Comment: Frontline policing is under threat

Don't believe the government's assurances on protecting frontline services. Here in Liverpool policing is being hit hard by the cuts and crime is inevitably going to rise.

By Councillor Ann O'Byrne

David Cameron inherited a strong legacy on law and order from the last Labour government: Crime fell by by 43% from 1997 to 2010. This is not just some dry government statistic. It's about real changes in our communities where we bore down on crime which, if left unchecked, can ruin lives. In short, Labour made a difference.

But thanks to David Cameron, this progress is under threat. With cuts to policing, plans to reduce sentences by half for early guilty pleas and a broken promise on knife crime, David Cameron and his Tory-led government have revealed themselves to be hopelessly out of touch on crime.

The cuts will put at risk the huge improvements in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour in Liverpool achieved under the last Labour government.

Thanks to Labour's unprecedented investment in policing, we have had major success in tackling crime – so much so that Liverpool is now one of the safest big cities in the country.

Burglaries and robberies are down 17%, serious violence is down by a quarter and there has been a huge 20% reduction in anti social behaviour right across the city.

Under Labour, we were given the resources to try new and innovative ways in making our communities safer and better places to live. In the Kirkdale area of the city, we've successfully tackled problem tenants through the introduction of a Good Neighbour agreement in partnership with the local housing association and police.

We introduced dog control orders in parts of the city to deal with irresponsible owners. The special innovative funds which helped us achieve so much have all been wiped out by the Tory-led government's cuts.

The huge fear is that all of this excellent progress made over the past decade is being put under threat if our partners in improving community safety, and in particular Merseyside police, are denied the resources to effectively tackle the issues that matter to the local community.

The announcement in the October spending review that the policing budget would be cut by 20% was greeted with dismay by senior police figures alarmed by the potential impact that cuts of this scale would have on policing. Indeed, a cut of this size would go way beyond the 12% savings Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary said could be achieved through efficiency savings and better procurement. It warned that going any further would affect police availability, while a leaked Association of Chief Police Officers memo estimated that 12,000 police officers and 16,000 police staff jobs will be lost over four years.

Police forces have already announced they will have to lose over 12,500 police officers and thousands more police staff as a result of David Cameron's cuts.

On Merseyside, cuts to the police authority's budget mean the loss of 800 frontline police officers and 1,000 support staff. This will have a deep and destructive impact on the huge progress we have made in making Liverpool a much safer place in which to live and work.

Merseyside police is facing massive upheaval to save £66 million by 2015. Chief Constable Jon Murphy and his senior officers have already found savings worth £4.1 million in this year's budget and a further £18 million in next year's. As most of the budget – 86% – is spent on wages, the axing of 800 police officer jobs and 1,000 civilian staff could have a devastating effect on fighting crime and disorder.

Yet the government continues to insist that there is no need for these cuts to impact on frontline policing.

The reality is very different: the frontline is being hit hard. We have already seen stories in the media about experienced police officers being forcibly retired and within weeks being invited back to do their old jobs for free. Add to this the examples of police officers being taken off the beat to fulfil office and support functions, proactive preventive work being curtailed and unpopular proposals for elected police and crime commissioners, which concentrate power over the police in the hands of one person and will cost £100 million – equivalent to 600 full time police officers – and you have the true reality of how this government's plans are undermining the police.

Not content with cutting police numbers, David Cameron is in the process of weakening police powers on DNA, CCTV and anti-social behaviour. At the same time youth services, family intervention programmes, probation, partnership and voluntary sector prevention work are all subject to major cuts. Put all together, these actions could lead to a perfect storm on crime and policing that could put our communities at risk and take us backwards in the fight against crime.

The reckless abolition of area-based grants has led to the axing of Liverpool's effective and popular Alley Gates Programme. It was a simple, but effective, measure of securing the alleyways with lockable gates behind the thousands of terraced streets here in Liverpool.

A recent study into the scheme found that people's feeling of safety increased by 20% after the gates were installed. The Labour government funded 6,000 of the gates in Liverpool, which led to a massive 37% reduction in burglaries in the streets which were gated. This cost-effective measure is now being denied to other parts of the city that face higher levels of break-ins thanks to Tory cuts.

The government's policies on crime and justice are a shambles and the choices David Cameron is making are putting the safety of our neighbourhoods at risk. Communities like mine don't want to see powers to fight crime and anti-social behaviour taken away from the police and the communities they serve. They want more action on anti-social behaviour, not less. They want community safety, the interests of victims, reducing crime and punishing offenders put ahead of cutting costs.

David Cameron is cutting too far, too fast. He needs to put the safety of our communities and the interests of victims before cutting costs. He has shown himself to be completely out of touch with public concerns on crime.

Ann O'Byrne is Cabinet member for community safety on Liverpool City Council.

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