Ministers will tell chief constables how their forces should investigate domestic abuse and sex offences under plans being considered to deal with a surge in cases.
Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, held talks with colleagues about using existing powers to set minimum standards for police handling allegations of violence against women and girls.
Only 1.4 per cent of about 55,000 rape cases reported to the police in England and Wales in 2019-20 resulted in a suspect being charged, while more than 750,000 domestic abuse cases were recorded, with only 47,534 convictions.
Gove and other ministers highlighted a paper by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary on the issue at a meeting of a Cabinet sub-committee dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic on the criminal justice system.
The paper recommended that the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council develop minimum standards for investigating crimes against women and girls. Priti Patel, the home secretary, would then compel police forces to adopt the new standards under the 1996 Police Act.
Charities have reported an increase in domestic abuse during the pandemic although official data is limited. Last year there was a 65 per cent increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline between April and June compared with January to March.
A government source said ministers fully respected the operational independence of the police. The discussion focused on how to use existing powers to improve the rate of prosecution.
The ministers’ plans drew an angry response from police after Patel announced a pay freeze. The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said last week it no longer had confidence in the home secretary. It warned that such was the anger among officers that they could enforce a “go-slow” on 999 calls or ditch their guns.
Boris Johnson will seek to shift the agenda back to tackling crime this week when he emerges from isolation at Chequers. He has been forced to isolate after Sajid Javid, the health secretary, contracted coronavirus.
The prime minister will unveil a new “beating crime” plan which will include in its provisions that every victim of crime has a named officer whom they can call and email, and who will be “immediately on your side”. Writing in The Sunday Express he said: “We need now to redouble our efforts, to continue to put more police out on the street, and to back them all the way.”
Other measures outlined by Johnson included publishing league tables for 101 and 999 call-answering times, putting more police into dealing with “the tiny minority of truant kids”, and intensifying efforts against county lines drug gangs.
Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, representing officers in the capital, criticised the “named officer” plan as unworkable. “That’s a gimmick because it’s not practical,” he said. “If that officer is on a shift pattern or off sick or on holiday, that just puts added pressure on that officer. It doesn’t work in that way. You can’t start singularly naming officers because by the sheer nature of their work … if they’re not at work, what happens then?”
Marsh also criticised the prime minister’s suggestion that he backs police “all the way”. “Well he’s not backing us all the way is he, he’s treating us in a derisory way,” he said, raising concerns over police treatment in the pandemic.
“And what do we get at the end of it? As usual, absolutely nothing. His words are hollow and my colleagues are fed up with it now.”
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