Childcare vital to curb youth crime says top officer

Publicly-funded childcare and support for parents is as important as officers on the beat, the UK's most senior policeman has said.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said work such as Sure Start is "equally as important" as

the activities of his frontline staff.

The senior officer said police can only suppress youth crime and long-term work is needed to tackle its root causes.

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His comments came after Prime Minister David Cameron suggested access to Sure Start should be restricted to the poorest families.

He said "sharp-elbowed" middle-class families should stop using state-supported child care.

In a regional ITV interview last night, Sir Paul said police forces are responsible for tackling crime and not long-term social engineering.

He said: "Policing will continue to suppress, will continue to work with other agencies to try and prevent but it shouldn't be the policing that leads social engineering. That's a mistake.

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"We should support, not lead social engineering. We need the long-term activity using the facilities that are already in place, making sure that things such as Sure Start are there and available to the right families to give them support when they need that support.

"They are equally as important as my officers out on the

street conducting stop and search operations, trying to suppress at the back end of this activity."

It is the second time in recent weeks that Sir Paul has appeared to be at odds with the coalition Government.

Last week he spoke out against proposals to lock up fewer criminals, saying he is "rather fond of villains going to prison".

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Speaking about sending burglars to jail, Sir Paul said: "I'm a fan of that and I also think that victims of serious crime would actually think that prison works."

His comments contrasted with Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke who questioned the link between rising imprisonment and falling crime.

Mr Clarke also said it is "virtually impossible" to rehabilitate offenders on short sentences as it launched a review of sentencing policy.

Sure Start is a multi-billion pound programme, introduced under the last Labour government, to provide more help

with child care for parents of toddlers.

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Introduced in 1998 to help tackle child poverty, there are now thousands of centres around the country offering help with child care and toddler development.

Speaking in Manchester last week, Mr Cameron repeated his party's intention to limit access to Sure Start to the most deprived areas.

He said: "The sharp elbowed middle class, like my wife and me, get in there and get all the services."