Why a few more pounds could turn into a lot more coppers
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New regular columnist Iain Dale is well-known as the award-winning presenter on LBC Radio's weekday evening discussion show and will voice his highly-regarded view each week. This week he looks at policing
It's not controversial to predict that Brexit is going to dominate the headlines of 2019, but there are plenty of domestic issues that ought to be obsessing Theresa May's troubled government and crime is certainly one of them.
Serious crime is up, not just in big cities but also in Norfolk and Suffolk. At the same time, police numbers are at a record low.
When crime was falling too, there weren't too many complaints about that.
The first duty of any government is to protect its citizens, both from international foes and domestic dangers. There is a growing fear that domestically at least, criminals are being allowed to get away with it. This is especially true in rural areas, where geography dictates that it will always be more difficult to deploy vast numbers of police officers at any one time.
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Take knife crime. If you are going to be deterred from carrying a knife you need to understand that there's a reasonable possibility of you being caught. And if you are caught you need to fear the sentence that will be meted out to you.
Knife crime in Norfolk has increased threefold in the last five years. Admittedly, the figures are still low compared to other areas of the country. In Suffolk last year, knife crime was up by more than a third over the previous year. In Norfolk there were 269 incidents, in Suffolk 404 – this despite the population of Norfolk being 18% larger than its southern neighbour.
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The number of police officers in Norfolk has fallen from 1660 in 2010 to around 1550 now. In Suffolk there has also been a decline, from 1250 to 1127. There have been similar reductions in PCSOs and Special Constables.
Perhaps the key statistic here which should concern Suffolk residents is that they only have 149 police officers per 100,000 of population, compared to 173 in Norfolk.
The new Home Secretary has made encouraging noises about recognising the need to reverse the decline in police numbers, but has shown little ability to reverse the decline in police budgets. We all recognise that if we are to increase frontline policing resources it has to be paid for. There are three sources of income – national taxation, local taxation or yet more borrowing.
Nick Hurd, the policing minister, is giving Police and Crime Commissioners the power to increase the policing element of Council tax by £2 a month from next April. In Suffolk, the PCC Tim Passmore is recommending that this is implemented. If it is, Suffolk will get another 21 police officers.
This is, frankly, a drop in the ocean. If we are to show the criminals that we're serious about fighting crime, we need to increase police numbers back to what they were, at the very least.
Would many of us really object to paying an extra £15 a month (for an average Band D property) if we could be guaranteed the money would be spent on another 150-170 frontline police officers in both Norfolk and Suffolk?
If local democracy is to mean anything, local policing should be paid for by local people, and they can hold their Police & Crime Commissioner accountable for how the money is spent, and in turn the PCC can hold the Chief Constable responsible for the results of that spending.
Criminals don't pussyfoot around when planning to commit illegal acts. The Home Secretary shouldn't pussyfoot around in the fight against crime. It's quite clear that police cuts have gone far too far and they need not only to be reversed, but police forces will need far more resources to take the fight to serious criminals, both on our streets and online. I'm not sure government ministers have woken up to that fact yet, even if local politicians in all parties have.
Let me conclude the first of my new weekly columns for this newspaper by wishing you a very happy and prosperous 2019. And do let me know which subjects you'd like me to tackle in future columns. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or @IainDale on Twitter.