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Monday, October 12, 1998 Published at 21:05 GMT 22:05 UK


May the force be with you

Bradford's red light district: Police are targeting kerb-crawlers

Latest crime figures released on Tuesday show how the 43 police forces in England and Wales are performing.

One force - West Yorkshire - has already received a proverbial pat on the back from the prime minister for cutting burglary in Huddersfield by 30%.

[ image: Taggart: Proud of West Yorkshire's performance]
Taggart: Proud of West Yorkshire's performance
At the Labour Party Conference last month, Tony Blair highlighted West Yorkshire as an area where "targeted" policing has reduced crime by 6.3% to a seven-year low.

"Don't tell us that it can't be done," he said, "because some of you are doing it already."

"Police should find imaginative ways of cutting crime" - Neil Taggart
Councillor Neil Taggart has some top tips for police forces that have less to boast about. As chairman of West Yorkshire Police Authority, he is responsible for setting the police budget and consulting with ministers "to make sure West Yorkshire's voice is heard".

Last year, he may not have shouted loudly enough - the county's police budget was cut by £6m for 1997/8.

"When police officers here learned that there was going to be a budget cut of several million they were gasping," he said. "But in fact we've managed it quite well."

"Efficiency savings" have had one positive effect - fewer chiefs and more Indians.

Many inspectors and sergeants - arguably more in tune with everyday crime problems - were given greater responsibility for their "patch".

Next year will see more cuts of at least 2%.

"I would say to people who are worried about the loss of 2% on their budget next year to ask themselves 'What are we doing? Who are we doing it for and can we do it better?'" said Mr Taggart.

"The answer is probably yes, you probably can do it better. A tranquil and safe community does not necessarily require more police officers to police it but it might involve some imagination."

His county has targeted known criminals with highly publicised dawn raids that have resulted in scores of arrests in places such as East Leeds where drug dealing was rife.


This type of sting is not new - London's Metropolitan police force pioneered Operation Bumblebee. It was repeated in other forces and resulted in a dramatic drop in burglaries.

What is new to Britain is West Yorkshire's latest strategy to rid Huddersfield, Bradford and Leeds of prostitution.

Instead of targeting the prostitutes themselves, police home in on the clients, arrest them and offer them a stark choice - prosecution and a letter to their family or a re-education programme.

Known as "John" schools after the American nickname for kerb-crawlers, these one-day courses are designed to change men's attitudes to sex and women in general.

"If it's a success I'm sure it will be copied elsewhere in Britain," Mr Taggart said.

'Tough on the causes of crime'

But these kind of experimental schemes are never going to wipe out the world's oldest profession in one fell swoop.

As with other forms of law-breaking, drugs are often a primary cause and West Yorkshire police are co-operating with health workers to wean prostitutes and addicts off heroin.

So-called "drug courts" have been set up across the county where drug users have the choice of being prosecuted and risking a criminal record or undergoing therapy.

"A lot of members of the public see drugs as a police issue," says the councillor. "We here see it as a social and a health issue."

Eradicating racism

Co-operating with local agencies is one thing - engendering the trust of the community as a whole is something different altogether.

[ image: The Lawrence case has tarnished the Met's image]
The Lawrence case has tarnished the Met's image
The Metropolitan Police's flawed investigation of the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in London has done little to help some people's view of the police.

The Lawrence case "tells us reams and reams about how far the police service has to go to really get the trust of the people it represents", said Mr Taggart.

Recruitment of black and Asian officers is one step towards better race relations. But no gold stars for West Yorkshire on this front - from a total of more than 4,000 police constables, just 117 come from ethnic minorities.

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