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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 April, 2005, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
Violent crime 'rise' sparks row
Police Community Support Officer hat
Labour promises a six-fold increase in community support officers
The main parties are seeking to bolster their law and order credentials after figures showed recorded crime down, but violent crime up in England and Wales.

Overall recorded crime fell 5% in the last three months of 2004 - and violent crime for the same period rose 9%.

Tony Blair said more needed to be done to tackle violent crime, and pledged a 15% cut in overall crime by 2008.

The Lib Dems and Tories both want to tackle crime by increasing police numbers, particularly on the beat.

Controversy

The recorded crime figures, for the last three months of 2004, show firearms crimes rose 10%, mainly due to a rise in the use of imitation firearms.

There are two measures of crime... both have their limitations

They also revealed the number of domestic burglaries and vehicle thefts reported to police fell by 17% and 16% respectively.

The British Crime Survey, which Labour prefers, questions thousands of people about their experiences of crime. It suggests overall crime has fallen 11% and violent crime 10%.

The survey suggested the risk of being a victim of crime was 24%, the lowest since 1981.

Labour is planning to introduce a Violent Crime Reduction Bill if re-elected. A big aspect of the bill will be action against knives and a possible ban on replica firearms, something previously believed to be impractical.

'Huge issue'

Conservative leader Michael Howard said crime had risen 15% since 1998 and said: "What people want is not more talk from Mr Blair, they want action and that is what a Conservative government will deliver.

"More police, less paperwork, tough sentences - that's the way to bring crime under control and that's what a Conservative government will do."

Labour say crime has fallen by 30% since they came to power in 1997, and Mr Blair stressed crime-cutting plans such as increasing the number of community support officers from 4,000 to 24,000 by 2008.

QUICK GUIDE

Mr Blair said crime and anti-social behaviour remained a "huge issue".

"On any basis crime has fallen, yet we know for many people in local communities, it doesn't feel like that."

He said he recognised that people wanted a "visible uniformed presence - it may not always cut crime but it will certainly help cut the fear of crime".

Phone-in

The Lib Dems criticised the Labour pledge, saying the 15% reduction was to be measured against out of date figures, from which crime had already fallen 5% - and thus was only a pledge to cut crime by 10%.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said: "Labour's promises ring hollow in the light of the latest violent crime figures."

Why do you continually make my job harder by telling the general public there's more police officers than there's ever been, when for every police officer you put in rank and file on the street you've probably put another four in offices?
Boston police officer to Tony Blair on BBC Radio 5 Live

Mr Blair was lambasted on the issue on a BBC Radio Five Live phone-in by a caller who said he was a police officer from Boston.

He asked the Labour leader: "Why do you continually make my job harder by telling the general public there's more police officers than there's ever been, when for every police officer you put in rank and file on the street you've probably put another four in offices?"

Mr Blair said many officers he had spoken to saw a different picture, and said they were getting to grips with crime.

Mr Blair said Labour was using legislation on anti-social behaviour and binge drinking to help tackle crime, and was making sure children were kept away from crime by a series of after-school and other programmes.

Graph comparing crime trends under British Crime Survey and police recorded crime systems
BCS records number of incidents mentioned in interviews with public
Recorded crime is total reported offences recorded by police
Change in Home Office counting rules in 1998/9
New crime recording standard imposed in 2002





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