MP WRITES: Cuts feeding crime

PCSO Graham Handley with Barry Coppinger in Murray Street
PCSO Graham Handley with Barry Coppinger in Murray Street

BARRY Coppinger, the Police and Crime Commissioner for the Cleveland Police area, has this week launched his Police and Crime Plan for the period 2014-2017.

It is essential that criminal and anti-social behaviour in our communities is tackled quickly and strongly.

It is heartbreaking to sit in my constituency surgeries, as I have done on many occasions, to have a Hartlepool resident cry their eyes out as they describe their lives being made a misery by criminals.

Everybody suffers as a result of rising crime – people’s health is made worse if they are the victims of crime, businesses and employment suffer: if you are the owner of a business that either suffers from shoplifting, or other crime or if customers are not coming to your premises to do business because they are frightened for public safety, you’ll not be able to stay in business very long and you certainly won’t be looking to expand or take on new staff.

The central importance of law and order as a means of conducting lives in a civilized society should be seen as a given. The role of the police in helping people feel safe is also hugely important.

Barry’s job as police commissioner is a difficult one.

It’s been made much harder by the level of cuts the Police are expected to make. It’s struck me as slightly odd that it is a Conservative Government with a Conservative Home Secretary – Theresa May – that is making the most swingeing cuts to police services since Sir Robert Peel first established the bobbies on the beat.

Mrs Thatcher, for all her faults, knew the importance of police services, and at a time when she cut public sector pay, she increased police wages in one of her first acts as Prime Minister in 1979.

David Cameron is very different. The number of police officers on the front line in the Cleveland police area has fallen by over 280. More could follow. There has always been a clear link between economically difficult times, levels of police on the front-line and crime.

In times when the economy has struggled, crime has risen. The need for a good, well-functioning police service in our communities is more necessary than ever.

That is why recent increases in crime levels in Hartlepool, after over a decade or so of reductions, are deeply worrying.

One of the reasons why crime has fallen in recent years, despite economically harsh times, has been the model of neighbourhood policing.

It is worked particularly well in Hartlepool; the town was a pilot scheme for neighbourhood policing in 2005/06. When I chaired the Local Strategic Partnership, I was pleased to be able to provide funding to help kickstart the neighbourhood policing model. Speaking with Barry Coppinger, I know he values this model and is keen, despite the financial pressures, to maintain it.

It is the first priority of his Police and Crime Plan, and I was pleased to see that, in the plan, he illustrated neighbourhood policing, being close and responsive to communities, by using a big picture from Hartlepool. Neighbourhood policing has worked in Hartlepool, ensuring that crime has fallen in the decade.

In the face of cuts to the police, it is important for the safety and reassurance of Hartlepool residents that this model continues.

l Charities cash in on crime: Page 18.