Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Monday, 1 March 2010

Gordon Brown tells police to keep officers on the beat

Gordon Brown says reducing fear of crime depends on a strong police presence

Gordon Brown has urged police forces to keep officers on the beat in an effort to reduce the public's "fear of crime".

The PM said it was not "acceptable" to miss the Home Office target of having neighbourhood Pcs spend at least four fifths of their time on patrol.

In a speech Mr Brown also told councils and police forces not to cut budgets for front-line law enforcement.

The Tories said parts of Britain were "being blighted" by crime and Mr Brown had "little idea" what to do about it.

The prime minister's comments come as the main political parties step up their campaigning ahead of the general election, which is expected to be held on 6 May.

'No reason'

The government says Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) should spend most of their time on patrol, respond to non-emergency inquiries within 24 hours and hold monthly public meetings.

In a speech in Reading, Mr Brown said the risk of being a victim of crime was the lowest since the British Crime Survey started in the early 1980s.

We don't tackle the fear of crime cultivating it, by claiming our society is broken
Gordon Brown

But he added: "We must understand the fear of crime and what's behind it.

"Fear of crime is higher when people don't see police on the streets, when they don't believe that police are able to deal with things that matter to them."

Mr Brown confirmed plans for a new non-emergency number to inform police about anti-social behaviour.

He also said there would be an expectation that anyone breaching an anti-social behaviour order would be prosecuted, and that the parents of those under 16 would also face action.

People would be able to petition online for "extraordinary" meetings with police chiefs, to raise matters of concerns, he added.

'Not The Wire'

In his speech to the Conservatives' spring conference on Sunday, party leader David Cameron reiterated his claim that Britain was a "broken society", citing family breakdown rates, violent crime statistics and teenage pregnancy rates.

But Mr Brown said: "We don't tackle the fear of crime cultivating it, by claiming our society is broken... Sometimes as damaging as the fear of crime is the crime of fear."

He criticised shadow home secretary Chris Grayling's comparison of Britain with US TV show The Wire - pointing out that the city of Baltimore, where it is set, experiences almost 200 fatal shootings a year from a population of around two-thirds of a million, compared with 39 in the whole of England and Wales last year.

Labour and the Conservatives have indulged in a sentencing arms race in a desperate attempt to look tough
Chris Huhne, Lib Dems

He also urged councils and police forces not to cut funding for police patrols, saying: "There will be no reason based on central government funding why police or PCSO numbers should fall.

"But police funding in this country has always and rightly been part national and part local.

"So my challenge to local authorities and police authorities around the country is to match our commitment to protecting front-line policing - or else explain to their communities why they are not prepared to do so."

But for the Conservatives, Mr Grayling said: "Yet again we are hearing the same old tired claims from Gordon Brown on this government's record on law and order.

"The reality is that communities up and down Britain are being blighted by anti-social behaviour and in some places a culture of violent crime and the government has little idea of what to do about it."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "Labour has been just as guilty as the Tories of posturing on penalties and peddling fear.

"Labour and the Conservatives have indulged in a sentencing arms race in a desperate attempt to look tough, rather than back more police officers which is the best way to cut crime."

In other pre-election campaigning on Monday, shadow schools secretary Michael Gove has promised that a Tory government would, within days of taking office, introduce legislation to give schools greater freedom over the curriculum, staff and discipline.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg stressed the importance of early years education in the home and pledge £2.5bn to help cut class sizes.

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