In Brief

Police 'rationing' services in face of budget cuts

Watchdog raises 'red flag' after report highlights forces 'artificially suppressing or downgrading' emergency calls

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Police forces in England and Wales are "rationing" services in response to budget cuts and increasing levels of demand, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has warned.

In an inspection report published today, the watchdog said police were "artificially suppressing or downgrading" calls, leading to some basic tasks not being carried out. 

It found evidence of emergency calls being reclassified as less urgent when there was a shortage of officers to respond and high-risk victims of domestic violence "on occasions" being downgraded to medium risk.

"This is because, in too many respects, existing support systems are overwhelmed," said the report.

Although two-thirds of forces were graded as either good or outstanding overall, HMIC urged police leaders to take action before problems become more widespread.

Zoe Billingham, who led the inspection, said: "Over the last few years, HMIC has said consistently that police forces were managing well in increasingly difficult circumstances. Nonetheless, today, I'm raising a red flag to warn forces of the consequences of what is, to all intents and purposes, an unconscious form of rationing of police services."

Billingham also warned of a national crisis in the shortage of detectives and investigators, which was "often leading to excessive workloads and stress amongst those currently in the roles", she said.

Chief Constable Michael Barton, of the National Police Chiefs' Council, said budgets had been slashed by 22 per cent in five years, with a loss of 32,000 officers and staff.

He added: "It's a simple reality that we are required to prioritise more. Difficult decisions are being made between resourcing neighbourhood teams, response units, specialist investigations and digital and cyber-enabled crime. There are no easy answers."

Writing in The Independent, retired police officer Lord Paddick says that "while some may call the actions of control room staff reprehensible, they are only doing this when there are simply no more police officers to send".

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