Ipswich’s new MP Tom Hunt has started a big debate about crime in the town.
I know many people are concerned about some of the language he used which, if we are going to be charitable, can best be categorised as “unfortunate”.
In every community, in every town, in every country and at any time in history there have been good people and bad people. Usually the good people far outnumber the bad. It is society’s job to ensure that the good people are protected and supported to help defeat the bad.
If whole communities are categorised as “bad” then it is impossible for the good people to win. A “no one likes us, we don’t care” mentality develops. The good people are intimidated into silence and it becomes very difficult for the police to get intelligence to help combat crime.
Communities don’t commit crime and anti-social behaviour, individuals do. It is these individuals we must go after while giving help and support to those who do not want to see crime and anti-social behaviour in their community.
Where Mr Hunt is correct, is that crime and anti-social behaviour and the fear that this generates has risen significantly over the last decade, in Ipswich and across Great Britain.
But I’m afraid this is where his “straight talking” deserts him.
Because he fails to acknowledge how drastic cuts to public services, and particularly to our police, imposed by his party in Government have helped cause these problems.
The plain fact of the matter is that there are not enough police to deal with crime and anti-social behaviour in Ipswich.
When did you last see a police patrol in Ipswich, and especially the town centre? There is no one on hand to nip anti-social behaviour in the bud. As one person gets away with, others think they can too and it quickly becomes normalised behaviour.
If you dial 999, unless it is an extremely serious incident, no one will be available to be sent. You may get a follow-up visit days or weeks later.
If you dial 101 to report a problem you’re put on hold for 30 minutes before giving up.
If you are burgled the police will rarely even visit to take evidence.
I have had people complain of regular drug dealing carrying on uninterrupted in plain daylight despite repeated reports to the police.
Victims of repeated anti-social behaviour despair of getting a solution to their problem and give up reporting incidents altogether.
Safer Neighbourhood teams have been stripped of their police officers and Community Support Officers. They used to be out in the communities, providing reassurance and picking up vital intelligence.
The few police that are left are constantly having to deal with the problems created by cuts in other services. Cuts to youth services have led to an increase in gang membership. Drug addicts turn to petty crime to fund an addiction they can’t get treatment for. People denied mental health treatment are having to be detained by the police for their own and others’ protection.
It is not “political correctness” or lack of will that is stopping these issues being tackled. It is lack of police to do the job.
This isn’t a secret for the criminals – they know that there are many crimes they can commit and most likely will never get caught and punished for. But for ten years we have had Conservative Government ministers claiming that cuts to policing haven’t led to an increase in crime and anti-social behaviour.
This, in plain straight talking, is a lie.
Even now, when the Government is planning to increase police numbers they refuse to admit that their previous cuts were a big mistake. If everything is OK with current police numbers then why is the Government now promising to increase them?
Unless we are honest about this we don’t have a hope of tackling the big problems of crime and anti-social behaviour in our town and across our country. We should also be honest that things have been left to get out of hand for so long, it will cost far more to fix this problem than it would have done to prevent it in the first place.
We are going to need a large investment in tackling crime and a large investment in the services that help prevent crime.
Because the honest truth is that for the last 10 years, this Government has been soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime. And it is time this stopped.