Drop in criminals facing court as police lack resources to investigate

The number of reported crimes ending with a suspect in court has dropped along with police staff, while the use of volunteers in the police force is on the rise

In the twelve months to March 2018, just one in 11 reported crimes ended in court, while in 2017 it was one in eight.

UNISON analysis of the data shows that one reason for the drop is that police are struggling to find enough evidence to convict criminals. From 2017 to 2018 there was an 18% rise in criminal investigations closed because of ‘evidential difficulties’, figures from the Home Office show.

Of the 4,877,000 crimes reported in the twelve months to March 2018, nearly one in 10 (9%) were closed due to a lack of evidence. Cases closed for evidential difficulties are often a result of victims not supporting further police action, but our analysis shows that for one in three of these cases, the victim did want the case to proceed.

Other reasons for cases being closed without a conviction are the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or the police deeming the investigation ‘not in the public interest’, offenders being too ill or too young, or settlements being made outside of court.

UNISON national officer for police and justice Ben Priestley says: “We have heard over and over again that police forces lack people power. Police officers, police staff and PCSOs have all been cut since 2010, and it all has an impact on what police forces are able to achieve.”

This comes at a time when police forces are struggling under the pressure of austerity, with many senior police figures calling for an increase in funding.

Durham police force solves crimes at a consistently high rate compared to other police force areas. Roy Collins, who works for Durham police and is the UNISON branch secretary, says part of the reason is the force’s investment in PCSOs: “The primary role of a PCSO is to be a visible presence within local communities, and the fact that minor crime levels and anti-social behaviour crimes are falling year on year confirms the trust that the communities have in our PCSOs.”

Volunteers on the rise

The police workforce in England and Wales has seen an overall drop of 18% since 2010, which includes a 15% drop in police officers, a 21% drop in police staff, and a massive 40% drop in PCSOs. This comes amid a growing trend in police forces relying on volunteers, sources have told UNISON.

A snapshot analysis of jobs posted on the website allpolicejobs.co.uk on Saturday 28 July shows that over 1 in 10 (11%) jobs with police forces are unpaid.

These unpaid roles include a volunteer firearms training administrator in the Hampshire police force area, CID support volunteers in both Derbyshire and Leicestershire and a volunteer domestic abuse perpetrator assistant in Thames Valley.

Mr Priestley comments that the drop in the police workforce is now beginning to have an impact. “We’re seeing crime figures going up, solved cases going down, and it’s because of the reduction in staff.

“It is extremely worrying that police forces appear to be making up for the loss in paid staff by hiring volunteers who are not accountable in the same way as staff on the payroll.”

Visit our police workforce tracker to see how the police workforce in your local area has changed since 2010.

The Home Office did not respond to our request for comment on the figures.