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Thursday, 19 September, 2002, 08:39 GMT 09:39 UK
Six Forum: Cracking Crime

  Click here to watch the forum.  

  • Click here to read the transcript


    Speaking to the Police Superintendents' Association (PSA) Home Secretary David Blunkett outlined plans for police reforms which would allow officers more time to chase criminals.

    He said police could be given the power to grant 'street bail' for minor offences, as part of plans to cut bureaucracy in the force.

    Mr Blunkett also announced a record 130,000 officers on the beat.

    But are we doing enough to cut crime rates? How can you avoid being a victim? Do you feel society is now more or less safe?

    Steve Chamberlain, Assistant Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police answered your questions in a LIVE forum for the BBC's Six O'clock news, presented by Manisha Tank.


    Transcript


    Manisha Tank:

    Thank you for joining us on the Six Forum. I'm Manisha Tank. We're talking about cracking crime in this forum. It's very high on the Government's agenda - in fact Home Secretary, David Blunkett, wants 130,000 more officers on the beat. There are also plans to get officers out of doing admin in their offices and onto the street more. There are even rumblings that they're being encouraged to eat in McDonalds so there's more visibility out on the street amongst the public.

    But is all of this enough to actually reduce crime and what is society's role in all of this? Your e-mails have been rolling in on the subject and we're going to put them now to Steve Chamberlain, Assistant Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police.

    Thanks for being with us Mr Chamberlain. We've had a huge response - obviously something that's close to everybody's heart.

    Eunice Aswat in the UK asks: The Government must bring in tougher laws to beat crime. In the area I live, after 9 p.m. criminals pick and choose their victims, usually by mugging. By the time the police arrive on the scene, they're long gone. Only last night we called the police after a victim's face was covered in blood when three muggers assailed him. What can be done about this kind of thing?


    Steve Chamberlain:

    It's both a police issue and other agencies and I think we've just got to work together with the public to try and reduce that level of serious violence and crime in those particular areas. But it has to be done with the community and we would like to do as much neighbourhood policing and quality of life policing in people's backyards, that's literally what they want as possible. But when we also have to deal with murders, kidnaps, street robbery and burglary, it always takes resources. So it's a difficult balance to strike sometimes.


    Manisha Tank:

    Now obviously something like mugging is often attributed to youth crime in particular. We've had an e-mail in from Ian in the UK who asks: Not that I condone violence, but what I think is needed, in some circumstances, is a quick clip round the ear followed by a ride home in a police car. Wouldn't this solve some of the less serious youth crimes quite quickly?


    Steve Chamberlain:

    Well of course we can't do the clip round the ear - I'm afraid those days are long gone with human rights. I'm afraid there would be immediate complaints if we took that approach. But we can deal with it properly if young people are offending - most criminals are aged between 16 and 24 - those are the people who are committing most of the crime and actually that's the same group who are mostly the victims. So that is the key group that we have to tackle. But there are better ways of dealing with it. If it's a minor first offence then people can be cautioned. But if it's serious, then I afraid they have to go to court and go through the judicial process.


    Manisha Tank:

    But sometimes unfortunately police officers are dealing with mindsets that no matter what they do there are some youths who will never get out of what is persistent crime committal. Edward in the UK asks: What is being done about youth crime? At the moment kids are well aware that the law is basically impotent when dealing with them and as a result they have a mindset that they can do anything - a mindset that continues into their adult life.


    Steve Chamberlain:

    Well that can be the case and sometimes drugs - particularly an increase in heroin and crack cocaine - can fuel that. But some things can be done. There is the principle and philosophy that's gathering a lot of support of early family intervention. That's a multi-agency approach with health, housing and education to try and affect youngsters' lives positively as early as possible. But that requires quite a lot of effort and quite a lot of resources and actually to tackle these youngsters before they get into long-term prolific offending. So we're talking about trying to intervene at the ages of 6, 8, 10 instead of 16 - 18 years-old, when it's too late.


    Manisha Tank:

    Let's move on to resources. We've had an e-mail from C. Cunliffe, Cardiff who asks: The police say they need more funds but I'd like to know where the extra revenue generated by speed camera fines is going?


    Steve Chamberlain:

    Well the speed camera revenue is going straight back into reducing casualties on the road. In some parts of the country death and serious injuries have been slashed by 30% in one year and those fines go directly into paying for extra cameras, extra policing and also civilian support staff and extra processing of all that. But the end result is fewer deaths, so it is not profit making at all.


    Manisha Tank:

    Sticking with this subject of money. Andrew Rawnsley in Blackpool asks: Do you think that charging convicted felons for the expense of keeping them in prison would act as a deterrent or would it free up more money to help solve crime?


    Steve Chamberlain:

    When persistent offenders are in prison, they're not committing offences out on the streets - that's an obvious and one of the best deterrents because that means there will be fewer victims. Of course that isn't the complete answer - something has to happen to them whilst they're in prison and when they're released because if they're just released back into the community with no attempt at rehabilitation, then they are going to offend again. So it does reduce crime by putting people in prison but it requires quite an aftercare service as well.


    Manisha Tank:

    I asked the question in the introduction to all of this - what can society do to help and perhaps you can help with some ideas. We've had an anonymous text message in: Why don't the councils get involved and offer a slight discount on council tax to people who perhaps volunteer to be special constables. Would things like that actually help?


    Steve Chamberlain:

    I don't think that would be a useful way forward. There is a lot of talk nationally about the special constabulary receiving expenses for what they do and some recompense. But the special constabulary are not the only organisation now that are involved in low-level policing. With the advent of street wardens and the potential of community support officers means that there are likely to be a much wider range of organisations trying to do this quality of life neighbourhood-style patrol which is important.


    Manisha Tank:

    Shaun Dawson, Derbyshire asks: It is good to know that there are more police employed. But I feel that the question is - are these new resources being deployed correctly? People feel safer when they see a police officer patrolling the streets. In Derbyshire it is rare to see police officers in the village - in London it's probably even less common. Why aren't beat bobbies more visible?

    There has been this big debate about police officers being stuck in offices doing administrative work.


    Steve Chamberlain:

    Well there are several issues there. The first thing is that we support more officers out on the beat - we do aim to do that. But when we do have, as I've said, murder, rape, kidnap, burglary offences, auto crime and now street robber where there is a big focus - the resources have to come from somewhere. It is the same officers who have to be moved from one function to another. So, for example, in South Yorkshire, officers from the traffic department are being redeployed - quite a large number - onto street crime. It takes five or six years to recruit a police officer and to effectively train them so they're quite specialist. So it is a reasonably slow process but a very important one. So it is about balancing those resources.

    We have to make efficiency savings. In the last four years, South Yorkshire has had to put in 18 million of efficiency savings - over the same time, we reduced crime by 20%. So there has been a great deal of effort that goes in. But the police support local neighbourhood policing but sometimes the demands of serious crime do take those officers away.


    Manisha Tank:

    David Krutski asks: In 10 years time, my daughter will be 16. What will the landscape of crime look like then? What will be the main threats and risks to my child and family?


    Steve Chamberlain:

    Hopefully the first thing is that this prevalence of drug abuse - particularly heroin and crack cocaine that is accelerating across the country - hopefully that we reduce that across all agencies with the work of agencies and the police so the drug landscape is reduced. That's the first thing. We have gone through times of low violence. We're going through a period now of increased violence, so hopefully again we can actually reduce that. So I think violence and drugs are the two big enemies to actually reduce to make that child's life a better prospect in 10 years time.


    Manisha Tank:

    Alison Brown, Hampshire asks: I have a feeling that criminals are given chance after chance. Why don't we adopt a system of three strikes and you're out - this perhaps would set the record straight for everyone, including the criminals?


    Steve Chamberlain:

    Well we'd have to applaud the Government's approach to actually improving the criminal justice system and speed up justice. I think that's one major benefit. To give you an example, we recently had a robber who badly assaulted an old lady who between arrest and actual conviction to prison only took eight days and was sentenced to eight years imprisonment. So I think that's a major example of how things can be improved if there is the will and the mandate for all the agencies in the criminal justice service to work very closely together.


    Manisha Tank:

    We have to wrap it up there. Steve Chamberlain, Assistant Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, thank you for taking the time out to be with us.

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