wicked robbers.

Though police in Britain are sometimes involved in controversy, they are generally much more trusted than these violent enforcers of the past.

Punish or prevent?

So will the decline in police numbers lead to a rise in crime? Many say yes. Strong law enforcement, they argue, is the only real defence we have against criminality. Bad people will always try to break the law – but with police on every corner, thieves wouldn’t have the courage to risk suffering for their sins.

Yes, say opponents, but no police force can be everywhere at once. If we really want a safe society, we should tackle the deprivation that drives people to break the law in the first place. Instead of counting policemen we ought to pay attention to the people who are unemployed, poorly educated, struggling to make ends meet or suffering from serious family problems. Surely, they say, a good society shouldn’t need truncheons and uniforms to feel safe.

You Decide

  1. Why do people break the law?
  2. What is a more important responsibility for a government – fighting poverty or maintaining law and order?

Activities

  1. Write a speech outlining how you would stop people from breaking the rules in your local community.
  2. What would a world with no police be like? Write a short story or play inspired by such a scenario.

Some People Say...

“Police are oppressors – not protectors.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Does this mean that British people are in greater danger from criminals?
It’s impossible to say for sure – the government claims that the cuts are just about making forces more efficient, but opposition parties and some commentators dispute this. Few are predicting chaos on the streets, but some experts say that more theft, for instance, is likely.
What have things like education and unemployment got to do with crime?
Another issue that nobody seems able to agree on. Those who suffer from extreme poverty may be driven to cheating and stealing just to get by, but this is not the only issue. It may also be that people who don’t feel valued by their society feel less loyalty to its rules. How important these factors are is a matter of fierce debate.

Word Watch

The Metropolitan Police Service
the Metropolitan Police, founded in 1829, are thought of as the first modern police force. They are known as ‘Bobbies’ because their founder was Robert Peel, who became one of the most famous Prime Ministers in British history.
Augustus
Born Gaius Octavius Thurinus, Augustus was the first Emperor of Rome. He ruled as a dictator, but also ended power struggles that had racked Rome for decades and presided over an era of order and prosperity.
Louis XIV
Known as the ‘Sun King’, Louis XIV was the longest-serving monarch in European history. He claimed enormous personal power for himself and helped to make France the greatest European power of its time.
Deprivation
Suffering from a serious lack of something important such as money or food.

Subjects

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