Policing has come a long way but major problems persist, says outgoing Chief Inspector of Constabulary

The police service has come a long way in the past ten years with many important successes, but major problems still need to be addressed, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary has said.

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State of Policing – The annual assessment of Policing in England and Wales 2021

Today, Sir Thomas Winsor has published his ten-year view of policing in England and Wales as he prepares to leave office on the expiry of his appointment on 31 March 2022.

The Chief Inspector reflected on recent evidence of toxic behaviour and attitudes demonstrated by some police officers. He said that when public trust in the police is damaged, it is essential that public reassurance in the integrity and professionalism of the police is restored and reaffirmed as quickly as possible (page 33).

In his final annual report after nearly a decade in post, the Chief Inspector described how demand on the police has changed very significantly, for example:

  • online crime is now by far the most prevalent type of crime; fraud has exploded, eclipsing all other crimes in volume (page 41);
  • total demand and public expectations cannot be met without sufficient funding (pages 42-43) and the public must decide how much threat, harm and risk they are prepared to tolerate; and
  • the rapid advancement of technology has provided opportunities for both criminals and the police, but the police have sometimes struggled to keep pace (page 56).

In his report, the Chief Inspector also draws attention to:

  • the primary purpose of the police is prevention, which is the least expensive way of
    dealing with crime: least expensive in terms of human suffering, money and effort
    (page 20);
  • the material and unjustified load placed on the police by the chronically insufficient
    public provision of treatment of mental ill health, especially in the case of children and
    adolescents (page 21-22);
  • the causes of crime and low detection rates (pages 23-24);
  • the need for proactive as well as reactive policing to protect the silent, the fearful and
    the weak (page 25);
  • the state of the criminal justice system, its delays and stresses, and the critical
    importance of its efficient functioning as an essential part of a mature democracy
    operating under the rule of law (pages 27-29);
  • the state of the system of local police accountability and the sometimes brittle and
    fragile relationships between chief constables and police and crime commissioners,
    and the need for trust and confidence in a special constitutional relationship which
    the public needs to work (pages 30-32);
  • the qualities of good police officers, possessed and continuously and conspicuously
    displayed by the vast majority of them (page 36);
  • child protection and violence against women and girls (pages 44-46);
  • the need for forces and politicians to take fraud far more seriously (pages 49-50);
  • the successes and potential of the National Crime Agency, and its ability, with sufficient investment, to do a great deal more to disrupt or break sophisticated criminal networks (pages 51-55);
  • the need for significant investment in police technology (pages 56-61); and
  • the need for improved vetting of officers and staff (pages 65-66).

The Chief Inspector also said the fragile architecture of the 43-force model, born in 1962, is not fit for purpose. Sir Thomas reiterated his proposal for a network code, which would dissolve the barriers preventing policing and law enforcement from operating as a single system and secure fair, reliable and sustainable decisions on regional and nation-wide problems (page 67).

Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said:

“In the past ten years, the police service has come a long way. Critical advances have been made in several fields of policing, including domestic abuse, child protection, the quality of some investigations, relations with the public and workforce diversity. Police officers and staff have a very great deal of which to be proud.

“But major shortcomings in policing persist, and these need to be addressed. Criminality is often now complex and far more sophisticated, and investigations can take far longer. If the police continue to use 20th-century methods to try to cope with 21st-century technology, they will continue to fall further and further behind.

“The police service cannot meet 100 percent of public expectations for, say, 70 percent of their efficient cost. The public, through their elected representatives, must decide how much risk and harm they are prepared to accept, and whether they will pay more for higher levels of public safety.

“One of the most important things the police must do, especially in London, is to rebuild public trust, which has recently been damaged. Public confidence in the police is more than precious, it is essential.

“As I reflect on the past decade in policing, I commend the courage and commitment of police officers and staff across the country. The severity of the problems that our police service now faces should not be underestimated, but the public should be reassured by the strong, pragmatic and professional approach of police officers and staff. They should stand in admiration of their fortitude and bravery in facing sometimes mortal danger and the worst things which happen to people and which people do to others.

“The public can and must trust the police.”

Get the report

State of Policing – The annual assessment of Policing in England and Wales 2021


  1. Sir Thomas Winsor was appointed HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary for a three-year term from 1 October 2012, the first holder of that post not to have served as a police officer.
  2. His three-year term was reset for a further five years, with effect from 1 December 2014. From 17 July 2017, he was reappointed again for a new term which expires on 31 March 2022.  He is the longest-serving holder of the office.
  3. His first State of Policing report for 2012-13 was published on 31 March 2014.
  4. Today’s is his ninth and last State of Policing report.
  5. For further information, please contact the HMICFRS Press Office on 07836 217 729 or HMICPressOffice@hmicfrs.gov.uk