Being a victim of crime can be extremely distressing. Time and again, I have been contacted by constituents who have been the victims of theft, burglary, criminal damage and arson. People who have been mugged in broad daylight in the town centre. Businesses subjected to the theft of diesel. Car owners who have had their vehicles stolen by thieves who broke into their houses and took their keys. Repeated acts of vandalism and criminal damage against cars.
There is a simple reason why more people than ever are getting in touch about crime: our police force has been cut to the bone after almost a decade of austerity from central government. Since 2010, South Yorkshire Police have lost 480 officers and 36% of its PCSOs, meaning that there are now almost 600 fewer frontline staff over the previous 9 years. At the same time, the total budget has been reduced by 21%, making South Yorkshire the joint 7th hardest hit police force area in the country.
Against this backdrop, South Yorkshire Police are doing their best with the resources they have. It is extremely encouraging that the Force has been recognised as ‘Good’ by the Inspectorate of Constabulary and have made significant improvements over the last couple of years. I was particularly pleased to join officers and our Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, recently in Barnsley Town Centre as part of Operation Spectre – a nationwide operation that aims to tackle the scourge of knife crime. It was impressive to see the excellent work our dedicated South Yorkshire officers do on a daily basis, and the improvements that have been made.
However, all these improvements have taken place whilst the police have had one arm tied behind their backs by central government. And the impact of these cuts has meant that South Yorkshire Police are having to take extremely difficult decisions about how resources are allocated.
Whilst I understand why this has to happen, I also understand local residents’ frustrations – who want to be reassured that their neighbourhoods are safe and want to see criminals face the consequences of their actions. I know how important robust neighbourhood policing is to local people, which is why I have written to the Policing Minister to raise these concerns and ask what the Government intends to do. However, I suspect that under this government nothing much will change.
What these past 9 years go to show is that you cannot deliver justice on the cheap. If you want to protect communities and prosecute criminals, then our police forces need to be given the money and resources to do the job. We need a Government that will ensure that this investment is delivered, and resources can be better targeted to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour – which means recruiting additional officers who will be out on the beat, working with local communities to reduce crime and keep local people safe.
Britain has a proud history of policing by consent, and police officers working within, and alongside, local communities to do their job. With the right investment, neighbourhood community policing can make sure that we keep our streets safe here in Barnsley.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 22 March 2019.