Policing has reached its “tipping point” with slower emergency responses, more crimes dealt with over the phone and fewer offenders brought to justice, a chief constable has warned.
Dave Thompson said the service is in danger of “pursuing efficiency to the point of ineffectiveness”.
The West Midlands chief constable and national policing lead for finance and resources noted that police budgets have seen a real terms reduction of 19% since 2010.
He said the increasing threat from terrorism and organised crime, along with rises in the number of offences perpetrated against vulnerable victims, mean more complex investigations.
Almost every case has a digital footprint with subsequent investigations taking longer than ever before as officers trawl huge amounts of data, Mr Thompson added.
He welcomed greater investment in tackling terrorism and serious organised crime, but warned that the gains made have come at a cost to “perhaps the most important parts of policing for the public”.
“Officers are not as fast at responding to emergencies and more crimes are dealt with on the phone.
“Fewer high volume crimes like thefts are investigated, and as a result fewer offenders brought to justice.
“The visibility and proactivity of neighbourhood policing is much reduced.
“Bluntly, our ability to manage the big threats and protect the vulnerable, yet still be the traditional police the public want and need, is becoming ever harder.
“We are in danger of pursuing efficiency to the point of ineffectiveness – where we can process the work but we’re not detecting crime as we should be and not meeting public expectations.”
Mr Thompson said: “Policing is at the tipping point – and we need to move on from here.”
The NAO’s findings, published last month, sparked fresh debate over Government’s approach to police funding, and the service provided by forces.
The watchdog found arrest rates and victim satisfaction levels are on the slide, and flagged up reductions in the percentage of crimes resulting in charges.
Separate analysis by the Press Association revealed hundreds of thousands of residential burglary, vehicle theft and shoplifting investigations are closed without a suspect being identified.
Mr Thompson emphasised that he remains “positive” about policing, saying it is “better in many ways than it was five, ten or twenty years ago” and expressed optimism that ministers have “listened to our concerns”.
Another police leader described how austerity had been “traumatic” for forces.
Appearing at the Commons Public Accounts committee, Durham chief constable Michael Barton said: “I actually think – and I’m not popular on this – that the public sector needed an incentive to change and improve.
“I think the budget cuts we faced in 2010 and 2011 were helpful to the organisation … because we became much more private-sector motivated with a public-sector heart.
“The problem has been …it’s that length of time.
“When that kicked in we were told we could cut hard, cut deep, cut once and austerity would end in 2015 and that has not been the case and that has been so traumatic.”
However, he added: “I’m not going to start sounding the death knell of policing because number one it’s not true, and number two it’s not helpful to the public.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid appeared to signal a shift in the Government’s stance earlier this year when, within weeks of his appointment, he pledged to prioritise police funding in the next spending review.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We remain committed to working closely with police and delivered a £460 million increase in overall police funding in 2018/19, including increased funding for local policing through council tax.
“We are also working with the police to put forward the evidence to ensure they receive the resources they need to do their vital work at the next spending review.”