Page last updated at 16:17 GMT, Sunday, 21 September 2008 17:17 UK

Community 'army' to back police

Police officers
Labour says the new measures will help police be more effective

Thousands of "community crime fighters" are to be trained as part of a 5m package, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has promised.

She told the Labour Party conference that 3,600 volunteers would act as a link between the public and police.

Ms Smith also announced new measures to tackle prostitution and stop youngsters joining gangs or carrying knives.

Earlier, Prime Minister Gordon Brown had said violent crime and theft could rise because of the economic downturn.

Ms Smith said the new volunteers would tell police officers what people's main concerns were, giving community groups a stronger voice in how crime was tackled in their locality.

"I can announce new funding for an army of community crime fighters, to back up the unsung heroes who want to turn the tables on graffiti, on yobs and on violent crime," she said.

"We'll give them the skills and training they need to get results. One for every neighbourhood policing team, a local voice, a direct link."

First offence

Meanwhile, men looking to pick up prostitutes on the street will be breaking the law the first time they try, she said. Currently only repeat offenders can be charged.

"In my book, once around the block is once too many," she said.

Ms Smith added that police and councils would get new powers to shut brothels, while communities would have a "stronger say" in stopping new lap dancing clubs from opening.

Community groups in 10 areas will get 3.8m to divert teenagers from joining gangs and discourage them from carrying guns or knives.

The money will be used to fund mentoring schemes and outreach programmes, as well as provide activities for youngsters on Friday and Saturday nights.

The areas involved in the schemes account for 70% of knife violence.

They are London, Essex, Lancashire, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Nottinghamshire, South Wales and Thames Valley.

The home secretary told the conference: "These measures all have one thing in common - they build confidence in the power of communities to come together and to deal with the problems that they face."

Mr Brown had written in the News of the World that the government would have to "step up our efforts" to tackle crime.

A leaked Home Office memo earlier this month warned tough economic circumstances could prompt a rise in crime, racial tension and terrorism.

Tough policing

Mr Brown said "tough policing, tough penalties and united communities" were needed to keep crime down.

He said: "We know that, historically, in tough economic times, there has been a rise in crimes of violence and theft.

"So just as we are acting to protect the economic security of the country, we must also step up our efforts to tackle crime and keep people safe on their streets and in their homes."

He also outlined Labour's plans to increase police numbers to record levels, reduce red tape, encourage harsher sentencing and introduce local police teams to each community in England.

Mr Brown also called on ordinary citizens to support the authorities in the fight against crime.

"It requires every person in every community to come together and work with the police to drive out crime and violence."

The leaked Home Office memo was a draft letter to Downing Street, which said rising property crime and violent crime, and increased hostility to migrants, were likely.

It also forecast more smuggling of fuel, alcohol and tobacco.

The Home Office said the letter was draft advice which had not been cleared by the home secretary and had not been sent to Number 10.

Analysis carried out by the Observer newspaper found 19 out of 31 police forces in England and Wales had experienced rises in burglaries over the past year.

Leaked letter predicts crime rise
01 Sep 08 |  UK Politics

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific