Last week, a damning report into the culture of the Metropolitan police was published under the authorship of Baroness Casey.
The report into the Met was commissioned following a string of scandals involving officers in the force, namely the horrific abduction and murder of Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens, a member of the forces elite Special Firearms Unit, and a series of rapes committed by another former officer in the same unit, David Carrick, who was recently sentenced to at least 30 years in prison.
In the wake of the Casey report, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies last week canvassed British voters on their perceptions of the police and about policing matters in general.
Ultimately, a plurality of voters (49%) agree with Baroness Casey’s conclusion that recent revelations about misconduct in the force reflect an institutional problem, as opposed to 35% who think it reflects a problem with specific officers.
More profoundly, our poll finds a plurality of British voters (40%) now say they have a negative view of the police in the UK, against only 26% who hold a positive view. This latest result represents a marked deterioration in the public’s view of the police since May last year, at which time 38% said they had a positive view of the police, against 25% who had a negative view.
In addition, over one-fifth (22%) of voters in our most recent poll rated their trust in the police as 0 (no trust) on a scale of 0 to 3, with only 11% putting their trust at the highest level of 3 (complete trust).
Concurrent to this erosion of trust in the police is a widespread feeling that the United Kingdom is becoming less safe. 55% of Britons say they feel more concerned about a crime being committed against them now than they did five years ago, compared to only 7% who say they are less concerned.
Furthermore, a plurality of 33% say they are unconfident in the police’s ability to protect them from crime, against only 32% who do hold such confidence in them. This lack of confidence is especially pronounced among the youngest and oldest age cohorts, with 35% of 18-24-year-olds and 37% of those aged over 65 saying they are unconfident in the police’s ability to protect them.
When British voters are asked about how safe they feel taking part in specific activities, a marked gender split emerges.
Overwhelming majorities of men say they would feel safe doing a wide range of activities, with walking alone at night being the only prompted activity which more men say they would feel unsafe (41%) than safe (40%) doing.
In stark contrast, on every single activity listed, fewer women say they would feel safe doing it than do men. Only 44% of women feel safe exercising in an outdoor public space by themselves, as compared to 58% of men. A majority of women (58%) also say they feel unsafe walking alone at night, as compared to 41% of men.
The Sarah Everard case and its aftermath has sparked demands from women’s rights campaigners for major reform, with one recent opinion piece provocatively titled, “Can women in Britain ever trust the police again?”
Making women feel safer going about their daily lives, combined with tackling institutional problems within their own ranks, will go a long way towards restoring the public’s trust in police forces across the country.
These negative trends nationally, however, must be caveated with the fact that a clear plurality of Britons regard their own area as safe. Even though fear of crime and distrust of the police has risen nationally, 40% of voters agree that their local area is a safe place, against 24% who think the opposite. Almost three-quarters (74%) of Britons say they find police officers in their area at least somewhat approachable, although a worryingly high 26% say local officers are not at all approachable.
Overall, however, national media coverage of high-profile scandals involving serving officers appears to have markedly shifted voters’ impressions of the police.