Police ability to meet demand in question as arrests fall 57%
Arrests by Suffolk police have plummeted almost 60% in nine years despite rising crime.
The force made 6,845 arrests in the last year, compared to 15,850 in 2008/09, against a backdrop of increasing reports of violent and sexual offences – with overall crime up 15% in the same 12 month period to March 2018.
It means about one in eight of the 53,116 crimes recorded in the county resulted in an arrest being made – continuing a downward trend for each year since a peak at the end of the last decade.
A year-on-year fall of 1% since March 2017 was balanced against a sharper 8% nation-wide drop – leading the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) to insist crime prevention and public protection were being “significantly curtailed” by trying to meet demand with existing resources.
A 3.3% workforce reduction left Suffolk’s population per 100,000 policed by 117 constables as of last March, compared to a national average of 162 per 100,000.
Suffolk’s head of safeguarding and investigations, Detective Chief Superintendent Eammon Bridger called the figures an important addition to the debate about the ability of police to deal with growing demand.
“It is important to remember that arrest figures don’t give the full picture of a local policing service and overall Suffolk remains a safe county,” he added.
“The decline in arrest figures is reflective of the national picture, with officers continuing to do the best job possible under increasing pressure.”
Nationally, 5.6 million crimes were recorded – the highest total since the year ending March 2005.
The Home Office highlighted improvements in recording practices and the confidence of victims as contributing to recorded crime reaching its highest level since 2004/2005.
Growing use of ‘voluntary attendance’ was also cited as a potential factor in falling arrests – with individuals reporting to police for the purpose of assisting an investigation.
Det Ch Supt Bridger said: “Arrest is only one power to tackle and deter crime, with officers also using a number of other methods, where appropriate, including voluntarily attendances at a police station, stop-and-search and community resolutions – all of which provide different avenues to the criminal justice system.
“It’s important that officers always ensure they are victim focused in dealing with offenders, and address offending behaviour proportionately and effectively.
“Where a crime has been committed and evidence allows, we will always seek to bring offenders to justice.
“We monitor our performance through regular scrutiny and constantly review crime being reported to us to ensure we deploy our resources effectively, based on the threat, harm and risk posed.”
A recent restructure of local policing will see 104 officers move into Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs) at the expense of cutting police community support officers (PCSO) numbers from 81 to 48 full-time equivalent positions.
Det Ch Supt Bridger said the changes demonstrated the force had listened to public desire for as many frontline staff as possible.
Use of stop-and-search powers and roadside breathalyser tests also reduced year-on-year – but a higher percentage of individuals were found to have broken the law.
Suffolk was among the majority of forces to record a drop in the use of stop-and-search under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
Of 1,254 stop-and-searches, 17% (211) resulted in arrest for drugs, a weapons, stolen goods or another item linked to crime. The previous year, 1,978 stop-and-searches resulting in 302 arrests (15%).
Meanwhile, fewer roadside breath tests were carried out, despite more providing positive readings for drink-driving.
In 2009, 10% of 13,957 breath tests were either refused or resulted in a positive reading, while in 2016, total tests fell to 12,732 as the rate of refused and positive tests increased to 15.6%.
A spokesman said stop-and-search remained an important tool if used fairly and responsibly.
A close working relationship with partners such as Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality enables the force to update and improve policy while aiming to reduce crime, anti-social behaviour and disorder, they said, adding: “We monitor our performance through regular meetings and constantly review all crime being reported to us to ensure we deploy our resources effectively, based on the threat, harm and risk posed.”
The most common arrest was on suspicion of violence against the person (38%) last year, when the majority of those arrested were male (83%).
•Public confidence in police has been “severely dented” as forces struggle to deliver effective service, a Commons committee warned.
Falls in funding and staff have left police under “increasing strain”, said a Public Accounts Committee report, citing a drop in crimes resulting in a charge or summons from 15% in March 2015 to 9% in March 2018.
Police are carrying out less proactive work – with about a quarter of emergency and priority incident responses considered crime-related, added the report, accusing the Home Office of “limited understanding” of resources required by forces to protect the public and prevent crime.
While funding has fallen by 19% in real terms, officer numbers have decreased by more than 20,000 since 2010.
In last month’s Budget, the Chancellor pledged another £160m to counter-terrorism but said overall spending power would be reviewed by the Home Secretary in December’s funding settlement.
• Mental health has become part of almost every aspect of police work, admitted Suffolk Constabulary, as figures revealed the almost daily use of emergency powers to detain people for their own safety.
In the year ending March 31, 2018, police detained 347 people under section 136 of the Mental Health Act.
Twenty were under the age of 18, showed statistics, which revealed total annual detentions fell from 440.
A recent custody inspection of Suffolk and Norfolk found staff dealt well with challenging situations.
A spokesman said: “Incidents in which mental health is a factor are a significant part of our day-to-day work and touch on almost every area of policing. We are continually working to gain a better understanding of the demand we face in this area.
“We continue to work closely with our partners in the mental health community at a local and regional working group level as well as at a national level.”