Let police deliver a service required

Speaker's Corner columnists - Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk/opinion, @peterboroughtel on Twitter, Facebook.com/peterboroughtoday

Headline figures from official Crime Data reveal that the police have seen an increase of reported crime over the last three years, and with even greater rises of violent offences, writes Steve Lane, Werrington First Independents.

The Office for National Statistics said these figures suggest the police are dealing with a growing volume of crime and they judged it to be a genuine increase.

This news will no doubt add to the strain on every Chief Constable’s budget planning. The system is already creaking under the pressure to meet everyone’s expectations following years of funding cuts and depleted resources. So, a forecast that suggests a growth in actual crime must lead them to ponder how long it will be before their force becomes financially unviable.

Since 2010, Home Office funding for police forces in England and Wales has been sharply cut. Coupled with a recruitment freeze when leaving officers were not replaced, their numbers have steadily dropped and is reported to be at its lowest since 1985. The Cambridgeshire police numbers are now at 1346, down from 1471 - an 8.5% fall in seven years, and is a disturbing trend.

It is time for an urgent and serious debate with government. To start with, it must listen to a police federation’s call for more officers to be employed to ease their workload, and boost morale amongst bobbies exhausted from what is required of them. It seems incredulous that Government expects them to combat criminality and tackle terrorists on the street, but then fails to provide sufficient numbers to carry that out. The current position is unsustainable.

In stark contrast with our own government, the Australian state of Victoria is putting more than 3100 extra police officers on the streets, and giving them the resources, equipment and support they need. Their State Premier said that many in the community do not feel safe. “We have seen crime rise and we see the need to do more, not more of the same.”

I would certainly echo that sentiment for the Peterborough public’s experience and fear of crime.

Here, they tell Cambridgeshire Constabulary they are becoming more afraid to go into the city centre at night because they fear it is not safe. What they ask for is a priority to deliver a visible police presence to ease that anxiety.

But I suspect the ability to meet these demands due to under-funding are now at a standstill, and I fear that senior officers are being left to carry the can for the Government. It is they who are left to explain a change in operational priorities because of police reform and budget pressures.

Unfortunately for the Chief Constable, it is he that is tasked with providing an effective and improved crime management but with less resources.

But, however prudent that may be, the public will never accept that bobbies on the beat is not a fundamental tool for effective policing. The priorities for them are real and closer to home. They have seen crime rise and see the need for the police to do more, not less. They need to see numbers, not strategy.

I can briefly illustrate this by relating to an incident in London’s Oxford Street many years ago, when I witnessed a handbag snatch outside a department store. Hearing the scream for help, and literally within seconds, a uniformed bobby ran from across the road to give chase and actually nabbed the thief. That constable’s presence meant one more criminal removed from the streets, and perhaps a signal to those with a similar intent.

It’s time for the Home Office to treat our police officers with fairness and respect, and to allow them to deliver to the public a service it deserves. In the meantime, I raise my hat in gratitude for all those who remain true to their oath, and the commitment to serve.

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