Judith Cummins: Police should be fighting crime, not begging for cash
Funding increases for the police were a staple of previous Budgets. Under the previous Labour government, we witnessed strong investment in the police; consequently, in many areas crime fell to the lowest levels in generations.
Sadly, that investment in the determined fight against crime now appears to be consigned to the past.
With a funding crisis in the NHS, adult social care, local government and many other areas of the public sector, the police are one more victim of this Government.
The police should be fighting crime, not fighting for funding.
The Chancellor has offered no respite to the culture of cuts that has gripped every police force in the country. The police have faced multi-year budget cuts, which has meant plummeting numbers of frontline officers.
West Yorkshire Police, which serve my constituency, Bradford South, have not been immune to the cuts. Since 2010, their budget has been cut by nearly a third, which amounts to £147m.
The Government think the police can weather the cuts by trimming budgets, tackling waste and shrinking the back office, all with no impact on frontline services.
This is nonsense.
The challenges can be met only through frontline cuts, so further frontline reductions in policing are now unavoidable.
West Yorkshire Police have 2,000 fewer officers and support staff. They are under-resourced and understaffed.
Let us be clear about this: fewer police officers means that people are less safe, and people feel less safe. Neighbourhood policing has arguably suffered the most.
It is the basic building block of our police service, underpinning all the work the police do.
It provides the first point of contact, and the bobbies on the beat are the eyes and ears that inform how the police work. It is the frontline – the most visible and important aspect of our police service.
Policing in this country is done by consent, central to which is trust.
Without the trust and confidence of local people, the police cannot police. Cuts to neighbourhood policing impact directly on that trust and confidence. Without trust, the police lose local intelligence and a feel for the communities they serve.
The gaining of trust does not happen overnight; it takes months, sometimes years, to develop. This familiarity allows police officers to detect if something is amiss or out of the ordinary.
Knowing their communities well informs their judgment, which means that they are well placed to detect crime and to tackle it swiftly and effectively.
As neighbourhood policing is eroded by wave after wave of cuts, trust is undermined, as is the idea of policing by consent.
Bradford is a complex city with complex challenges, and we need a police service that is equipped to meet them.
The police in Bradford are determined to meet those challenges and maintain that trust. They are reaching out to communities – they have a target of making sure that every child in the district knows a police officer by name.
One complex challenge the police face in my constituency relates to the availability and use of firearms.
Incidents involving firearms have risen substantially – by a third – over the past four years.
To their credit, West Yorkshire Police are rising to that challenge. Their efforts have been commendable, but diminishing resources impede their ability to get those weapons off the streets of Bradford. Adequate funding as well as strong local intelligence are vital in tackling this. The demands on police resources go beyond everyday crime. The landscape of policing in Bradford has altered radically.
Modern policing means that our police officers spend a great deal of time and public money on increasingly complex, costly and time-consuming things such as safeguarding issues, missing persons, issues relating to mental health, child sexual exploitation, human trafficking, domestic violence, and abuse of the elderly, to name but a few.
Those are officer and money-intensive issues that cannot and should not be ignored. Our police are being asked to do more and more, but are being given less and less with which to do it. West Yorkshire Police are committed to dealing with and meeting these challenges, but strong commitment is not enough.
To meet these new, complex and costly challenges, they need officers and they need to invest in those officers.
Without investment, the service will be ill-equipped to tackle the emerging demands on its resources.
As budgets continue to contract, I fear that the absence of investment will mean that the communities that the police serve will be less safe than they should be.
Judith Cummins is the Labour MP for Bradford South who spoke in the Budget debate.