EVERY Home Secretary is judged by the extent to which crime rises – or falls – on their watch. Theresa May, the current postholder, is no different, hence her robust words about protecting front-line police posts. However, the top Tory needs to remember that preventative measures are as important as those statistics detailing crime numbers.
It is why successive Home Secretaries have prioritised policies to improve community policing – they know that basing officers in schools can be an effective way of promoting a culture of respect. Equally vital is work to help serial offenders come to terms with their drug or alcohol addiction.
Yet, if Bob Dyson, the acting head of South Yorkshire Police, is to be believed, this valuable work could unravel because local councils can no longer afford, in these austere times, to fund police community support officers which were launched in a blaze of publicity by Tony Blair before responsibility for long-term funding passed to town halls.
It does not end here. Mr Dyson has also indicated that road safety schemes, critical to cutting accident levels on the region’s roads, may be at risk. Likewise the work of anti-hooliganism officers whose expertise is vital to ensuring that law-abiding football fans can follow their favourite team safely – it would be lamentable, given the strides taken to eradicate violence at matches, if cuts allowed trouble-makers to prosper again.
Of course, Mr Dyson’s comments need to be placed in a wider context. He is setting out a “worst case” scenario, and a convincing case to protect discretionary services in South Yorkshire, ahead of those crucial council meetings which will determine budgets, and spending priorities, for the 2012-13 financial year.
It will not be straight-forward, given how these councils have seen their Government grants reduced. They are also under Ministerial pressure not to increase council tax bills. Precepts paid to local police authorities can only go so far. As such, perhaps Mr Dyson should consider challenging Mrs May to set out her priorities. He can begin by asking the Minister if she’s in favour of police working in local schools, and PCSOs patrolling town centre streets at night to reassure the public.