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PCC – “opting out of policing and justice is not an option”

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024

The Times has broken a ‘story’, citing an internal letter from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), urging Chief Constables to think about “pausing” so-called “non-priority arrests”, owing to the lack of space in the prison system.

We welcome this morning’s response from the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Barber, which stresses that he, and Thames Valley Police, will have no truck with this ‘dangerous’ and ‘ridiculous’ suggestion.

It is dangerous, both to public safety and public confidence, to suggest that the police should arrest fewer people because of the lack of prison places.

Today, The Times has reported on an internal document from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) which advises Chief Constables to arrest fewer people due to prison overcrowding. This will not be happening in Thames Valley.

As Police & Crime Commissioner I cannot direct operational policing, but neither can the NPCC. I am, however, responsible for holding the police to account and earlier this week I discussed the crisis in the prison population with my Chief Constable. We’re in full agreement that the police need to continue to act and make arrests without fear or favour, not based on problems elsewhere in the system.

I cannot deny the crisis taking place in our prisons and I do not envy the Ministry of Justice in trying to stabilise the situation. Arguably this week will be the most critical, but even as things ease slightly in the coming weeks, this problem will not disappear. There will remain problems for many months to come, but we do not solve the issue by effectively telling the police – and criminals – that normal policing is on pause.

Over the last year arrests in Thames Valley increased almost 7% – and at the same time overall crime has fallen. I do not expect to see that trend shift as a result of a lack of prison places.

My concern over the short term measures being taken to ease the prison population go further than the ridiculous suggestion of arresting less criminals. The extension of early release should be a concern to all of us, and despite the best efforts by the Probation Service to risk-assess prisoners, it is hard to see how this can result in anything other than a rise in crime. Similarly, the changes to the recall regime for prisoners who breach their licence terms risk making recall to prison a practically empty threat.

Those who are arrested and charged must be presented to court as soon as possible. This is not a choice, it is the law. Again in Thames Valley I expect the police to continue to comply with the law and bring suspects to court at the earliest opportunity.

We all wish to see a speedy resolution of the prison crisis, but opting out of policing and justice is not an option.

Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner, 22nd May 2024

Link to statement on PCC website

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