A POLICE chief has pointed to high unemployment as the biggest challenge facing his force and Hartlepool in 2012.
But Superintendent Glenn Gudgeon, crime manager for Hartlepool, said he is hopeful that crime will continue to fall despite the difficult economic circumstances.
The latest available crime figures for Hartlepool are from October and show a three per cent drop in offending since the same time in 2010.
Supt Gudgeon said times of economic hardship can traditionally see a rise in thefts and violence, but plans are in place to crack down on any increases, highlight those at risk of committing crime and target persistent crooks.
While strategies will try and stop and catch offenders, Supt Gudgeon believes the bigger issue is giving people “hope” during what is expected to be another difficult year.
He said: “I was out on the streets during a night shift the other week and stop-checked an 18-year-old lad who was living alone in a two-bed flat in Hartlepool on Jobseeker’s Allowance.
“He was cycling around on his bike at 3am in the morning. He’s not going to be fit for work the next day if that’s what he’s doing on a night.
“It turned out he was a thoroughly nice lad, but the challenge is getting these young people out of environments where they can get into trouble or be perceived to be causing trouble.
“Being unemployed, and remaining so for a long time, can make people feel lost with no motivation. We have to give them some hope.”
Many of the operations during the last year have been run under the banner of Respect Hartlepool, a Mail-backed campaign to tackle night-time disorder, domestic violence and shoplifting.
All three are among crimes linked to unemployment and a number of schemes have been running to combat any rises.
Supt Gudgeon said: “We have already seen a lot of domestic related violence, but we anticipated that and have been prepared for it.
“Every Wednesday, specially trained officers and representatives from Harbour revisit the victims and offenders to try and ensure mediation, treatment or other resolutions to stop reoffending.
“One of the main factors that causes such violence is stress, which job losses and financial insecurity can obviously create.”
Many of the police campaigns have been ran in conjunction with partner agencies, such as Hartlepool Borough Council and domestic violence refuge Harbour.
But many of the bodies are seeing their funding cut, and that means many of the schemes to support people and stop them offending can no longer be paid for.
Supt Gudgeon said: “We are going to have the same amount of officers and PCSOs on the ground, but diversionary tactics funded by partners is drying up. The loss of community initiatives will have an impact. There is an overall tightening of the purse strings in general.
“One of our big challenges is working with the partners to make sure that Hartlepool gets what it needs and deserves.
“I give a commitment that we will keep the neighbourhood policing model we have now.
“I also believe the response model we have got now works very well and we have a good team.
“We also have the best detection rate in Cleveland, so everything is here to carry on being successful.”
While there has been unrest at the top of Cleveland Police with the ongoing Operation Sacristy investigation into Cleveland Police Authority, which has seen Chief Constable Sean Price and his deputy Derek Bonnard arrested among others, Supt Gudgeon says it does not directly effect Hartlepool.
Instead, he is keen to point to the positives over the year, picking out changes to the drinking culture in the Church Street and Victoria Road areas of Hartlepool, tackling the rise in metal thefts and reducing house burglaries as the highlights.
Supt Gudgeon said: “This has all been achieved on a significantly reduced budget with less resources than we had the year before.
“It is testament to the people in the public sector in Hartlepool that they haven’t whinged and moaned, but got on with things. I have seen across the partnerships people being proud to service their community, that is what makes Hartlepool stand out.
“There are also aspects of business development that we need to work on. We need to make and promote the town as a place to invest in and build.
“Hartlepool is a very friendly place with a can-do attitude, and that is what we need to sell.”
● Follow Mark Thompson on Twitter @MarkThompsonHMail