THERE simply has not been a period of violent crime like the one we’ve experienced, year-on-year for the last six years.
The statistics bear this out; 285 people were stabbed to death last year – the highest ever dating back to 1946. Police-recorded violent crime is also at the highest level on record, doubling in recent years.
The statistics tell us how bad it is, but they can’t tell us anything about the pain of mothers and fathers robbed of their sons and daughters. When the press and politicians move on, they are left to the live with the trauma for the rest of their lives.
This is the true cost of the last nine years of the Tories’ experiment with austerity. The 21,000 police officers we’ve lost since 2010 are gone for good, taking years of experience with them. Thousands of PCSOs, investigators, call centre handlers and other police staff that help bring people to justice have gone too. Is it any wonder record numbers of crimes now go unprosecuted because the system simply can no longer cope?
The system desperately needs investing in after nine years of brutal cuts, which Boris Johnson and Priti Patel voted for, so any progress is welcome. But, as so often with the Prime Minister, you don’t have to look far to find the flaws in the latest headline-seeking announcements.
Take the ‘increased stop and search’ powers that were announced at the weekend, for example. Already when there is a major incident, police can implement powers known as ‘section 60’ stop and search which means police can search people in a local area without reasonable grounds.
Far from changing the powers, Johnson is simply changing the rank you have to be to authorise them – from Superintendent to Inspector. A close-to-meaningless reform, not least because officers tell me all the time: “We don’t need more powers, we just need more police.”As one chief officer said to me: “It will make no material difference to use of the power. We can access senior rank 24 hours a day just as we can access inspectors so…blunt summary…it doesn’t make a jot of difference.” Johnson is playing us for fools.
And on his pledge to recruit 20,000 officers, Johnson has form. As Mayor of London, he promised to recruit 5,000 police officers and yet frontline numbers fell on his watch. Every year, like all organisations, the police lose officers due to retirement and resignations and have to recruit to make that up. Johnson used the 5,000 figure knowing he would get headlines whilst the force got smaller
Coincidentally, the numbers of officers we expect to lose over the next three years ranges from 18,000 to 24,000 based on official Home Office workforce statistics, and it is not at all clear that Johnson intends his 20,000 figure to be in addition to those that we have lost or simply replacing them.
And we still do not know where he is getting the money. Tax rises or cuts elsewhere? As ever with Johnson, it’s all bluff and no substance.
This is not party political pointscoring, answers to these questions matter to the safety of our communities.
But it’s not just the police; it’s common sense that you need to give kids things to do, and give them proper support in schools and in the community.
The unforgivable cuts to vital services like youth clubs, youth workers and teaching assistants have left vulnerable youngsters with nowhere to turn.
Austerity has not just affected our ability to catch criminals but it has removed the security net for thousands of vulnerable young people. Sure Start, which helps parents and children get the advice and support they need at a critical time, has been cut; many teaching assistants which help those kids falling behind at school have gone and over 100,000 youth centre places have disappeared as local authorities scale back.
If we are truly to bear down on the horrific rise in violent crime, we need a strong police response, but we also need to do everything we can to prevent children getting involved in the first place.
Boris Johnson, has a duty to invest in our kids, not just the police. We need to see him put money into a proper nationwide youth service and Sure Start so all our kids get the support they need from day one. Tory austerity has hit this country and our kids hard. If we are to break the cycle of youth violence, it has to end.
Louise Haigh is the Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley and the Shadow Policing Minister.