WITH the release of crime statistics last week, it looks like the only person catching burglars in London is the TV chef Jamie Oliver who bravely took on a potential intruder in his family home. Detection rates for crimes are so low across the country it is as though the best way to find a thief is to look yourself.
The statistics are shocking. Only five per cent of burglaries are ever solved. Enough to make us fear that we are not safe in our beds or walking down the street. It is true that you hardly ever see a copper. The only ones I come across are usually hiding behind a bush with a speed gun in their hands.
Senior police officers tell us constantly that the job has changed and crime is different now than it was years ago. That may be so, but housebreaking and robbery never change. What is different is the way in which the police service has changed.
I am very proud to have served in North Yorkshire Police. Back then, burglaries were taken very seriously. Every crime got a personal visit within an hour of reporting. This was usually followed by investigations by Scenes of Crime officers and, more often than not, a call by a detective. House to house enquiries were always made, neighbours spoken to and the vehicle log checked. The duty inspector was always updated and you had a week to finalise enquiries.
Suspects often had their own way of housebreaking and, if they had been locked up a few times, were on first name terms with officers. Still, lots of burglaries went undetected. It was frustrating, but that is the way it was. There just weren’t enough hours in the day and jobs often stacked up. One minute it was a burglary and the next it was a sudden death or a road collision. Then, as now, burglaries were often written up with no identified suspect. Many of my colleagues worked for free, some even came in on their day off.
It comes as no surprise that the figures released last week are so dire. How can the police be blamed for only detecting one in 10 burglaries? No wonder then that some people think it is a green light to commit crime when the odds for getting away with it are nine to one.
The number of officers is at an all-time low and the demand of paperwork keeps them off the streets. Mind-numbing form-filling and statistics that have no meaning would often take up to three hours of every shift. Sherlock Holmes, this was not.
Crimes can be detected if the police have the staff, technology and money to do so. The identification of the two suspects in the Russian spy poising case proves needles can be found in haystacks given the right resources.
If local police forces had the resources, then the detection rates would be greatly improved. When it comes to catching crooks, money and manpower is everything.
For too long, the police have been asked to do more work with less money. What money they do have, they seem to always squander on campaigns that do not bring them the support of the public.
People need to feel that when they report a crime they are taken seriously. A burglary is like an assault, it is a home violation. It is no good just to hand out a crime number over the phone. Victims deserve to have a proper investigation.
For Yorkshire, this could be facilitated by a unification of all the forces that serve the area into a super-force.
It would save money on salaries and also allow for better crime intelligence across the county.
The legalisation of cannabis, and an end to the costly war on drugs, would allow resources to be spent on areas that matter to the greater community. Drugs arrests and investigation waste many hours of police time. Making these substances available through authorised outlets would take out the market supplied by drug dealers.
The poor detection rates for burglary and robbery are truly shocking. However, let’s not forget that an overstretched police force is protecting us from far greater threats.
Now is the time for a radical overhaul of policing and police forces and the way in which they interact with the public.
I believe that the experiment of police commissioners has been a costly failure. The money could have been better spent putting more officers on the beat.
It is time for a return to traditional policing that uses all the modern detection methods at its disposal.
Perhaps then, detection of crime will again become a priority.
GP Taylor is an author and writer from North Yorkshire. He lives in Whitby.