Where are the police? Britons’ attitudes to crime, anti-social behaviour and the police

  • Research
  • 30 January 2023

Drawing on extensive polling and focus groups, this new report by More in Common outlines Britons' attitudes on crime, policing, and anti-social behaviour: highlighting their lack of trust in the police, and what needs to be done to rebuild public support

Police Stock Image

Our key findings are:

  • Nearly seven in ten (68 per cent) believe the police have given up on trying to solve crimes like shoplifting and burglaries altogether
  • Tackling crime will be key to determining who wins the Red Wall at the next general election. The biggest swing segment (Loyal Nationals, a good proxy for 'Red Wall' voters) are both the most likely to have changed their vote between Conservative and Labour, and the most likely to say crime is important
  • 81 per cent of the public think that the police need to be held more accountable for bad behaviour
  • The public are almost twice as likely to agree than disagree that the police are more concerned about being woke than solving crimes
  • Trust in the police has eroded. Almost half say they don't trust police officers, and only one in ten says they trust them 'a great deal'. However, people also say they think more police should be on the street, and that this is key to reducing crime
  • Confidence in the criminal justice system to prosecute those who are guilty is low. Seven in ten who have experienced crime say it wasn’t solved
  • Four in five Britons think there should be better mental health services to relieve pressure on the police. A further 60 per cent believe that many mental health issues are being mistaken for crimes
3.2 New
"Several years ago, I had my car broken into. When I rang the police, all they gave me was a crime number so I could claim off the insurance. But they weren’t interested. So, all you get is a crime number and they can do what they want"

Gill, Loyal National, 61, Grimsby

"If you any problem here with street crime, when you ring the police...they make excuses "We are short staffed". In the last couple of months, somebody damaged my car outside in the drive, smashed my windscreen and smashed my front window as well. When I rang police, they said they'd come after three hours, then didn't. They said "Oh, we are short staffed. We can't do anything"

Majid, Loyal National, 43, Stoke-on-Trent

We found that with the exception of murder and traffic offences, the public thought that the police didn't take any of the listed crimes seriously enough. Similarly, 68 per cent agreed with the statement "The police have given up trying to solve lower-level crimes like shop lifting and burglaries", with only 9 per cent disagreeing. This topic came up consistently in focus groups, with people telling stories of how crimes weren't investigated, or how the police promised to come but never did.

It is damning that only 38 per cent of people have confidence in the UK justice system to successfully prosecute those who are guilty of committing crime. The imperative for the government to act on this is made clear in how 73 per cent think those who break the law should be given harsher sentences. This is highest (at 96 per cent) among the crucial Loyal National segment.

Britons do not just talk about crime as a problem in isolation. Instead, the impact of crime is a recurring theme in conversations about levelling up, community, and the cost of living. For that reason, the public believe talk of levelling up deprived communities will remain just talk until the government get serious about tackling crime and anti-social behaviour, while during our focus groups participants shared fears that as lower-level crimes weren’t tackled, any levelling up investment to town centres would be wasted due to the inevitability of vandalism. To put a stop to this, the public want the police and other local services to take a balanced approach to tackling anti-social behaviour by young people. On the one hand, they want young people to be made to clean up the consequences of their actions and for schools and parents to instil greater discipline, on the other hand, they want more activities and support for young people to avoid them being dragged into crime out of boredom or opportunism.

3.7 New

We’ve set out a series of potential policy solutions that both command public support and which would send a clear message that the government takes public concern seriously including:  

  • A reduction in police bureaucracy which puts officers back on the streets   
  • A Diversity and Inclusion Audit to ensure that the police’s approach to DEI is evidenced-based, proportionate, and uses police resources efficiently  
  • Better vetting of police officers and greater routes to policing from other professions 
  • Investment in CCTV across the country, with CCTV inspected and investigated quickly 
  • Local clean up squads which rapidly clear up the litter and vandalism, restricting laughing gas sales, and fixed penalty clean up notices compelling those who engage in anti-social behaviour to clean up their mess. 
  • New incentives and sanctions for parents to tackle undisciplined children  
  • Greater identification, support and discipline of children at risk of falling into crime within education   
  • Better provision for young people to keeps them engaged at evenings, weekends and during holidays 
  • Better training and support for the police to deal with mental health emergencies   

What unites the policies that public want to see to tackle crime is that they are not ideological - the solutions which command support could not be described as Tory or Labour, progressive or conservative, liberal or authoritarian. Instead, the public want action at every level, to prevent crime and offer alternative avenues to criminal behaviour, to punish those involved and to give the police the space they need to do their jobs well.

In perma-crisis Britain it is tempting to dismiss rising crime as just another issue on the to-do list. That would be a mistake. Crime is a cancer for social solidarity, corroding the fabric of our communities as well as making a whole series of other policy aims, from levelling up, to healthier citizens, to boosting employment, far more difficult. We hope that the findings of this report will act an impetus to policy makers, government and opposition alike, and to our police forces, of the need to act now to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour and rebuild public trust.    


"The message from our research is stark. The public think that crime and anti-social behaviour are out of control and they have lost confidence in the police’s ability to deal with it. In conversations across the country we heard the public’s frustration at how vandalism, theft and burglary had been all but decriminalised, thanks to an approach to policing that has its priorities all wrong and which is sending communities into a spiral of decline. Reversing that fall in confidence means a return to visible common sense policing. Getting schools and parents to step up in disciplining unruly children and making sure the perpetrators of anti-social behaviour are forced to clean up the consequences of their actions"

Luke Tryl, UK Director