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The BBC's Andrew Marr
"New figures will show a modest rise in police numbers"
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Home Secretary Jack Straw
"There has been an increase in street robbery"
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Shadow home secretary, Ann Widdecombe
"We will spend more money on police"
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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 17:47 GMT
Straw's crime plan a 'gimmick'
Mobile phone
Police have criticised mobile phone security
A new crime crackdown targeting mobile phone thefts and launched by Home Secretary Jack Straw has been dismissed by critics as a "gimmick".

The initiative, aimed at tackling rising levels of street crime, includes a summit with police and industry leaders who will be pressed to improve security features on handsets.

We have a shared interest with mobile telephone manufacturers and the operators in making telephones more secure

Jack Straw
A special crime-fighting "tool kit" will also be distributed to police and local communities.

The Conservatives attacked the latest crackdown as an attempt to distract attention from the fall in police numbers under Tony Blair's government.

Tory leader William Hague also used prime minister's questions to go on the offensive over police numbers.

Rise in street robberies

Mr Straw's new initiative came in response to increasing street robberies.

Experts say mobile phone thefts are now common on UK streets because, despite their prevalence, they are desirable and easy to snatch.

Jack Straw
Jack Straw: Hopes to tackle violent crime
But their high cost means thefts are more likely to be reported than other street robberies.

The home secretary and senior police officers believe this has fuelled the 11% rise in violent incidents shown in the latest figures despite an overall drop in crime.

During exchanges in the Commons, Mr Hague's attack on Labour's record on police numbers received short shrift from the prime minister.

Responding to the Tory leader pointing out that the number of police constables had fallen by 2,000 since spring 1997, Mr Blair said that recruitment was now rising following a seven-year long drop in numbers.

He said that was due to a 700m investment by the government.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy also attacked the prime minister over the fall in police numbers, which he blamed on New Labour's decision to stick to Tory spending limits for its first two years of office.

But Mr Blair insisted this had been necessary to tackle the national debt and that he was committed to increasing spending on the public services by 3.3% in each of the next three years.

'Tool kit' to fight crime

Earlier, Mr Straw's anti-crime initiative was rejected as a "gimmick" by shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe.

Mr Straw had told BBC News that he wanted to see the mobile phone industry follow the example over the past decade of car manufacturers who, after a reluctant start, dramatically improved vehicle security.

"We have a shared interest with mobile telephone manufacturers and the operators in making telephones more secure," he said.

Crime-fighting "tool kits" containing information packs and CD-ROMs are being distributed across the country to help local groups and police work together to tackle violent crime.

Doubling police numbers in our communities and in our streets is not a substitute for changing the culture of violence

Simon Hughes
Mr Straw insisted that with increased funds provided by the government, better targeting and better intelligence, violent crime would be reduced.

But Miss Widdecombe said: "We are used to this sort of announcement followed by very little action."

"Where is this government spending all its money?

"They are wasting it on gimmicks, they are wasting it on bureaucracy, they are wasting it on press officers, they are wasting it on advertising, they go on wasting it."

'Culture of violence'

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes called for just-retired police officers and those approaching retirement to be encouraged to stay on for up to five more years.

Mr Hughes agreed that more police were needed but "doubling police numbers in our communities and in our streets is not a substitute for changing the culture of violence".

Mr Straw's drive to reduce street crime came as the Audit Commission issued a report suggesting there was growing public dissatisfaction about the number of police officers out on the beat.

On Monday, Mr Straw pledged to increase the size of the police force in England and Wales to an historic high by 2004.

Police Federation chairman Fred Broughton told the BBC's World at One programme that politicians were finally realising that well-staffed police forces were crucial in meeting public expectations.

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See also:

10 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Straw makes change a Big Issue
31 Oct 00 | Scotland
Children become crime targets
08 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Straw pledges record police numbers
17 Oct 00 | UK
Crime figures drop 10%
10 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Public losing confidence in police
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