H ow do you react when you see uniformed police officers on the beat? That probably depends on what sort of person you are, writes Patrick O’Flynn MEP, the SDP candidate for Peterborough.
If you are criminally-inclined then you will no doubt view it as a nuisance. Or, as the judge used to say so memorably at the start of every episode of the television sitcom Porridge, “an occupational hazard”.
But if you are one of the vast majority of law-abiding citizens, I am guessing you will be pretty pleased. In fact you might even think you’ve been dreaming, given the cuts police have faced since 2010, with a national real terms 19% reduction in policing budgets.
As the fastest-growing part of England in terms of percentage population increases, Peterborough and Cambridgeshire has been particularly vulnerable to constraints on police numbers.
So, although there are other parts of the country that have suffered bigger percentage cuts, and although a new policing model introduced here last May began finally to turn the tide of reductions in frontline officers, the Cambridgeshire Constabulary is still severely under-manned. We have 2.8 officers per 1,000 of population here, compared to a national average of 3.6.
And all this at a time when police have so many more expectations placed on them, whether it be investigating allegations of historic sex abuse, monitoring extremists, dealing with online “hate” incidents and grooming, or keeping tabs on “county lines” drug dealers.
Big cuts in police community support officers also place full-time uniformed police officers under yet more strain. And I am afraid it has started to tell with large increases in knife-crime, burglary and vehicle crime across the county – with much of it happening in Peterborough.
There is a strange view in politics that to take a tough line on law and order is somehow “right-wing”. Yet it is the poorest and most vulnerable in our society who suffer the most when criminals gain the upper hand, so that idea is ridiculous.
In fact having a strong, well-resourced police force and a courts and prison system backing them up with exemplary sentences for convicted criminals, should be regarded as the bedrock of a civilised society.
Too often these days, the Government has a narrow economic focus which obsesses about each decimal point in GDP growth. But what is the point of the country getting richer on paper if, in many places, people are too intimidated to go out in the evenings, and see their communities suffering from the scourge of anti-social behaviour even in daylight hours?
It seems obvious to me that the single biggest thing that could be done to improve the everyday quality of life in Peterborough is a really significant increase in the number of police officers across the board, from detectives trying to crack the most serious cases to uniformed bobbies out on patrol engendering extra confidence among the law-abiding, public-spirited majority.
In the parliamentary by-election we are all hoping for, I certainly intend to ensure law and order is a major issue.