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Friday, 12 July, 2002, 07:21 GMT 08:21 UK
Talking tough, falling short?
Blair
Some say politicians are harming crime-fighting

It is difficult to argue with the opposition home affairs spokesman who called for a "coherent and thought-out policy" to tackle crime.

The same man went on to claim that the government was essentially pandering to ill-informed newspaper scare stories about crime.


Many politicians feel they have to be seen to be tough on crime as a measure of their political virility

Richard Garside
Nacro
It could have been Tory spokesman Oliver Letwin making the point. Or Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes.

But no, the speaker was actually Tony Blair during a Commons debate nine years ago on criminal justice proposals from the then Conservative government.

Launch new window : Facts and figures
Crime figures by key offence and region

The last decade has seen initiative after initiative from both Tory and Labour governments desperate not only to get results, but also to appear tough on crime.

Tony Blair and police officer
Mr Blair: Hostage to fortune over street crime pledge?
And some observers suggest that politicians are actually harming the broader effort to make our streets safer with what has been described as "crude populism".

The anger is directed at high profile announcements such as the prime minister's controversial proposal - later dropped - for on-the-spot fines for disorderly drunks and his pledges on street crime.

Deluge

Critics also argue that resources have been targeted too much at specific areas of crime-fighting at the expense of other important areas of police work.


The robbery problem will be brought under control, but we shall then have the next crisis to deal with

Professor Mike Hough
South Bank University
Some go so far as to suggest that the recent rise in street crime is in part due to the governments of the 1990s directing attention away from general public order policing in order to target crime 'hotspots'.

There has been a deluge of crime-related announcements since Labour came to power in 1997.

Many were criticised, some were quietly dumped and almost all provoked juicy headlines.

There have been local child curfews, parenting orders, tagging for young offenders, antisocial behaviour orders, 24-hour courts, child safety orders, reparation orders and a new youth justice board.

Pledge

Mr Blair also caused controversy when he proposed removing benefits from parents of truanting children.

Michael Howard
Michael Howard conducted a big shake-up of criminal justice system
And he also made himself a hostage to fortune by appearing to pledge that street crime in London will be brought under control by September.

Not that the Tories were any less prolific in terms of headline-grabbing crime initiatives.

In 1993 Michael Howard, while home secretary, announced no less than 26 changes to the criminal justice system.

Crime, of course, always going to be a particularly hot topic, with recent opinion polls suggesting that it rivals the health service as a matter of public concern.

But a recent study from experts at South Bank University and the London School of Economics argued that "aggressive crisis management by politicians" was in part to blame for some types of crime rising.

'Politically driven'

The report's authors - Professor Mike Hough from South Bank University and the LSE's Professor Marian FitzGerald - are critical of the use of league tables, targets and performance indicators in terms of crime.

David Blunkett
David Blunkett has kept up the flow of headline-grabbing plans
They say that during their research for the Policing for London study many police officers told them: "What can't be measured doesn't count and what doesn't count doesn't get done."

A "politically driven response" leaves, they say, less time for work on long-term strategies such as community policing and crime prevention.

Writing in the Guardian recently, Professor Hough said: "The robbery problem will be brought under control, but we shall then have the next crisis to deal with - burglary again? Fraud? We shall have to wait and see."

Rhetoric

He argued that during the 1990s, burglary and vehicle crime were specifically targeted.

This partly explains, he suggested, a subsequent increase in youth crime, particularly in terms of street robbery, against a general trend of falling crime rates.

Nacro, the pressure group representing ex-offenders, says making street crime a priority only raises expectations and public fears.

Spokesman Richard Garside said: "The political debate is locked in to the tough on crime rhetoric.

"Many politicians feel they have to be seen to be tough on crime as a measure of their political virility."


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CRIME PREVENTION
See also:

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