Neighbourhood Policing

– in the House of Commons at 1:34 pm on 3rd May 2006.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter PPS (Dr Stephen Ladyman, Minister of State), Department for Transport 1:34 pm, 3rd May 2006

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require police services to include proposals to introduce and sustain neighbourhood policing as a provision of their policing plans;
and for connected purposes.

Let me say immediately that if police services in England and Wales continue to respond positively to the Government's agenda on neighbourhood policing, my Bill will only gather dust. Most if not all forces have responded with professionalism and enthusiasm to the aims set out in a string of White Papers and Government Bills since 1997.

I shall largely confine my remarks to the Metropolitan area, which I believe has led the way in neighbourhood policing. Both the current commissioner and the Mayor deserve praise for not only supporting but implementing the provision of safer neighbourhood teams across London, which Sir Ian Blair has called

"the greatest development in community policing in the last 40 years".

While both Sir Ian and Mr. Livingstone are uncontroversial characters who will no doubt stay in their respective posts for many years to come, should they for any reason move on, I would like to think that their legacy in community policing will be preserved. I also hope that the many local initiatives—not just in London—that are improving community safety can be introduced nationwide to continue the Government's exemplary record in cutting crime and antisocial behaviour. Those are the objects of my Bill.

The purpose of this speech is not to rehearse the details of the statutory framework that already exists or to recite a welter of statistics, but to show how neighbourhood policing is already working on the ground. That said, I feel it is worth reminding the House that without the consistent commitment shown by the Government since 1997, neither the powers nor the funding for neighbourhood policing would exist. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced crime and disorder reduction partnerships and formal co-operation between the police and local authorities to reduce crime. The Police Reform Act 2002 provided for community support officers, who are now an essential ingredient of safer neighbourhood teams and who will number 24,000 by 2008. The White Paper "Building Communities, Beating Crime", published in November 2004, promised to spread neighbourhood policing to every community, and to involve those communities in how they were policed. In January this year, the respect action plan further promoted the use of antisocial behaviour orders, dispersal orders and closure orders to attack antisocial behaviour. Many of those measures are being brought together and extended in the Police and Justice Bill, which is currently before the House.

Recorded crime, as measured by the British crime survey, has fallen consistently since 1997. Both London boroughs crossed by my constituency have experienced significant falls in crime, and Hammersmith and Fulham has experienced the sharpest fall in London. The Government's aim is to see a further reduction in recorded crime of 15 per cent. between 2004 and 2008—a higher percentage in London—and to reduce the fear of crime through the national reassurance policing programme. Neighbourhood policing is key to both those targets.

The decision of the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police Authority, chaired by Len Duvall, to accelerate by two years the introduction of safer neighbourhood teams in all 624 wards in London presents a major logistical task. The police service in London has risen to that challenge and ensured that every ward has at least a four-person team: a sergeant, a police constable and two police community support officers. A further police constable and community support officer will be added by the end of the year.

Safer neighbourhood teams are dedicated to the wards to which they are assigned. They provide residents with a continuous and familiar uniformed presence, and they get to know their patch intimately, not only deterring crime but accumulating intelligence about both the area and its inhabitants. That is hardly revolutionary—indeed, it is what my constituents have been requesting for many years—but it is something that previous Governments and police authorities have declined to provide.

I pay particular tribute to Ealing and Hammersmith and Fulham, where both the police commanders and the council leaderships have gone beyond what is required in introducing neighbourhood policing. In Hammersmith, the Labour council voted funds of £1 million a year to fast-track safer neighbourhood teams, introducing full-strength teams in most wards three years ahead of plans. In Ealing the borough commander, Colette Paul, was able to launch safer neighbourhood teams in all 23 wards on 3 April this year, having planned for their introduction in advance of any London roll-out.

But community policing in those boroughs goes far beyond the additional police resources. As leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, I had the privilege of working with three outstanding police commanders: Dick Cullen, who went on to run Hendon, Anthony Wills, who has become a national champion in the fight against domestic violence, and the present incumbent, Heather Valentine. They have worked hand in glove with both the statutory sector and the community to build trust and reduce crime. For those who remember the atmosphere of mutual suspicion and hostility that afflicted many police and local authority relationships in the 1980s, that is a sea change. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the aftermath of the London bombings last July. The work done by both the Hammersmith and the Ealing police forces to reassure and enlist the support of the whole community, especially in the wake of the attempted bombing at Shepherds Bush, was exemplary.

Both boroughs have taken enthusiastically to partnership working. That often involves teams of police, community support officers and council staff descending on an area to deal with everything from crack houses and street robbery to graffiti, dog fouling and fly-tipping. They also plant trees, give advice to the homeless and, quite possibly, tell people the time. How different that is from the days of the special patrol group.

Both boroughs have introduced the community payback scheme, using offenders to make reparation and environmental improvements in their community. Earlier this year, I attended the launch of the Safer Neighbourhood Annual Challenge at Hurlingham and Chelsea school. Next Monday is the awards ceremony, when children from Hammersmith and Fulham schools will explain their schemes for improving safety in their neighbourhoods.

However, what my constituents most want to know is whether community policing actually cuts crime and the fear of crime. The first indications suggest that the answer is an emphatic yes. All crime, but specifically opportunist crime such as criminal damage, fell significantly more in wards where safer neighbourhood teams were operating last year. There, public confidence in the police rose by 12 per cent. more than was the case in non-SNT wards, complaints of antisocial behaviour fell by 7 per cent. more, sightings of police officers rose by 11 per cent. more, and the belief that the police were taking public concerns seriously by 8 per cent. more.

Those are significant achievements in a very short time. We are only at the start of a policing revolution, in which public trust and the engagement of the whole community are the keys to a safer society.

I appear to be talking myself out of my own Bill. The commitment of many councils and police services is such that I see neighbourhood policing going from strength to strength without the need for legislation, but there is always a cloud on the horizon. In this case, it is in the shape of the Tory and Liberal parties, whose assembly members in London turned their faces against the improvements in neighbourhood policing proposed by the Mayor and Labour group. Overwhelmingly, it is the Labour Government and Labour councils who have provided the resources and commitment to neighbourhood policing.

I commend my Bill as an insurance policy to protect neighbourhood policing for the future. Of course, if residents in Hammersmith and Fulham and in Ealing, as well as in the rest of London and beyond, wish to take out their own insurance that policing will continue to thrive and improve in the years to come, the remedy is in their hands—they have but to vote for their Labour candidates tomorrow.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Andrew Slaughter, Lyn Brown, Jon Cruddas, Ms Karen Buck, Stephen Pound, Mr. Andrew Love, Mike Gapes, Meg Hillier, Mr. Andrew Dismore, Dr. Rudi Vis, Harry Cohen and Ann Keen.