Opinion: ‘A safer city with more police needed’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour Group leader on Peterborough City Council writes...

Sunday, 4th July 2021, 1:46 pm
Does Peterborough need more police officers?

Cambridgeshire police is asking residents a very simple question: how safe do you feel? It’s a fair question: we cannot be a cohesive, thriving community unless we are sure law and order are well established.

There was a decline in overall recorded crime last year, but those statistics were skewed by lockdown. People were staying indoors and that may have led to a reduction in crime. As our country re-opens, we are going to return to this less appealing part of “normal”.

So how safe do we really feel? As a councillor, I hear from residents all the time about their fears. There is a general perception that the police are not as available as they used to be: it’s true, law enforcement has suffered from severe budget constraints. These constraints have not disappeared, but the police are under-resourced and are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances. Furthermore, as we turn from an era of borrowing to keep the economy on life support to paying the bills, it seems likely the government will once again start a frantic scramble for savings coupled with tax increases. Law enforcement took a significant hit the last time; there’s no reason to think it won’t again.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

However, there are some cuts which are expensive. A cut to law enforcement’s budget might seem like a simple saving. But consider this: a shop that has its windows smashed is a cost to the business and the insurer. The business has to pay the excess, the insurer has to raise its rates. If this incident is not a one-off, the business in question may feel compelled to move. The jobs it has may go elsewhere. Someone pays, somehow: it’s a question of who picks up the bill.

Residential neighbourhoods pay additional costs: if crime becomes prevalent, house prices go down. People become fearful, and communities are susceptible to being atomised. The wealthy can escape these problems by using expensive alarms or relocating to more desirable locations. Everyone else is stuck.

Labour’s position is straightforward; we believe that we can’t lift people out of poverty, as we wish, unless crime is dealt with. This means ensuring that children get a chance to get the best possible education, and thus are put on a path away from that which leads to crime. This also means the police get the resources they need to ensure our neighbourhoods are safe. You can try to shift these costs, hide them, bury them elsewhere. However, they always come to the fore.

I don’t get a strong sense that the Conservative administration is thinking too deeply about Cambridgeshire Police’s question: how safe do we all feel? It has long been a Conservative fetish to appear tough on a subject to disguise a lack of effect.

They will no doubt say offenders should be treated harshly, but will that make us feel safer? Does that unpick the issue? Will that build up our sense of public safety which is essential for everything else? I have my doubts.

We have had over 10 years of Conservative-led governance at a national level, twice that much here in our city. Do we feel safer for it? I dare say not.