At some point, a great many of us will have been victims of crime, or will be close to someone who has. Burglary, robbery, car crime - right through to assault, sexual violence and domestic violence. To be a victim of crime - a stolen phone, a damaged car - is, at the least, disturbing and frequently expensive. To have your home invaded by burglars, or to be robbed on the street (I’ve experienced both) is a hideous experience. At worst, crime is a devastating life changing event. Having taken a particular interest in gang crime, I have sat with the mothers of murdered teenagers and even later, cannot help but be overwhelmed once more with the indescribable agony of someone who has lost a child to violence. Such events are rare-but not rare enough.
Over the last twenty years, we have experienced a profoundly welcome fall in overall crime. The reasons for this are hotly debated, but the trend is clear. This long term reduction doesn’t, of course, mean every type of offence crimes is down, everywhere, year on year. It can be true that crime is down in London but up in Harrow Road, or that street robberies are down in St John’s Wood but car crime is up. ‘Hot-spots’ bubble up in different places and involving different types of offending. On-line fraud is certainly on the up. The overall pattern, though, is positive and we should be pleased about it.
Does this mean that we can be relaxed about the decline in neighbourhood policing we have been seeing? I don’t think so. Complex urban areas like ours need to be managed. The heart of London has to be protected against the possibility against threats of different kinds. Westminster’s police must still rise to the challenges of a massive numbers of working, night-time and tourist visitors, swelling the residential population and, of course, the reason why our local crime statistics often look a lot worse than those of our neighbours. And all the usual challenges of the city still apply- from alcohol related problems to youth violence.
Yet our police numbers fell by around 30% between 2011 and last year, as part of the reduction of 17,000 police nationally. With 4000 fewer uniformed officers in London, it is not surprising that a recent report confirmed that half of Londoners say there is ‘no sign of the police in their areas’. Our neighbourhood police teams- once intended to provide a core of dedicated officers to each area, getting to know the people and problems- have been reduced substantially- with a new organisational structure, given more to do, with fewer resources.
And now we know there is potentially far worse to come, with policing unprotected from the next, even deeper round of spending cuts pencilled in by the current government. Their plans mean we are not half way through the intended cuts in public spending- and policing is on the frontline. Met Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan Howe has already said "We don't think our current funding from the home office fully recognises the challenges of policing our capital” and that the force needed to be more vocal about the cuts, as they could not tackle everything within a shrinking budget.
I want to keep our streets safe- and getting safer- with both the specialist policing to respond to complex challenges, and neighbourhood police rooted in the communities they serve. I do not believe we can face the scale of cuts to policing that the Conservatives are drawing up without consequences. It is one of the choices people face in a few weeks.