Great liberal cities and communities are safe places to live, work and play. They are neighbourhoods where people have the ability, the freedom even, to make the most of their skills and the opportunities that life brings…
… free from crime and free from the fear of crime.
Crime and fear of crime hold us back, or imprison us even, and prevent us becoming the best that we can be. Crime causes us pain, injury, distress, anxiety and affects our physical and mental health. The fear of crime causes us to retreat from our communities and hide, living smaller lives and contributing less than we can.
This is why both reducing crime and the fear of crime is essential to any successful community.
Not only do we need to reduce crime and the fear of crime by catching offenders, but as Liberal Democrats we believe communities work best when they also prevent crime occurring in the first place as well as ‘designing out’ the risk or perceived risk of crime from our homes, streets, towns and cities.
I don’t know about you, but I recall from my youth a sense of foreboding menace whenever I walked into certain city estates or travelled through boroughs where I knew I was not welcome.
I was fortunate that they worst that ever happened was a punch in the face, but I can recall the sense of fear I experienced, and recall that fear, even now.
So what has this got to do with front line policing?
Well, the prevention of crime and reduction of the fear of crime are significantly impacted when there is a heightened police presence in the community or ‘on the front line’.
However, crime prevention and reduction goes beyond just ‘turning up’ on the streets in times of trouble.
Good community based policing means a number of things
- that the police presence is regular and sustained
- that dedicated community police officers engage with the neighbourhoods – person to person
- that local people recognise their community based officers such that they confide in those officers so that the police can respond to their requests and fears
- and that community police can rely on local people to help them identify risks, prevent crime and tackle incidents
This ‘community led’ policing is a fundamentally Liberal Democrat idea – as is the concept that all police – from the chief constable to the newest recruit and volunteer, all work for the benefit of their community and are accountable to that community.
But the cuts!
Since 2010, cuts to police budgets have resulted in a 16% reduction in local police workforce in Cheshire police and the constabulary are working to save up to £34m from 2015 to 2019.
A a result, Cheshire police have cut the number of neighbourhood policing units from 19 to just 8. This means that police officers in Nantwich or Congleton or Birchwood and eight other local units, now need to travel out of their area each morning for a daily briefing, and as a result spend more time travelling in cars and not on the streets or in local communities.
However, what that is not clear, is whether this applies to mainstream police officers or the Police Community Support Officers too, but the Liberal Democrat response is to demand that budget efficiencies compromise neither the quantity nor quality of time in front line community policing.
Okay, who are these Police Community Support Officers?
The Community Officers (officially called Police Community Support Offers or PCSOs) have a special role to play in crime prevention, early detection and reducing the fear of crime. Significantly, Community Officers do not have the power of arrest, although they can hold someone on reasonable suspicion, for up to 30 minutes before the arrival of an arresting police officer.
The current Cheshire commissioner has said that he is inclined to enable these Community Officers to arrest people. We think this is a mistake.
Giving Community Officers the power to arrest fundamentally alters their role and their perception in the local community. As Liberal Democrats we believe that policing is most effective and at its best when delivered with the consent of the local communities and especially the minority or vulnerable communities who are less likely to be vocal in voicing opinions.
In fact, the Community Police Officer of the year 2009 – Suzie Carr – is quoted as saying that her most valuable tool as a community officer is her voice and that powers of arrest would weaken her effectiveness.
“I think people trust you more if they know you can’t arrest them. And if anyone says to me ‘you can’t arrest me’, I say ‘why would I want to?’ My job is pro-active and preventative. I see an arrest as a last – not a first – resort.”
Treating arrest as a last resort – especially among young people or people who misuse alcohol and or drugs (and often fare better with medical attention rather than a police record) is a key concept in Liberal Democrat thinking. We believe that sentences for dangerous or hateful criminals need to be tough and extensive. However, we also believe that a young person steered away from a life of crime or an alchoholic reformed is a life preserved and a public expense avoided.
Suzie Carr said “Sometimes, people just need a chance.”
“It’s a ‘back-to-roots’ role. People said they wanted to see a police presence on the streets, and that’s what PCSOs are – we make people feel safer in their community. As we’re on foot or bike, it means we’re more approachable and accessible too.”
Cuts to Community Police in Cheshire
However, with £8m expected to be cut from next year’s Cheshire police budget and a further £26m of planned cuts until 2019 driven by the current Conservative government, people are asking the question about whether Community Officers or PCSOs are effective and offer good value for money during a time of shrinking resources?
There are currently around 220 Community Police Officers in Cheshire and the current commissioner is mindful to maintain that level if the level of grant from council taxes continues.
As Liberal Democrats we believe that Community Police Officers are essential. Not only do they reduce crime but they can also help to reduce the rates of re-offending. In the immediate and near future, the people of Cheshire need their help to understand and protect themselves against the silent crimes of cyber crime and fraud as well as playing a key role in tackling domestic abuse.
Extensive research is conducted on crime figures but far less research is conducted on the levels of fear of crime and that this is an anomaly that needs to be resolved in order that our community policing should be fully evidence based too.
We also believe in the Peelian principle that a successful police force should be seen actively engaged in crime prevention not just be seen actively solving crime.
Community Officers play a major role in preventing crime but also helping young people at risk of a criminal life to step back and have a second chance.
We have 220 Community Officers in Cheshire, and Cheshire already has a lower than average number of front line police than across the UK (74% against a national average of 78%) we can’t afford to lose more.
We need all our Community Officers as they are the ‘every day’ front line and the essential glue that connect our communities to the role of the police, reduce fear of crime in our neighbourhoods and allow mainstream police officers to remain response driven.
Our front line Community Officers are too important to let go.
xxxxxxxxxxxxx Notes xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
There are approximately 220 PCSOs in the Cheshire Constabulary covering 29 Neigbhourhoods
Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) or Community Officers share some, but not all of the powers of mainstream police officer
- they can not arrest a person but can contact a police officer to do it
- can give fixed penalty notices (eg. littering, dog fouling); demand the name and address of someone being anti-social and take alchohol off a person aged under 18 amongst other responsibilities
Special Constables are police volunteers but with the same power of arrest as mainstream police officers and therefore are not able fulfil the same role of the community police.
In Cheshire 74% of the police workforce is focused on front line policing – this is 4 percentages points less than the national average (78%).*
There has been a 16% decline in police workforce has since 2010*
* https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmic/cheshire/ November 2015
Full list of police neighbourhoods in Cheshire
Chester Rural and Frodsham
Ellesmere Port East
Ellesmere Port West and Neston
Macclesfield North and Poynton
Warrington Town Centre