A NEIGHBOUR’S garage was broken into a few days ago, and his children’s bikes stolen. Not a major crime, but annoying and upsetting even so.
He hasn’t been visited by a police officer, and isn’t likely to be. The police were very sympathetic over the phone, and gave him a crime number so he can claim on his home insurance, and that’s it. The chances are the bikes will be sold to buy drugs.
A few years ago, a police officer would have called, maybe a community bobby who knew the local lowlifes, and quite possibly suspected who was responsible. But budget cuts have put paid to all that. My neighbour knows that overstretched police have better things to do than track down stolen kids’ bikes.
A Yorkshire chief constable once told me that his officers always needed to bear in mind that what is just another incident to them is a major event in the life of the person who has called to report a crime. That meant treating everything seriously and doing their utmost to catch wrongdoers.
The police still bear that in mind, and the officers I know are frustrated at not being able to attend many of the calls they receive. They are also angry, not at their bosses, but at the Government.
The Tories’ traditional claim to be the party of law and order doesn’t stand up to scrutiny any more.
It is a shameful stain on the Government’s record that it has starved the police of resources, cutting budgets and personnel, with appalling consequences. The epidemic of stabbings in London – mercifully not replicated in our region – is directly attributable to having too few officers on the streets.
The really worrying thing is that this has happened on the Metropolitan Police’s patch, where there is a much better ratio of officers to population than in any of Yorkshire’s four forces.
The Met has one officer per 290 people. Here, West Yorkshire has one per 460, South Yorkshire one per 567, Humberside one per 518 and North Yorkshire one per 607. Put another way, all the forces are stretched far too thinly.
We have a Prime Minister who, when Home Secretary, insulted the police by telling them to stop whingeing and get on with their jobs. Perhaps if she had taken a similarly combative line with her own party, she wouldn’t be mired in such a political mess.
Theresa May was not good for law and order. Not only did she fail to fight the police’s corner when it came to getting them enough funding, but she also hampered their ability to prevent violent crime by restricting the use of stop-and-search.
That the shortages police face have grown critical in her two years as Prime Minister cannot be a coincidence.
Chief constables are not in the habit of crying wolf. The warnings coming from the men and women who command forces all over the country that they are approaching the point of not being able to deliver effective policing must be taken seriously.
They have been starved of resources over a period when the changing face of crime has demanded an increase. The fight against terrorism and growth in cyber-crime have put them under additional pressure, yet the Government has refused to listen.
This week, the Treasury is due to decide how much money it will provide for policing. It is to be hoped that the Chancellor has taken heed of a letter from five elected leaders, including West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson, calling for an urgent injection of funds.
The figures are stark. In September, the National Audit Office found that funding levels had fallen by 19 per cent since 2010.
As with meeting the costs of social care, the Government has passed the buck for police funding on to local taxation. This is not only unfair, it is wrong, and refuses to acknowledge that, although policing is managed regionally, it is a national service that should be funded centrally.
There are no short cuts in policing. It is labour-intensive. If there aren’t enough officers, crime will rise and decent, law-abiding people will be its victims.
That isn’t good enough. The current Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has taken a much more conciliatory line with police forces, acknowledging their concerns, but even if he can wring more money out of Philip Hammond, the damage of eight years of cuts has already been done.
More officers can’t be spirited out of thin air and put on the streets. It will take time to recruit and train them, and in the interim forces will still struggle to cope with everything demanded of them.
Unless the Government reverses its penny-pinching for policing, crime will soar. The Conservatives’ record on the issue of law and order, of which they should be champions, is absolutely dismal. If they don’t change course, they deserve to be punished by voters.