Police Effectiveness

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 31st January 2005.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Conservative, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton 2:30 pm, 31st January 2005

What research he has conducted on the effectiveness of policing in England and Wales.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The Home Office has an ongoing research programme focused on improving policing effectiveness. Studies published in 2004 covered a wide range of topics, including neighbourhood policing and tackling organised crime.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Conservative, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton

That is all very good, but does the Minister agree with the criticism of the police made by the chief inspector of constabulary, Sir Keith Povey, that too many police constables still patrol in pairs and rarely get out of their cars to walk the beat?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The hon. Gentleman will know that we agree absolutely that we need to drive up the amount of time that police officers spend on front-line policing. That is a very important measure to us this year. I am keen to see not only police officers, but community support officers, of whom there are a number in his own force—I think that he has 149 CSOs at the moment out there on patrol—because it is important for the public that police officers and CSOs are out there reassuring them and being visible, accessible and in touch.

Photo of Brian Jenkins Brian Jenkins Labour, Tamworth

On that point, will my hon. Friend not only issue a guidance table, but make it a requirement that every uniformed officer, irrespective of rank, spends at least two hours per shift on highly visual policing duties on the beat?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I recognise my hon. Friend's concern that all police officers should be on the front line reassuring their communities. I cannot remember which force was involved, but I understand that, in a recent experiment, every officer from the chief constable down went out on to the streets and, on that day, no crimes were committed at all. I am keen to ensure that police officers do that. That is why we are asking the police to tell us how they spend their time so that we can drive up the number of police officers on the front line from the current average of about 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. That will free up an extra 12,000 officers and make a significant difference.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Dorset is the second lowest funded police authority in the country, yet massive resources are allocated to Bournemouth at weekends to cope with the influx of binge drinkers from far and wide. What action will the Minister take to support Dorset police in maintaining effective policing for all Dorset residents throughout the county? Many are missing out because there are not as many community beat officers in all our communities as we would like.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The hon. Lady will acknowledge that this year's police funding settlement is one of the best that we have seen in recent years. Extra money for the police ranges from 3.75 to 6.8 per cent. and, together with our record number of police officers—140,000—we also have 4,000 CSOs. It is important that those police officers provide a service throughout their communities. That is why we have introduced measures to tackle binge drinking in particular and to ensure that officers are not abstracted from those problems in future. I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the proposals that we have recently issued for consultation.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

The Minister will be aware that Essex police authority has received accolades for maximising its scarce resources and keeping costs down. The authority spends £137 per resident compared with an average in the shire counties of £151. What incentive is there for Essex police authority to keep down costs, given that there is no recognition of its effectiveness compared with the awards to other comparable police authorities, such as Kent? Is it not unfair discrimination that those who maximise scarce resources and increase operational effectiveness receive a pat on the shoulder but no bonus in the form of additional resources to encourage them?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

My hon. Friend will recognise that this year's police settlement is a generous one. I am aware of the excellent work that is being done by Essex police authority, particularly in tackling bureaucracy. I have just seen a photograph of the chief constable of Essex with his staff burning forms representing the bureaucracy in their force. I am delighted about that, and we are encouraging them to do so.

We are developing a system in which we will grade forces as excellent, good, weak or poor. We want to give the excellent forces more freedom and flexibility, particularly from inspection, to give them an incentive to carry on being excellent forces.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Is the Minister aware that reported violent crime has increased by nearly 100 per cent. under this Government, with yet further increases admitted in figures announced last week by the Home Office? Yet over the same period, detection rates for those awful crimes fell from nearly 80 per cent. before 1997 to only 50 per cent. today. That is the record of the past eight years. When do the Government plan to do something about it?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

As usual, the hon. Gentleman is selective in the statistics that he chooses to use. He did not mention that the British crime survey—the most authoritative survey during the past 20 years—shows that all crime is down by 11 per cent., or that recorded crime is down by 6 per cent. Those two measures—BCS and recorded crime—are both down, but he did not mention that.

The hon. Gentleman referred to violent crime. That is an important and serious issue, but he did not say that there has been a 35 per cent. drop in violent crime in the past 10 years and that it is now remarkably stable.

Detection rates have started to increase again because we recognise that the public want more crime to be detected. If the hon. Gentleman examines the figures for the past 12 months, he will see a significant increase in detection. He should be a bit more honest and acknowledge that he intends to cut the Home Office by £1.6 billion. How many cuts in the number of police officers will his financial projections mean?

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham

Residents in Wrexham have noticed a massive increase in the effectiveness of policing, thanks to the introduction of a community-based beat manager system. Is not the introduction of more neighbourhood wardens the way to improve effectiveness even further? I am delighted to say that we have community support officers at last in north Wales.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Like my hon. Friend, I am delighted to welcome the community support officers in Wales. I am convinced that good teams of neighbourhood police officers, community support officers and wardens, who are in touch with their communities, can drive down crime. The interim evaluation of CSOs that we conducted recently showed that, when they were introduced in Leeds city centre, vehicle theft fell by 49 per cent. and personal robbery dropped by 47 per cent. That is not all due to CSOs, but I am sure that they made a significant contribution.