2 million unsolved crimes

When the Met Police introduced its Safer Neighbourhood policing strategy in 2004 I was one of many local councillors who warmly welcomed the initiative. And over the years I could witness its effectiveness in driving down crime. It was replicated by Police forces across the country.

The problem was that Neighbourhood Policing was too successful, so inevitably over time resources were reduced because of low crime rates. Whereas before the teams worked solely on ward issues, today they can be pulled away at any time to deal with issues in the town centre. And guess what happened? – crime levels rose again. You can investigate crime rates in London over time here. (I am focussing on London because it’s what I know, but I am sure similar stories can be told across the UK)

So how did it work? In London each council ward was allocated one police sergeant, supported by two or three other police officers and a couple of PCSOs. Their task was to get to know their patches really well and prevent crime. In particular they focussed on low level crime and anti-social behaviour with the aim of leading perpetrators away from criminal activities.

One example comes to mind. There is a small pocket park in the ward which is completely surrounded by homes, and young people liked to gather there. Trouble began when some of them started throwing stones into back gardens causing some damage. Some of the residents contacted me and asked for a meeting with the police as they felt nothing was being done about it.

So one evening about 30 people crammed into someone’s living room and the police sergeant listened patiently for about an hour while they vented their anger and concerns. The residents were convinced that the problem was caused by a gang from outside the area and that punitive measures were needed.

Once they had all said their piece jaws dropped when the sergeant produced a list of the names and addresses of about 20 young people who had been involved. The police knew exactly who was causing the trouble and they had been quietly dealing with it in a way that would not push the young people further into criminality.

He explained that they all lived in the houses around the park and all had been spoken to.  The older ringleaders had been cautioned. Letters had been sent to the parents of the remaining culprits stating that the police were worried that their children were at risk of getting involved with anti-social groups and asking for their support to divert them.

The outcome was that the bad behaviour stopped, the key people were cautioned and watched, the majority of the young people were warned and pushed away from crime and peace was restored. It was a brilliant bit of community policing.

The ward team also worked closely with local schools. In one project they got to know all the Year 6 pupils as they transitioned to secondary schools, running quizzes and holiday activities. In another initiative they closely tracked drug dealing and managed to remove the main criminals.

The priorities for each Safer Neighbourhood team were set by the community, so they held regular Community meetings.

I was recently invited to the retirement do for that police sergeant. He had been taken from us to train others in the techniques he had developed, but eventually it all evaporated and he got promoted into Scotland Yard.

Yesterday our Home Affairs Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael released some figures from an analysis of crime figures last year. It seems 2 million out of 5 million reported cases were recorded as “investigation complete – no suspect identified”.

British Transport Police had the worst record of clearing up crimes with 63% unsolved. Just behind them was the Met who did not identify a suspect in 54% of all cases.

In terms of the kind of cases that were least likely to result in prosecution, the worst three all involved vehicles. So a staggering 94% of cases of thefts from a vehicle are dropped, as are 90% of bicycle thefts and 88% of vehicle interference. What is more worrying is that the fourth crime in the list involves people directly – 85% cases of thefts from a person were dropped.

Alistair Carmichael said:

These shocking figures show criminals are getting away with victimising people on an industrial scale. Conservative Ministers love to talk tough on crime, but they can’t even get the basics right.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for a return to proper community policing, where officers are visible, trusted and focused on cutting crime. The Government should give forces the resources they need to make sure that every crime is investigated.

We must reverse years of Conservative neglect that have made our communities less safe and let far too many criminals get away with it.

As a footnote: Today we have learnt that the Conservatives are way behind their own manifesto target of recruiting 20,000 more police officers by March 2023. The data is here. They could only reach that target by increasing the recruitment rate by 800%.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • There’s an old English saying that ‘Money makes the Mare to go’, Mary.

    I’m sorry to say it, but as a then Lib Dem Councillor, I well remember this report appearing in the Guardian newspaper at the end of 2010 :

    “Police forces in England and Wales face a funding cut of more than 15% over the next two years in real terms – more than expected – according to a House of Commons analysis of Home Office grant figures published today.

    The analysis, commissioned by the shadow home secretary, Ed Balls, reflects an updated estimate for inflation in November. It shows that the 43 police forces in England and Wales face front-loaded cuts of 7.1% in real terms funding next year and 8.5% in the year of the Olympics.

    The Commons library analysis contrasts with a Home Office statement today that police forces in England and Wales face a cut (in cash terms) of 5.1% in 2011/12 and 6.7% in 2012/13.

  • John Lib Dem 27th Jul '22 - 4:08pm

    A barrister strike over legal aid funding has been going on for weeks, court backlogs are at a record level, and the miscarriages of justice watchdog has recently been described as not fit for purpose. Our party has had next to nothing to say about any of these things. Statements like the one by Alistair Carmichael are therefore entirely meaningless.

  • @ John Lib Dem ” Our party has had next to nothing to say about any of these things”.
    I’m sorry to say that’s not the case, John.

    The legal aid cuts went through Parliament in 2012, much to my dismay as a then Lib Dem Councillor. Lord McNally, the then Lib Dem Coalition Government Justice Minister had plenty to say in support of the cuts during the passage of the bill.

    Here’s a link to a more recent interview he did with The Guardian: Lord McNally: ‘We had to cut legal aid. It’s not a bottomless pit
    ‘https://www.theguardian.com › society › jan › lord-mc… 30 Jan 2019

  • Thanks for writing this Mary. I enjoyed reading it. As ever an interesting topic weighted with very relatable and relevant experience in the community. I often feel the party talks very little about crime and policing in national messaging, but are very strong on it at local messaging level

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Jul '22 - 10:02pm

    The brilliantly explained piece by you Mary, implies this was more to do with operational decisions rather than only cuts. David, herein, emphasises cuts, as these can be a cause. Which is it here?

    I think our public services are in nearly every aspect, terrible far too much.

  • Lorenzo, recent research has shown that the 2012 cuts to legal have had the following consequences :

    1. Swamped family courts with unrepresented litigants, discouraging many from continuing with proceedings. The number of people accessing legal aid in family matters has fallen 88% in seven years.

    2. Exposed more victims of domestic violence to cross-examination by ex-partners.
    Prevented hundreds of thousands of people from pursuing justice in other areas such as housing, debt, employment, clinical negligence, immigration, welfare payments and education.

    3. Failed to update financial eligibility thresholds, which lawyers say has resulted in few defendants in work being able to claim legal aid in criminal cases and consequently raised fears of miscarriages of justice.

    4. Forced expert lawyers, deprived of funded work, to give up specialisms, creating “advice deserts”.

    There’s no wriggle room. In my view what was done in 2012 was profoundly illiberal and should be acknowledged as such.Is it now party policy to restore these cuts…. I can’t find any evidence that it is, but maybe Mary can tell us ?

  • @David Raw. “Is it now party policy to restore these cuts…. I can’t find any evidence that it is, but maybe Mary can tell us ?”
    Yes, indeed it is. See: https://www.libdems.org.uk/s19-justice
    Also Clegg was clearly unhappy about it at the time: https://www.libdemvoice.org/clegg-shares-his-concern-over-legal-aid-plans-full-transcript-35036.html

  • Thank you, Mary. I’m very glad to hear it.

  • Alison Willott 28th Jul '22 - 9:26am

    When I was a magistrate about 10 years ago, we reckoned that about 40% of our cases were shop-lifting or other petty theft done by drug addicts needing money for their next fix; and another 40% domestic and other violence arising from alcohol problems. We could deal with the first by legalising drugs (all drugs) which would (a) reduce the burden on the courts (b) reduce thefts (c) reduce A&E admissions of addicts who have taken poor-quality drugs (d) reduce the money flowing into criminal gangs and (e) bring money into state coffers from the tax taken on legal drug purchases. Swiss precedent also shows that, after getting their necessary fixes from legal clinics with no fuss, addicts have got themselves into a routine which then allows them to consider getting a job and in due course they are ready to ask for help in getting off drugs altogether. Win-win all round. And the main reason we don’t do is because people are afraid of the tabloid press….. PS if this was done globally it would stop the appalling drug-related murders across the world, and incidentally make it easier for medicals to access supplies of morphine; currently these often run short as selling to criminals is more lucrative for the grower. Dealing with alcohol-related violence is a whole other ball-game.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 28th Jul '22 - 11:26am

    After reading that, some reasurance, David, Mary,cheers!

  • Helen Dudden 29th Jul '22 - 11:14am

    With several police forces under further examination of how things were handled, there are issues with honesty and transparency.

  • Peter Hirst 30th Jul '22 - 2:03pm

    Likelihood of being convicted is a credible deterrent of performing an offence. It is a form of prevention. A culture of crime not paying creates a safer society.

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