Liz Truss wants to impose targets on police to cut murders by one fifth if she becomes prime minister under a policy lambasted as “incoherent”.
The Tory leadership candidate told forces she would expect them to cut homicide, serious violence and “neighbourhood crime” by 20 per cent before the next general election.
Ms Truss said her government would publish “league tables” to show how each of the 43 forces in England and Wales are performing against national trends, and that the chief constables of those deemed to be underperforming would have to explain themselves to ministers.
Her campaign team also took a swipe at chief constables, sending reporters a quote claiming that they were “not cracking down as hard as they should be”, threatening to deepen a rift that has grown during Priti Patel’s time as home secretary.
Policing sources said officers were sick of being used as a “political football” at a time when recorded crime stands at a record high, and prosecutions at a record low.
Simon Foster, the West Midlands police and crime commissioner, told The Independent: “Instead of attacking chief constables they should be given the resources they need.”
He said the Conservatives’ decade in government has had “catastrophic and devastating consequences”, adding: “Central government recklessly defunded our police, preventative public services and criminal justice system. That has undoubtedly contributed to the rise in crime.”
Several senior police sources questioned how murder and serious violence, which have complex and wide-ranging causes, could be reduced by 20 per cent by the 2024 election.
A long-serving senior officer noted that Ms Truss made no mention of how her government would fund dedicated work to address underlying issues, such as with domestic abuse and gang culture.
“If you set a target for policing you run the risk of skewing behaviour, whether that’s in practice or recording,” he warned, saying an official review had already “smashed to bits” the idea that targets prevent crime or improve victims’ experiences.
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Another senior policing source said that past targets had caused police to neglect vital areas of crime, such as child abuse and sexual offences.
“Targets can really send things the wrong way,” he warned. “This is a throwback to the incoherent ignorance of past politicians.”
A 2015 report found that previous crime targets created “perverse incentives to mis-record crime” and caused police to respond to some offences selectively, “to the detriment of other calls”.
The report was commissioned by then-home secretary Theresa May, who said at the time that “narrow target-chasing and bureaucracy” had hampered police.
“Targets don’t fight crime, they hinder the fight against crime,” she added. “They distort operational reality and reduce police officer discretion, while undue focus on one target can lead to some other crimes being neglected altogether.”
Ms Truss also wants chief constables deemed to be underperforming through the proposed league tables to attend a “special meeting” of the National Policing Board to explain their plans to ministers and senior officers.
But the board, chaired by the home secretary, is charged with addressing long-term strategy and government commitments, while individual forces are scrutinised by a separate group led by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.
“It sounds like Truss and her team haven’t got a clue,” a senior policing source said.
Other proposals include encouraging forces to ensure that officers respond in person to every domestic burglary, clamping down on the recording of non-crime hate incidents and trying to “veto training that focuses on identity politics”.
It was not clear what training was being referred to, amid a series of inquiries into police misogyny and racism.
“People across our country want criminals locked up, and crime prevented, so they feel safe on their streets,” Ms Truss said.
“It’s time for the police to get back to basics and spend their time investigating real crimes, not Twitter rows and hurt feelings. People can trust me to deliver and these league tables will help hold the police to account – making our streets safer and our country more prosperous.”
Driven by a sharp rise in offences including fraud, rape and violent attacks, a record total of 6.3 million crimes were recorded in the year to March.
In the same period, the number of recorded crimes prosecuted dropped to an all-time low of 5.6 per cent, with the figure standing at just 1.3 per cent of rape.
Victims are also waiting record times for their cases to be heard in court, after a barristers’ strike and Covid exacerbated a backlog the government caused by cutting sitting days.
The Liberal Democrat’s home affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael, said: “The answer to the Conservatives’ appalling failure on crime cannot be yet more interference by Conservative ministers.
“Local police chiefs and officers on the ground know how to do their jobs better than Liz Truss does. Making police officers chase arbitrary Whitehall targets won’t make our communities safer or end the scandal of 5,000 unsolved crimes every day. All it does is waste police time and undermine public trust and confidence.”