The rise in recorded crime is a result of unthinking carelessness from the Conservatives. What happened?by Ian Blair / January 29, 2018 / Leave a comment
British police patrol through Trafalgar Square in central London. Photo: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images I think Amber Rudd is a decent and effective Home Secretary. I think one of Theresa May’s defining moments as a politician was when she brutally took on the Police Federation over their complacency and self-serving resistance to change, something no other Home Secretary has ever done, despite the urging of police chiefs. However, the Conservative-led coalition and the present administration have had a blind spot about policing since their return to government in 2010. They, the self-proclaimed party of law and order, has neither understood nor liked the police in the post Stephen Lawrence era. They thought police chiefs were too outspoken and too focussed on things other than crime fighting (like preventing it in the first place). What they have done as a result increasingly risks that party of law and order being seen as an emperor with no clothes. The latest crime figures make this clear. The Coalition embarked on an unfocussed programme of reform and saw the police budget (alongside those of the prison, probation and courts services) as a useful bank account to raid in a time of austerity. Their first reform was to create Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), a solution in search of a problem but which had the useful effect of distancing the Home Office from difficult decisions. Their second was to muzzle chief officers from speaking out, by not only abolishing the Association of Chief Police Officers but making clear to the successor, much less powerful organisation, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, that their views had no place in the public square. With the exception of the Met Commissioner, when did you last see or hear a police chief talking in public? They then started to reduce the central police budget dramatically while, at the same time, capping any rise in budgets to be raised by the PCCs. As an example, even when finally allowing an increase in police pay last year, the Home Office announced it but told the PCC’s to fund it from their existing budgets. “Last year, police numbers declined to a level last seen in 1985” The effect has been like boiling a frog. There was little change in crime levels at first but as police budgets tightened, the number of police officers began to decline until it has now become obvious. Last year, police numbers declined to a level last seen in 1985, 15 per cent down from 140,000 in 2010 to 120,000 in 2017. At first, ministers were entitled to say that the long running decline in crime, which began in the mid-1990’s, was continuing but were very reluctant to admit the scale and speed with which crime was moving on to the internet. When forced to include internet crime, ministers have once again begun relying on the National Crime Survey, which surveys individual experience of crime, whether reported to police or not, which their predecessors scorned while out of office. This does continue to show a fall year on year but that is likely to be because its methodology continues to have exactly the same limitation as the Conservatives noted before: it vastly underrates violent crime, does not include the experience of young people and certainly does not include business crime. The figures for recorded crime in the year to the end of September 2017 and released by the Office for National Statistics last week are simply shocking. These do not share the same methodological limitations. Overall crime is 14 per cent up on the previous year, with robbery, sexual offences and knife crime all up by 20 per cent or more. Meanwhile property offences, long in decline are sharply increased, with domestic burglary up 32 per cent and vehicle crime up 18 per cent. Once the deaths at Hillsborough are taken out of the comparison (they were reclassified as manslaughter after the jury verdict in 2016), homicide rose sharply in the last year. The police chiefs are silent and the much-vaunted police and crime commissioners find little to say. The public are noticing: the frog has been boiled. Just like the shocking news from prisons, epitomised by the prison inspectorate’s report on HMP Liverpool, a rising tide of crime, particularly violent crime is being seen as a failure of the government and nobody else. Labour has not really capitalised on this. But if I was sitting in a cabinet riven over Brexit, mesmerised by angst over the NHS and potential defence cuts, I would keep an eye on violent crime, terrorism and policing. How long can it be before a bright young Shadow Home Secretary emerges with a soundbite that resonates with peoples’ everyday concern and propels him (as it was in the 1990s) to power. A retread of “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” would brutally expose Conservative nakedness on one of their banker vote-winners.