British Public Split on Their Confidence in the Police’s Ability to Protect Them From Crime

August 5, 2021
R&WS Research Team
GB Politics | Law & Order | Lifestyle and Society | Policing
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Last week, the Government set out its Beating Crime Plan, which aims to ‘reduce crime, protect victims and make the country safer’ as an element of the Prime Minister’s levelling up agenda. As a part of this plan, the Prime Minister has pledged to increase the police’s stop-and-search powers and tackle anti-social behaviour, among other things. 

In light of these announced measures, the latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies looks at Britons’ views of and direct experiences with the police in the UK, as well as at the public’s attitudes towards police funding and its assessment of the impact the Government’s reforms may have.

Overall, we find that a plurality of Britons view the British police favourably: 45% say they have a positive view of the police, in addition to 34% who say they have neither a positive nor a negative view. Conversely, 19% say they have a negative view of the police. Among respondents who say they or a member of their family have been a victim of crime in the past two years, views do not differ significantly, although views are slightly more negatively oriented: 40% have a positive view, 34% have neither a positive nor a negative view, and 26% have a negative view of the police in the UK. 

When it comes to respondents’ general views on the police, we observe clear differences between age groups, with more positive views of the police appearing correlated with older age. For instance, 29% of 18-to-24-year-olds have a positive view of the police, whereas 55% of those aged 65 and older do. Both neutral and negative views of the police are more common among younger respondents than among older respondents: 41% of 18-to-24-year-olds have neither a positive nor a negative view of the police and 19% have a negative view, while 28% of respondents aged 65 and above have neither a positive nor a negative view and 17% have a negative view of the police in the UK. 

Apart from age, respondents’ political preferences appear to be another correlated factor. As such, 2019 Conservative voters (53%) are more likely than 2019 Labour voters (38%) to have a positive view of the police in the UK. Meanwhile, 18% of 2019 Conservative voters hold a negative view of the police, compared to 23% of 2019 Labour voters.

When it comes to Britons’ confidence in the ability of the police to protect them from crime, the public is split. While 36% of respondents feel confident in the ability of the police to protect them from crime, 30% feel neither confident nor unconfident, and 31% of respondents say they feel unconfident. These results are almost identical with views we observed in London in September 2020, when 35% of respondents in the capital felt confident, 32% felt neither confident nor unconfident, and 31% felt unconfident in the ability of the police to protect them from crime.

Again, we observe differences in views as a function of respondents’ political preferences and age. 2019 Conservative voters (44%) appear to have more confidence in the ability of the police to protect them from crime than 2019 Labour voters (35%). Interestingly, however, despite their more positive overall views of the police, older Britons are comparatively less confident in the ability of the police to protect them from crime than younger Britons. As such, 32% of respondents aged 55 to 64 and an equal proportion (32%) of respondents aged 65 and above express their confidence, compared to slightly higher proportions of 36% of 18-to-24-year-olds, 38% of 25-to-34-year-olds, and 41% of 35-to-44-year-olds. These findings thus suggest that factors other than the ability of the police to protect them from crime may influence respondents’ overall views of the police.

In addition, 46% of respondents agree that they are more concerned about a crime being committed against them in the UK now than they were five years ago. At the same time, a similar proportion (43%) is neither more nor less concerned, but only 7% are less concerned about a crime being committed against them now than they were five years ago. 

At 67%, respondents who say they or a member of their family have been a victim of crime in the past two years are particularly likely to say they are more concerned about a crime being committed against them in the UK now than they were five years ago. 

Increased feelings of insecurity compared to five years ago may be one of the reasons why more than half (58%) of respondents think police funding should increase. An additional 22% say police funding should stay the same, while 11% are unsure. In stark contrast to calls to ‘defund the police’ seen in the United States last year, only 8% of respondents in Great Britain say police funding should decrease. Among those who say they or a member of their family have been a victim of crime in the past two years, 65% of respondents think police funding should increase, while 27% think it should stay the same and 16% think it should decrease. 

With regards to this question, we observe stark differences in opinion between age groups. Support for increasing police funding dramatically increases with age, from 29% of 18-to-24-year-olds to 72% of those aged 65 and above. An inverse trend is visible when it comes to attitudes on decreasing police funding, with 23% of 18-to-24-year-olds but only 2% of respondents aged 65 and above favouring a decrease in funding. These results suggest that younger respondents may be less likely than older respondents to view an increase in police funding as a means to improve the quality of the police’s work in the UK.

Indeed, this assumption is further supported by the finding that only 13% of 18-to-24-year-olds but as many as 42% of those aged 65 and above think that providing police forces with more police officers is most likely to lead to a reduction in levels of serious crime in the UK. Overall, 30% of the public thinks that providing more police officers is most likely to lead to a reduction in levels of serious crime in the UK. 

While nearly equal proportions of respondents aged 18 to 24 and respondents aged 65 and above think that sentencing criminals to tougher jail sentences (30% and 28%, respectively) or tackling social inequalities and similar root causes (16% and 16%) is most likely to lead to a reduction in levels of serious crime in the UK, 18-to-24-year olds (14%) are significantly more likely than those aged 65 and above (4%) to say improving police transparency is most likely to reduce levels of serious crime. This finding suggests that younger respondents are comparatively more likely to see qualitative—rather than quantitative—changes as a means to reduce crime levels and increase the quality of the police force’s work. 

Indeed, our research suggests that such a qualitative improvement appears necessary in light of the experience described by Britons who have been in direct contact with the police over the past two years as a result of having fallen victim to crime. 17% say they or a family have been a victim of a crime in the last year. Among this sub-sample, 85% say they reported the crime to the police. Yet, 69% of respondents whose family members or who themselves reported crime to the police in the past two years say that the police were indifferent and uncaring towards them or their family member over what had happened. Conversely, only 29% of this sub-group say the police were attentive and caring towards them or their family member over what had happened, suggesting significant levels of dissatisfaction with the police’s attitude towards crime victims.

Finally, as a part of the policing reforms announced by the Prime Minister last week, all crime victims will have a named police officer they can contact about their case. While Keir Starmer has described this aspect of the Government’s plans as ‘just a gimmick,’ our data shows that 45% of respondents overall—and 60% of respondents who say they or a member of their family have been a victim of crime in the past two years—say such a measure is likely to make a real difference to victims. 23% of the public overall and 17% of respondents who say they or a member of their family have been a victim of crime in the past two years think such a measure is neither likely nor unlikely to make a real difference to victims, and 26% and 19%, respectively, think it is unlikely to make a real difference to victims. There thus appears to be a significant level of public support for such a measure, particularly among Britons who have been directly affected by crime in the past two years.

Overall, a plurality of Britons hold a positive view of the police in the UK. This view is shared by a plurality of those who say they or a family member have been a victim of crime over the past two years, despite the fact that a significant majority of this sub-sample describes their direct contact with the police in negative terms. In addition, our research reveals stark differences in views regarding police funding between age groups, with support for increased funding more than doubling between the youngest and eldest age groups. Moreover, despite criticism voiced by the Labour Party, we find that measures such as giving crime victims a named police officer they can contact about their case are likely to find favour with voters, particularly with those who have recently been a victim of crime themselves.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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