Monday, 28 February 2011

The criminals must be laughing

Between 1997 and 2010, crime fell by more than 40%. It doesn’t matter whether you look at reported crime statistics – the numbers of crimes reported to the police by the public – or the British Crime Survey, where more than 40,000 people are interviewed in detail each year about their personal experience of crime during the last year. This survey picks up crimes which people don’t report to the police.

I have little doubt that this massive reduction resulted from a combination of a significant increase in police numbers (after cuts in numbers during the last Conservative government), the introduction of Police Community Support Officers, increased public confidence in the police to tackle crime, new laws to tackle anti-social behaviour, and the development of Community Safety Partnerships – where all the agencies and local people get together with a determination to both prevent crime and catch perpetrators.

Bizarrely, the Policing Minister in the Conservative-led government, Nick Herbert, doesn’t believe in any of this. When he recently announced that the budget for policing was going to be cut by 20% over the next 4 years, he made the astonishing claim that “there is no such link” between police officer numbers and the amount of crime.

We are now beginning to see the impact of those cuts. In our region alone, police authorities have already announced a cut of 775 police officers and 1570 support staff next year, with more to come. The same Minister has just announced a cut of 50% in the budget to support Community Safety Partnerships next year, with a further 30% cut to come in 2012.

We should always be looking for services to become more efficient, effective and responsive, but it is simply ludicrous to suggest that any efficiency improvement can make up for the scale of these cuts. Similarly, it is nonsense to suggest that ‘cutting the back-office’ won’t have any effect on the front-line. The back-office includes scenes of crime staff, intelligence co-ordinators and analysts, people who support the victims of crime. And, now we discover that the recently promoted local crime maps will actually take police off the streets, because local police officers will now have to do the data-inputting that was previously undertaken by the back-office staff.

Two weeks ago, the Liberal Democrat Leader of Sheffield City Council proudly announced that the LibDem Conference to be held in Sheffield in March would bring £2.5 million to the local economy. He did this at the same time as he smuggled out his decision to make big cuts the number of PCSOs in the city. But now we learn that the cost of policing that Conference will be more than £2m, which means making an additional £2m in cuts in frontline policing in our area.

Local villains must be laughing all the way to the bank. I don’t think that local families and communities will find this is any laughing matter.