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Policing new boundaries

Public perceptions on policing the modern world

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The challenges of policing

The core mission of the police is to keep the public safe. But the task of protecting people is getting harder. The interplay of demographic and societal changes, allied with innovations in technology have created new and varied types of crime. Indeed, some of the advances in technology that have arguably increased our prosperity have also presented criminals with fresh avenues to exploit, unconstrained by geographic borders. We commissioned a survey of over 4,000 people to understand public perceptions of these challenges.

The purpose of this report is to provide fresh insight and assist policing leaders in the vital challenges they currently face. We believe those challenges require a more nuanced debate about how services are delivered – and that the public is ready to think differently too.

Andy Key, Partner PwC

Key Findings

We believe our findings challenge existing perceptions which have often limited the scale of change thought to be palatable to the public. As a result of this report, we encourage police leaders to reflect this ambition in their decision-making.

1. The public perceives the job of the police as getting harder due to the changing nature of crime

There is a correlation between the challenges that policing leaders describe in delivering an effective, efficient and legitimate policing model, and the challenges the public see for policing. Three quarters of those surveyed said both that the police’s work is getting harder and that they have a higher volume of work.

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2. The public expects the police to protect them and are clear about the role policing plays in society

The way that respondents described their views of the role of policing aligns with the police’s stated mission. When asked to describe what the police do respondents used words such as ‘protect’, ‘order’, ‘enforce’ and ‘prevent’. This positive endorsement should give police forces confidence that the public support them and are clear on their expectations.

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3. The public has clear priorities for the police

Crimes of a more serious nature were consistently prioritised by respondents. While there were some minor variations in regional and demographic groups, the overall picture was clear that the police should prioritise efforts to investigate or prevent murder, terrorism, serious and organised crime and crimes of a sexual nature.

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4. The public recognises police force structures, but are more supportive of national delivery options than leaders might think

The survey indicates that the public think more crimes are handled above the level of local police forces than is actually the case. This should encourage police leaders to consider a broader range of options for change; many of which we believe would be supported by the public.

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5. The public is more concerned with outcomes than how policing is organised

Over two thirds of our survey said that they don’t care how the police are organised if the end result is lower crime and a safer community. The public could therefore potentially support ambitious changes to the police delivery model.

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Building on these conclusions, we believe that police leadership should:

1. Actively engage the public in a national debate on the future of policing

The public support the police, recognise their vital role in society and are knowledgeable about the challenges police forces face in keeping them safe. And yet the debate on policing’s future has failed to grab public attention in the way that similar debates in health, welfare and transport have. Our findings suggest that debate needs a national component to complement local questioning. With only a local lens to engagement, policing leaders risk making assumptions about public views which may limit the choices that emerge.

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2. Be ambitious in responding to the policing challenge

The government expects policing to reform itself. Police forces therefore have an opportunity to transform how policing is delivered across the UK. This opportunity comes within an environment of rapidly changing crime and criminality, of increasing expectations of the public and policing partners, and of operational and financial challenges. But the police now have the chance to own and drive transformational change. Our polling suggests the public will support that level of ambition, and, indeed, are in some areas already ahead of it.

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Contact us

Andy Key

Andy Key

Home Affairs Leader, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7720 270761

Michael Harrington

Michael Harrington

Borders & Immigration, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7702 697642

Andrew Newsham

Andrew Newsham

Partner, National Lead for Policing, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7850 516169

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