It is time for the Lib Dems to talk about policing

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It is time for the Lib Dems to talk about policing, or more specifically, dealing with crime. As a member of the Social Democrat Group, I agreed with much of what this Lib Dem Voice article said, however, the first comment also rings true.

The 2019 Manifesto was very light on how we deal with crime and until we figure out how to have a constructive conversation about it, I suspect, we won’t do as well as we can.

This is not to say that the immediate answer has to be more tasers, as some Conservatives suggest, or paying police pennies on the pound as the now ex-Shadow Home Secretary suggested in that infamous LBC interview.

We can have a constructive discussion on policing and crime reduction, whilst continuing to hold our liberal values. We must become comfortable talking about policing if we are to win again, especially as throughout 2019 crime became the second most pressing concern for people, according to YouGov.

We should have two priorities: getting more front-line police officers and boosting community police operations.

Getting more front-line police officers on the beat will be good for individuals and businesses. One of the biggest issues that comes up on the doorstep when I am campaigning is lack of police presence leading to car crimes and vandalism.

Whilst these may seem fairly low-key crimes, they make people feel unsafe, people won’t want to set up businesses in that area and it will ultimately damage the long-term economic prospects of that location.

Getting more police on the beat will help with this as not only will it reduce the likelihood of crime occurring, when it does occur people are more likely to be able to speak to a police officer physically which will help alleviate concerns that nothing will get done. There should be a minimum number of police officers per capita so that people can feel safe and secure.

Unfortunately, trust has been lost in certain areas or amongst certain communities. This makes the job of reducing crime much harder as a lot of policing can be done in the community, but by boosting community policing operations and ensuring that officers are well trained, we can start to turn that around.

We need to invest in community police officers so that they can build these relationships within communities and in the long-term reduce crime. As this LSE report shows, community policing shouldn’t be used as a cost-cutting mechanism for the Home Office, it is key to building sustainable confidence and engagement with the police force.

As a party, we often shy away from talking about policing and crime. I think in part it’s because we have a healthy scepticism of authority and we are also very quick to recognise problems such as Derbyshire Police with their COVID drone.

This doesn’t change the fact that crime is a big issue for a lot of people, and we can do something about it without going down illiberal routes. It’s time we become comfortable talking about policing and its role within crime reduction, because without it, we will continue to be talking to our own members rather than the general public.

* Tom Purvis is a member of the Sheffield Liberal Democrats and is standing in the next local elections

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  • I have found police to be very poor.
    If your complaint is about someone in a powerful position then they will not be prosecuted even if they have committed a crime..

  • Yes. Someone in a powerful position is more likely to get away with it cos obtaining info to prosecute is costly and involves many man hours which are NOT funded whilst the rich can afford expensive lawyers.
    We can go back to ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ policing. Walking the streets building up trust with people in the community. With modern tech the policeman can summon a drone to investigate situations that appear. Re-arranging the way police work/run could instil confidence in people.
    The media are a powerful influence in selling crime to the public which can influence the fear factor that develops in people. Remove that fear factor and confidence in the police can re-appear.

  • John Marriott 26th May '20 - 11:02am

    From 2001 to 2009 I was a County Council Member of the Lincolnshire Police Authority (RIP). Every year we grappled with an ever difficult precept and a virtually stagnant Central Government Grant. Lincolnshire has traditionally been one of the lowest funded of the 43 police forces in the country. A study at Loughborough University in the noughties proved that we got better value from our police here in the county than many others did. However, what the performance of the Lincolnshire force over the years has shown is that increased ‘efficiency’ usually means less people doing more work – and this is often where mistakes have been made, both here and elsewhere.

    There were occasions when we could have nudged the precept percentage up a little higher than inflation; but the Tory members, mindful of their boast that Tory Councils cost you less, were always reluctant to do so and, as there had to be a majority of County Council members in favour, we never took the plunge. In the end, things got so dire that, towards the end of my stint, it was actually proposed to increase the precept by over 50%! (In the end the government gave us an extra twenty odd percent, which helped to tide us over.)

    So, what was that Bourkean diversion all about? It was all about MONEY, or lack of it. Like every other service, you get what you pay for. There is no doubt that money was wasted in some areas; but you can’t get away from the fact that, if you want warranted police officers, as opposed to more PCSO’s, these people have to be paid for. As I used to say, we didn’t necessarily what more “bobbies on the beat”. What we needed was “more beat in our bobbies”.

  • Michael Bukola 26th May '20 - 11:15am

    Notwithstanding its obvious importance in fighting crime and preserving law and order, but trust and public confidence amongst the ‘political left’ has eroded with respect to policing in the UK. This has left us vulnerable to attack by our opponents as being either ‘soft on crime’ or even ‘unpatriotic’. The fact is that having 43 different police constabularies across England and Wales has meant different interpretations of the law and differing guidelines. This must change. Scotland have implemented one constabulary across the whole Country and its working.

  • Callum Robertson 26th May '20 - 11:35am

    Interestingly, the principles that underly policing in the UK are a fascinating example of liberalism in action. (Policing by consent)

    The latest crime and policing paper sets out in some detail our approach to policing

    However, things that we could do which are popular, inexpensive and give us more credibility don’t necessarily have to be “soft on crime”

    Two things that I’ve always favoured;

    – Scrapping the requirement for a degree (replace with policing degree apprenticeships to upskill and increase accessibility)
    – Treating Special Constables like the TA (actually recognise their service with remuneration)

    Annoyingly the latter didn’t make it into the paper but the former did.

  • I agree with Tom’s two priorities. This probably means that we should think about areas of work that the police could legitimately drop such as:

    1) Investigating the recent movements of Dominic Cummings.
    2) Social media abuse.
    3) There are allegedly 20 officers in the National Crime Agency still investigating possible police misconduct in the Stephen Lawrence case. It is quite right that the police never give up on a murder case but the disproportionate attention given to this cone over all others is a national scandal
    4) We need to have a serious debate on whether we should prosecute old men for sexual offences committed many years ago. In 2016 a 101 year old man was jailed for 13 years. He must have done very bad things many years previously but no civilised society would pass a sentence like this.

  • Paul Holmes 26th May '20 - 5:14pm

    Campaigning on Crime and Policing used to be an absolute staple of LD Campaigning but became rather difficult, as so much did, from 2010 onwards.

  • Julian Tisi 27th May '20 - 8:47am

    I agree with the thrust of this article and particularly with George Kendall’s comment. Our policies on law and order aren’t bad; it’s just that we feel uncomfortable talking about law and order generally – this does lead to one of the toxic perceptions of us as soft on crime. I remember when Sir Menzies Campbell was leader we had a conference rally with the headline “We can cut crime”. I thought that was positive in so many ways – by putting crime front and centre as a liberal issue and by offering a positive liberal vision on it.

  • Linda Chung 27th May '20 - 9:03am

    So many interesting comments on the issues raised by Tom Purvis. As an active member of the local police committees, I’ve seen what they have been able to do on gradually diminishing resources. I regard them as protectors, and enforcers, in creating a safe society, but will challenge where I think they could do better.
    I’ve just been asked to comment on how to reduce “violent crime” in various neighbourhoods. As it happens those neighbourhoods have similar features, run down, closed shops, lack of amenities, some sited by noisy, polluted highways crossroads. There are no fast and easy solutions apart from saying let’s have more police to catch and punish the perpetrators.
    One of my main suggestions is that they must find ways of working more closely with councils to understand the communities in which they work to prevent all crime in the first place. For example, friendly visits to homes where there may be known difficulties reported by a school, liaising with refuges whether they be for the homeless, or abused partners, and having a stronger voice in helping “design out” crime in housing provision, planning matters, and youth work.
    Whether, and how, any suggestions are taken forward, is another matter.

  • Phil Beesley 27th May '20 - 2:10pm

    Tom Purvis: “This is not to say that the immediate answer has to be more tasers…”

    It is always important to talk about Tasers. Tasers were introduced to UK policing as a ‘non-lethal alternative’ when officers confronted an offender presenting imminent danger to life. The Taser was the alternative to shooting people, used by people who also used guns.

    Somehow, the Taser has morphed into an instrument used in more general violent situations.

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