Conference: cutting crime by catching criminals

Brian Paddick opened this debate with his obvious strength, referencing his thirty years experience in policing in support of the basic bones of the motion:

  • An extra 10,000 police officers, paid for by scrapping the ID card scheme.
  • An end to centralised targets that distort local police priorities.
  • Police forces to be directly accountable to local authorities
  • More open reportage and analysis of crime figures
  • Significant reduction in unnecessary police paperwork.
  • Education and training for prisoners, plus resettlement services for outgoing prisoners
  • Introduction of Community Justice Panels to be set up in every town and city to deal with low level criminality, with the emphasis on offenders apologising and paying back the community,

A passionate speech came from Cllr Richard Kemp of Liverpool Wavertree in support of the only amendment not to be absorbed into the text of the motion. This proposed effectively to put councils directly in control of police forces in all areas, whereas the text of the motion only allowed this in some areas (depending on whether or not the police force jurisdiction straddled more than one council area, in which case the police authority would be partly directly elected).

A few sparky interventions followed, including the following:

– Dr Ann Morrison speaking broadly in favour but with strong reservations about the costing of the Community Justice Panels proposal.

– Liz Leffman in strong support of the absorbed amendment which proposes extensive resettlement programs for people coming out of prison and settling back into work and public life. The original text just referred to their having “access to education and training” while in prison.

She also gave an example known to her of a young man working voluntarily in a charity shop who was offered a job, which was then withdrawn when the shop discovered he had a criminal record. How was anyone supposed to rebuild a life when that attitude to former criminality was the norm? Conference strongly applauded her disgust at this case. If ever there was a moment that underlines the Liberal Democrat difference, especially with reference to the Tories, this was it.

Chris Huhne gave a strong summation in support of the motion. He responded to a couple of interventions from the floor which had asked why the paper made no specific mention of youth issues and gun/knife/spoon crime by pointing out that these issues had been dealt with separately in the youth justice paper A Life Away from Crime.

He said that this paper represents a big and simple message about how we as a party want to tackle crime. There is currently a 99% chance of not ending up with a conviction if you commit a crime. Catching more criminals will drive up the odds of conviction, thereby discouraging crime.

The paper, Chris went on, represented the most radical decentralisation of Whitehall power in the history of policing. Police forces should have the power to hire and fire their own chief constables without interference with the home office.

Above all, the paper was the only distinctive and practical set of proposals  for tackling crime in a political climate of testosterone-driven posturing from the two main parties, competing to see who could set the longer sentences.

And it must have worked because the motion was overwhelmingly
carried, with only one or two hands spotted in opposition.

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This entry was posted in Conference.
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