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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
Are more bobbies on the beat the answer?
A political party promises to cut police numbers at its peril. This election campaign all parties are promising more bobbies on the beat to cut crime.
Labour has said it will provide 4,000 new police officers, the Liberal Democrats promise 6,000 and the Conservative say they will reverse any cuts in numbers. All parties will be sending representatives to the Police Federation conference to try to get their message across.
But a criminologist has suggested that even if we double the number of police, that amounts to only one officer per 4,000 households and so it is unlikely to have a major difference on cutting crime.
Are more bobbies on the beat the answer? Should politicians look at crime in a new way or is the issue of police numbers just too political for real debate?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I don't know how Blair has the gall to talk about yob culture when he has one as his deputy.
Given the fine example of yob culture from our deputy prime minister recently why should we expect more from the common man?
David Stobo is right - but I guess Mr Blair would have to charge himself - maybe get his own son doing a bit of community service to set an example.
During the 18 years of Tory government we had Home Secretary after Home Secretary promising ever more draconian responses to crime, from "short sharp shock" treatment to ever longer sentences. They also largely deregulated the sale of alcohol, tied up the police with colossal amounts of paperwork, and put three million people out of work.
I hope that all this is remembered on 7 June when people come to vote, and have to choose between a Labour party which is succeeding in breaking the cycle of poverty and crime, and the Tories who clearly have learned nothing from their defeat, except what they have picked up from the Republicans in the USA - one of the most violent societies in the world. How long will it be before we hear Hague calling for UK citizens to have the right to carry guns?
If the Tory party wish to get the votes of "middle England" they are not going about it in the right way. The early release scheme has been an enormous success and all governments have introduced various schemes when prisons are crowded. The scheme does not apply to all prisoners (e.g. violent and sex offenders excluded). If only 3% of released prisoners re-offend either by violating the conditions of their release or offending then it is wrong to use the scheme to further political points. It is also offensive that any political party should use scare-mongering tactics when the fear of crime is a current issue. Appalling advertisement - how low does one sink to gain votes. I hope it backfires on them.
Liz, Lincoln, UK
I am appalled by Matthew Worrall's (London) comments and the fact that it was even printed. To even think that to commit a crime because of poverty and ignorance is an insult to victims. To think it is acceptable to rape a woman because the rapist is poor and ignorant is, quite frankly, unbelievable. If this is what New Labour supporters are thinking, then god help us if they retain power.
I am bitterly disappointed that the policies of each party have been based on how they can win more votes and insult their opposite number(s). I long for the day when policies are based on what each party believes to be a true, feasible way forward, regardless of whether they believe it will win more votes from any particular section of the country. It is sad that each of the mainstream parties thirst only for power, regardless of what they will do if they are actually voted in. Sadly, the reaction of Brendan Murphy following the incident Mr. Prescott was involved in merely serves to demonstrate the ridiculous nature of British Politics today. To suggest that throwing eggs is an acceptable action not only contradicts the tough conservative 'stance' on crime, but supports my belief that political issues have been set aside in favour of mud slinging and unattainable promises.
Stephen Black, Oxford, England
Mick B, UK is totally right, the release into the community of mentally unstable people with no proper care led to a rise in the number of murders (approx. 1000, I believe) not counting any other attacks, suicides or the disgrace of seeing people unsuited to modern life wandering the streets instead of receiving proper care paid for by us the taxpayer as a matter of social conscience. I cannot imagine many Tories understanding that phrase.
Perhaps we should be looking at what crimes the "criminals" are convicted of in the first place.
a) theft of a mountain bike - 3 years
b) mugging an old lady/man 1 year
c) child molestation - 6 months
Perhaps we should be asking this government and any government why is this so? Perhaps we should be asking the judges / magistrates why have they done this and allow their private lives to be accessible to anyone who is convicted of any or more of the above... makes you think or what!!!!
Bad move! After that maybe the Tories should go into making films.
But it has worked - it tells me to vote Labour as the Conservatives seem to be negative on everything NHS. Police all bad and not doing a good job, well after 18 years of their policies and 4 of labour nothing changes over night!
One motivated and effective officer can deliver the output of ten disillusioned. This applies across the public sector. Whoever can instil a sense of value and pride in the public sector workforce will unleash immeasurable commitment and output. Unfortunately this requires positive and charismatic leadership based upon selflessness coupled with decentralisation and real delegations. Until we have a selfless, charismatic leader who is not a control freak there will be no substantial improvement. UK plc has an attitude problem linked to a something for nothing culture. It's time the electorate accepted responsibility for the mess we are in rather than castigating those who try to do something about it.
Recent figures say that crime is falling while the fear of crime is increasing. This I would suggest is because more people are living in the real world and being more careful. Raising the perception of security with more police will likely backfire. Better to give grants for security products (say make them VAT exempt).
More police on the beat may not affect the statistics on crime but it will greatly affect the morale of a community. At present communities have low morale. This has been caused by the police being distant, the sentencing being soft on criminals and harsh on victims, and the motivation to report crime being extremely low. All these things may well change if decent people see that society protects them and not the offenders. At present more is spent per day on a prisoner than on a pensioner in a week. Those who step outside the law and utterly disregard society's rules should not be protected when they are caught. Criminals at present are in a win-win situation.
Daniel Smith, London, England
Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and one of the highest ratios of police per head of population. Go figure.
The motivation of police officers is surely a factor in effectively combating crime. Police do a dangerous, high-risk job and they should be financially rewarded in acknowledgment of this. Instead of increasing the numbers of average officers on the beat, the powers that be should be looking to recruit high calibre candidates and also ensure serving officers are trained to the best of their ability and more importantly weed out those showing no ambition or lacking in skill. Quality officers should be starting their probationary period on a minimum of £21000 and rising in line with their performance. I view myself as a quality candidate but unfortunately had to refuse a recent offer of appointment from Central Scotland Police simply due to salary, which seems wrong and something only the government can change.
Joe Public might feel more comfortable if he sees policemen walking the beat and prisoners serving longer sentences, but no one seems able to provide any evidence that either measure actually works.
Any normal person would think these measures would act as a deterrent. But neither seeing policemen, nor being sent down acts as a deterrent for the persistent offenders.
These people literally don't think like the rest of us and it's no good pretending that they do. Normal deterrents don't work. It's not a matter of ideology, it's just common sense that you have to try to work out what makes these people tick and how we can either nip their behaviour in the bud when they are young, or try to rehabilitate them later in life.
Zero tolerance policing works. If people realise that dropping litter, spraying graffiti and the like will feel the full weight of the law then perhaps they will be stopped before they get out of hand. Punishing people in accordance with their crimes is also a must - when stealing Posh Spice's knickers is deemed no less serious than hoarding child porn something is badly wrong. Allow people the security of knowing that if they protect their homes and property they won't suddenly find themselves treated as a criminal while a burglar mysteriously becomes a victim. The intruder chooses to break in - the victim doesn't choose to be burgled and the law should recognise this. Finally, allow the law-abiding to re-arm themselves. In case the powers that be didn't notice, the criminals still carry weapons.
Karl Peters, UK
Getting more bobbies on the streets takes time, not only that - it costs a lot in resources and money. A better way would be to restructure the system so that Traffic Wardens are given powers to arrest. They take over the speeding fines, the speed traps, etc and are enforced by the law.
The police then can concentrate on catching criminals
Policing is a difficult issue for all to understand. I agree that an increased number will be beneficial but it is the allocation of these resources and the types of situations that officers have to deal with that are reducing their presence and efficiency "on the streets". The paperwork, threat of the public suing, loss of work through injury or accident, all need to be addressed. If you make policing a new and respectable environment, then it will attract new officers from the multiracial background that we so desire. Like any national service, it need to be updated, I am a firm believer in the US way of treatment. Every time we see a US police officer, they are always called sir and the number of officers that are able to deal with incidents is amazing. This is what policing is about. We need to have numbers to enforce the law: that is what the public deserves, and pays for.
I do not believe that more bobbies on the beat will solve the problem of crime because it is the reasons for crime that should be considered. Crime has resulted from a breakdown in Christian teaching and the excessive use of alcohol, which I believe should be prohibited. Another way the increase in crime could be curbed is by the implementation of much more severe sentences and the return of capital punishment. An illustration of how England has been taken over by liberal forces is the Bulger case. Instead of the two murderers spending a good 20 years in prison they have been carried from children's home to children's home. Only if these issues are rectified will we have a reduction in crime.
More police officers with a willingness to help is what is needed. It is sometimes impossible to get a non-emergency call through as no one answers the phone. Must try harder!
More police on the streets is only one step along the long road to recovery. Until about ten years ago "home beat" officers were effectively employed around London. Then the politicians became obsessed with efficiency and cost cutting, and these policemen and women were assigned to other duties. Community policing is no longer a priority and is usually only resurrected when it is time for political point scoring. A better led and motivated Police Service is what everyone deserves, but we also need Courts to convict and sentence offenders accordingly, and for the politicians to stop meddling and keep these people incarcerated. Otherwise, what is the point?
Crime is encouraged by the inequalities of wealth and opportunity that have been widening in this country for many years and it is encouraged by a criminal's belief that they can get away with it (crime clear up statistics last week showed that only 26% of reported crimes in London were cleared up). The police need to stop wasting their time on crimes that don't harm anyone else - such as smoking dope (unless it is combined with driving) and to concentrate on more violent crimes, which actually make the public fearful.
The "causes" of crime are criminals. It's that simple. We are not talking about a Dickensian situation of draconian punishment of those who steal to feed themselves, we are talking about serious punishment for those who know they have nothing to fear from being caught carrying out a crime.
More police would help but it is much more important to reduce the excessive time they spend in form-filling and non-productive activities. The power of the legal establishment to take billions of pounds of public money in legal aid to get criminals off on technicalities should be curbed. Honesty in sentencing should be restored, but the fact that these lawyers are mostly cronies of Tony does not help.
What is the point in saying anything when 98% of criminals won't be prosecuted or even investigated because of a lack of evidence? Why risk being a target and having your quality of life ruined because you stand up for yourself or others? I've done it before many times for my friends and so far have had my nose broken and in another incident had three months of constant harassment, both at home and in the street. The police knew about this and did nothing except send me a letter that they send to all victims of violent crime, suggesting that I might be a bit upset, and informing me that I was entitled to see a counsellor for free.
Neil S, London
What makes the government so sure they can get extra officers! The numbers are still in decline despite what the government says! There is no point crowding a sinking ship; the police service needs reform, improved pay and conditions and recognition as a profession that is skilled, dangerous, and demanding If you pay peanuts you get monkeys!
Arm the police. A US college kid helped design side arms that can only be used by an officer. European police with side arms are a formidable sight. Also, make sure criminals are financially responsible for the costs of investigating and prosecuting them if they're convicted. No more fines of £500 when it costs £50,000 to haul the criminal in.
If our streets had a greater Police presence, whether patrolling on foot or driving around in cars it would be a deterrent. Many crimes are opportunistic therefore if the chance of getting caught were increased, then crime would fall.
How can a policeman on foot, catch a motorbike mugger, ram raider, or any other thief in a getaway car. Give people a greater stake in society through believable democracy not sham populist politicians and then they will take better care of a society they "own".
Joe Public might feel more comfortable if he sees policemen walking the beat and prisoners serving longer sentences, but no one seems able to provide any evidence that either measure actually works. Criminals don't think like the rest of us and normal deterrents don't work. You have to try to work out what makes these people tick and how to nip their behaviour in the bud when they are young, or try to rehabilitate them later in life. The alternative is to lock them up and throw away the key. And this simply transfers the damage they do from a group of individual victims to the rest of us tax payers. Evidence is overwhelming that crime and criminality are concentrated in deprived areas.
Alastair Alexander, London UK
Make the legal and court systems work longer days to cope with the increasing backlog of cases. The Courts occupy grand and expensive buildings but actually work less than 30 hours a week.
Increasing their hours would drastically reduce the time between being arrested and being dealt with.
This is a greater disincentive to repeat offend than exists at present.
It may even prove cheaper than vast numbers of additional Police
We need Magistrates who actually have the strength to be able to pass adequate sentences. The days of Bobbies walking the beat are over, but only because there is a larger area to cover with far less Officers. Recruitment is at an all time low and so is the morale of the Officers, due to stress through overwork. The McPherson report has made many Officers wary of stopping members from ethnic minorities for fear of being branded racist, merely for carry out their lawful duty. The Human Rights Act has also had a major impact on the way that the Police operate. Something needs to be done desperately before Vigilante gangs begin to form and take the Law into their own hands. This country needs a Government who is strong to take control of a situation that is escalating out of control!
More police on the streets is always a good step to control crime. More important, is the arrest and punishment of criminals for their crimes. Soft sentences yield little deterrent to prevent future crime. Another step is to protect the rights of victims when they defend themselves. Also returning the right to private ownership of handguns will make criminals think twice before making an attack.
Keith MacMillan, Pittsburgh, PA USA
Having been a PC on the street I can say without question that high profile policing does work!
To say that it is the answer is another matter!
More police on the beat. The same old rubbish that gets trotted out every election. Why? Firstly because we live in needless fear of crime and secondly because more police on the beat is the cheap non-solution to the problem.
Rather than spend more money on tackling poverty and all that goes with that, better education etc, the solution is more police officers. It will make no difference and is simply a cop-out, if you will forgive the expression.
I totally disagree with the analysis presented that poverty has anything to do with crime. If we look back at the Great Depression, a time of unprecedented poverty and economic misery, the crime rates back then were much lower then than they were today. What has changed are the limits of what the public is willing to tolerate. As the New York experiment with "zero tolerance" shows, if society pushes back the limits of what it is willing to put up with, crime is reduced.
In the absence of a significant change in society's attitude to look after each other, surely the answer is to make the criminal serve the sentence handed down by the court. What use is a sentence of 12 months to a criminal when they know they'll be out in less than six? Why do politicians listen to softy, softy, lefty, lefty advisors rather than the public who voted them in? Keep the criminals in longer so they don't come out to harm society. Hopefully, if they serve their real sentence the debilitating effect of prison plus the general effects of aging might make the criminal too weak to carry out more violent crimes when released.
Tim, London, UK
OK, Tim in London, you want longer prison sentences. Are you prepared to pay the tax to employ extra prison officers and to build all those extra so-called `holiday camp' prisons (I often wish the entire readership of the Daily Mail would go and spend a year in one of these `holiday camps' to see how quickly they would use the phrase then)? And would you like one of these new prisons in your back yard? The point about police officers is that if you double the number of bobbies, people will still say it's not enough, and say we should have more. Also the disproportionate fear of crime stoked up by the mass media and in particular the right-wing newspapers shames this country.
There need to be enough police officers who know their patch and the people in it. Each time they are called out and do not respond to minor incidents they are building trouble for the future. If the first instance is threatening behaviour and no action is taken the next time will be assault or murder.
There also needs to be a review of the law, how criminals are dealt with, administration and most of all, common sense so that people forced to take action to defend their life's work are not treated worse than those who force them to take that action.
More police on the beat is certainly not THE answer, but definitely a step in the right direction. The primary aim of the police force is to prevent crime, not catch criminals after the event. I believe that a more visible presence should cut down on petty crime - the
so-called 'quality of life' offences, as it will act as a deterrent. It would certainly make people feel a lot safer in their own communities,
and surely that's a worthwhile benefit on its own.
I also agree totally with those here who say that education in social responsibility, especially for parents, is desperately needed. So more patrols are a good starting point, but not the whole answer by any means.
More bobbies on the beat would bring benefits, but I suspect that it would do more for the public's perception of safety than real crime reduction. I say stop wasting time and money on convictions for cannabis possession, and start putting the fear of God into dangerous and repeat offenders. Rehabilitation is the key to cutting serious crime, and the solution will take intelligence and radical thinking.
Bobbies on the beat is not the answer. Zero tolerance from the public and the government is. Early release and puerile fines make the UK a very easy target for invasion by organised crime syndicates. Get more cameras out on the streets for those speeding and let the police use the money. This will bring safety to our roads, save petrol and produce funds.
Wendy, Basingstoke, Hants
There is little point in recruiting more officers unless the courts hand down meaningful sentences. The three words "No Further Action" which allow teenage thugs back on the streets to cause more mayhem are the worst example of the hand-wringing liberal quagmire we currently find ourselves in. Those who plead poverty are no better - in post-war years poverty was horrendous yet crime was far less of a problem than nowadays. The problem is that people seem to think they have an automatic "right" to luxuries and aren't willing to work to provide for themselves. Coupled with the courts offering little punishment beyond a slap on the wrist it's not hard to see why crime is soaring.
Police on the beat might resolve only petty crime. Big crime can be reduced and perhaps annihilated only with constant education towards mutual respect.
Extra bobbies on the beat will not prevent the fundamental loss of respect for each other's property and right to peaceful cohabitation.
Such respect is instilled from childhood and the last 25 years has seen a shift away from providing that discipline due to "new" ideas on how to bring up our young. We do not need to strike or beat kids but we do need to demonstrate that there is a dividing line between right and wrong. That is the responsibility in the first instance of parents who in turn must support and encourage our teachers, police and others who lead our young.
Why doesn't any Party talk about the efficiency of the police like they do of other public sector workers? I know of a number of cases where the police have taken no action whatsoever due to what appears to be apathy or a reluctance to confront a difficult situation.
Once they can prove they can be efficient then we should talk about raising numbers.
The clamour to recruit more bobbies on the beat has had the result of diverting police from where they can best fight crime to "high-visibility" areas so everybody, including politicians & chief constables, feel protected.
Bobbies on the beat do nothing to deter crime. I recall a recent study that suggested that a beat officer comes across a crime in progress once every several years. Beat bobbies are a waste of resources.
David Patrick, Reading, UK
We should be addressing the causes of crime. Simply locking people up is not working. If we can provide criminals with a valid alternative to crime it may not be necessary to put more police on the beat.
Increasing police numbers alone does not necessarily help. Those numbers need to be deployed correctly and sufficient policies must be in place to make that policing effective. New York City achieved a substantial drop in crime by enforcing "zero tolerance" rules, and deploying more police effectively. Given the impact this has had on the improved quality of life in New York, a prudent policy for the UK would be to mimic this success.
What use is a policeman walking a beat if the criminals he's supposed to catch can just drive away with impunity, even if they are stupid enough to commit a crime in front of him? Policing should be more intelligence-lead. If anything we need more detectives, fewer wandering patrols and a greater willingness by the public to keep their eyes open.
Julian Hayward, UK
Putting more bobbies on the beat is not the answer. Instead this government should look at trying to restore morale in the police force, which has been severely damaged by leftist political stunts such as the MacPherson report.
I would like to see a lot more bobbies on the beat. Living in London it is all too common to feel threatened by gangs of youths roaming the streets and vandalising property. Since the general public are no longer allowed to intervene for fear of being sued for assault there is no option but to keep away from these criminals. I would like to see more police on the streets during the day and at night across Britain in order to reduce the yob culture that is gripping the country right now.
Once, a police officer was part of the community, living within the community in police houses with doors always open to the community. Today you have police living in one area and working in another, divorced from the community. Once away from work they see themselves as normal citizens, forgetting they are the representatives of law and order. They treat their job as a normal eight-hour day, which it is not. This attitude needs to be addressed.
Putting more bobbies on the beat will do little to prevent crime. Tackling the causes of crime such as poverty and drug addiction must be the priority.
Nick, Worcester, England
The police have a fairly good detection rate for most crimes, but even once convicted a criminal is back on the streets before you can blink an eyelid. I think a reform of the criminal justice system is called for. That would help reduce the numbers of criminals at large and restore overstretched police resources.
Not necessarily. I had a bag snatched at a busy city train station over the weekend, and at the time you couldn't move for police officers. Say two police officers are patrolling four streets with 50 houses on each. Surely the criminals will just cause some sort of minor distraction to engage their attention, whilst simultaneously committing the 'real' crime. "Bobbies on the beat" is a hark back to the halcyon days of Heartbeat, not a cure for crime in 2001. The police need more resources, but these need to be in other areas (vehicles, technology etc) in order to catch and prosecute criminals.
Policemen walking our streets have always been the answer to solving petty crime. The day the panda car was invented was a bad day for law and order.
Thanks to legislation such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, bright ideas such as C.P.S. it now takes up to 30 bits of paper to prosecute a simple drunk, ALL the paper work being completed by the arresting officer. In 1969 as a young PC I arrested a man for Drunk and Disorderly. He pleaded guilty and was fined £25. My wage at the time, £86 per month. Just before I retired in 1998 the last Drunk and Disorderly I processed pleaded guilty, he was fined £25. The wage of a young PC had risen in line with inflation to £1500 per month. Perhaps a fine for D&D of £400 would have been more appropriate.
Barry, Havant, Hants
More police on the beat and far less attention to the motorist. Far too much police time is wasted on the speeder. Criminals travel by car though no "routine stops" appear to be made these days. Good old-fashioned coppering would reduce the crime figures very quickly though the Government has tied the Chief Officers' hands as to what is politically acceptable.
It's interesting what Ted considers to be a crime. Car drivers kill thousands of people each year and speeding is a major contributor in most cases. If you want an effective use of police in terms of lives saved then targeting speeding would be a high priority.
Ted Morley from Thatcham claims that police waste too much time on the speeding motorist, yet fail to make "routine stops" to catch criminals. I think he fails to see the fact that speeding is a criminal act. Police stopping "speeders" are stopping criminals. If you disagree, go and talk to a mother who has lost a child at the hands of a speeding motorist.
Mark from Leeds is incredibly gullible to fall for the "Speed Kills" lies that this government has been ramming down our throats. The police are spending more time on speeding motorists because there is no appeal and it is an instant conviction - which makes the police look good. It also raises money on fines. We do need more police who will actually investigate crimes, rather than just turning up hours later to record and file the details. When my house was broken into we had to wait 5 hours before anybody showed, and despite the alarm going off in the middle of the day, and the burglar leaving by the front door onto a busy street, the neighbours were not even asked if they had seen anything.
If you think speeding isn't important, you obviously haven't witnessed a major accident. As a serving PC I have attended a fatal RTA where I have had to remove someone's brains from the inside of their windscreen with an ice-scraper. As for as looking 'good', we are not assessed on the number of speeding tickets we issue. Our performance indicators are burglary, car crime and robbery. The police certainly don't make money from individual speed tickets! With the cost of a high-performance car, two officers, etc, it isn't economical to give tickets one at a time. So, Matt, please get your facts right before you criticise an organisation that is be expected to be all things to all people!
Nick, Birmingham, UK
The cause of crime is that with the inevitable loss of religious values in society (as religions are gradually undermined by science and common sense) so also ethical teaching is undermined. What is needed is the teaching of secular values, morals based on good social practice and not in the antiquated superstitions of increasingly defunct religions.
Give powers of arrest to Traffic Wardens, and give them the powers to fine people who speed, etc - this would give more resources to the police. Increasing bobbies takes time, years in fact, and it doesn't necessarily improve things. Restructuring it will though.
How many people out there in the UK know active criminals but are too cowardly to do anything, including reporting them to the police? We don't necessarily need more community police just a community that is willing to look after each other.
Steve Paradigm, Woking ham, UK
23 Apr 01 | Facts
Do we have enough police?
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