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Programme highlights Tuesday, 16 January, 2001, 16:05 GMT
Government publishes crime figures
Police recruits are rising, but so is violent crime
Crimes targeted by police are falling
The great election crime-figures battle has already begun.

The Home Office statistics for the year up to September 2000 show a marginal drop in the overall level of crimes reported to the police.

But a further increase - of 8% - in violent crimes against the person, and an even steeper rise in robberies (up 21%) are worrying trends for the Government.

Straw claims success

Inevitably, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, chose to focus on areas of greatest success: there were 8% fewer burglaries, and a similar decline in the theft of cars. These, he said, were areas that had been targeted by police.

Home Secretary Jack Straw
Car crime and burglary has fallen

Mr Straw also drew attention to new figures, also released today, showing that the numbers of officers joining the 43 forces in England and Wales had reached 5,268 since April. This compared with 3,963 in the whole of the previous financial year.

January had shown a particularly strong influx: the number of recruits was 74% more than in 2000.

But is there more spin than substance?

Opposition parties were unconvinced. The Shadow Home Secretary, Anne Widdecombe, said the police recruitment statistics were a cynical manoeuvre to hide the Government's embarrassment over the increase in robberies and violence.

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe
Less police now than 1997

She also pointed out that the total number of officers was still more than 2,000 below what Labour had inherited in 1997.

Even so, the recruitment figures came at a convenient moment.

They should have been published in December, but were held up by statistical complications.

The Government's critics also claim that Mr Straw's announcement last week - on combatting mobile phone thefts - was partly designed to take the sting out of today's crime figures.

The public want more police

Amidst the welter of competing statistics, all parties know that voters feel strongly about law and order, sometimes from personal experience - but often from perception or even prejudice based on media coverage.

Some recent indications must worry the Government.

The public wants more bobbies on the beat
A recruitment drive is on for more police

Only last weekend, a MORI poll suggested that Labour was trusted less than ever before on crime: in a large survey for the Sunday Telegraph, 36% of those polled thought crime in their area had got worse, 33% said standards of policing generally had declined, and no fewer than 49% believed there had been a reduction in bobbies on the beat.

This echoed the findings of an Audit Commission report last week, which reported public satisfaction with police on the streets at rock bottom in some inner city areas.

It's hardly surprising, then, that the Home Office is making such a big effort on raising police numbers.

Last year saw the start of a 4 million national recruiting drive. And already this year, extra travel allowances have been offered to the Metropolitan Police to help them attract more people.

On the World at One, Ian Johnston, an Assistant-Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, declined to speculate on the timing of this move, but agreed that it would be helpful.

The politicians, meanwhile are left to trade statistics - and will continue to do so until the last vote is counted.

The Met's Ian Johnston:
"Policing numbers are a big problem"
Jack Straw:
"Crime overall has come down"
Ann Widdecombe:
"Police numbers have fallen"
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