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Friday, October 1, 1999 Published at 00:22 GMT 01:22 UK

UK Politics

Extra police to fight crime

A £11m package is meant to help pensioners secure their homes

The government is to provide funding for police forces to recruit an extra 5,000 new officers over the next three years.

Home Secretary Jack Straw made the announcement at the Labour Party's annual conference in Bournemouth.

Mr Straw announced a new crime-fighting fund would be used to recruit an extra 5,000 officers on top of the 11,000 normally taken on, over a three-year period.

There will be an additional £50m to spend on new radios which would also give officers on the beat access to information such as fingerprints, photographs and maps.

The BBC's John Sergeant reports
Mr Straw said: "That's not the sort of hollow promise the Conservatives used to make, our money will be ring-fenced funding for front-line policing."

A total of £35m will be available in the first year of the programme, the Home Office later announced.

The home secretary also used his speech to announce projects worth £50m aimed at tackling youth crime, including £13m to be spent in youth work for 70 areas with the highest crime rates.

Mr Straw said: "We must break out of the downward cycle of crime, drugs, victims and wasted lives.

[ image: Jack Straw: Under fire from civil liberties groups]
Jack Straw: Under fire from civil liberties groups
"We have to stop the young offenders of today becoming the adult criminals of tomorrow.

"It's only right and fair that we should. We are the party of fairness and fair shares. We must build a society where everyone can enjoy equal chances and equal respect."

The home secretary also announced a £11m scheme to improve security in the homes of at least 150,000 of Britain's poorest pensioners.

Mr Straw said: "Across the country it is the elderly, the most vulnerable, those who should be freely enjoying their retirement, who are in greatest fear of crime."

Tough on community sentences

In a bid to toughen up community sentences, the home secretary warned that from next April offenders who missed appointments with probation officers would be given one warning before being taken back to court.

Offenders can currently be referred back to the courts at any time, but it is mandatory after three absences.

Mr Straw said the government's duty was not only to modernise policing and the fight against crime but to also modernise attitudes.

[ image: Black and Asian police officers should be the norm, said Mr Straw]
Black and Asian police officers should be the norm, said Mr Straw
He said: "In ten years time, I want it to be no more unusual to see a black or Asian police officer or fire fighter than it is to see a black or Asian doctor or nurse.

"And one day we'll see a black or Asian home secretary standing here addressing a Labour conference."

Mr Straw's announcements on extra police officers and investment in police communications has been welcomed by the police service.

Fred Broughton, President of the Police Federation, which represents 126,000 officers in England and Wales, said police strength had fallen over the past five years.

He said Mr Straw's announcement would be a welcome morale boost for officers still reeling from the criticisms made in the report into the death of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Dr Ruth Henig, chair of the Association of Police Officers, said: "We welcome any move to increase the officers on the street.

"At the same time we need to know a lot more about the real resources to back up the new initiative the home secretary has announced."

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said: "Having run police numbers down to a level at which the police could no longer operate effectively, Jack Straw has clearly been embarrassed by my pledge to reverse this decline by making promises of increases.

"Perhaps he will now similarly pledge a specific timetable to reverse the cuts he had presided over since the general election."

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