Quick Guide: Law and order

Crime rate


Labour promised to be "tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime".

After eight years in office, overall crime rates have been falling, as measured by the British Crime Survey.

But more than one in four households are still victims of crime each year and the recorded crime rate has gone up.

Many crimes - such as shoplifting and anti-social behaviour - are not fully recorded by either method.



Violent crime


There is a close relationship between alcohol and violent crime

More than one million people are the victims of violent crimes each year.

This number has been increasing rapidly - although some argue this is due to changes in reporting.

Overall, violent crime rose by 11% last year, with the biggest increases in violence against the person and rape.

The government wants to tackle "yob culture" by giving the police more powers to tackle disorderly behaviour in town centres with on-the-spot fines.



Policing


All parties have pledged to increase police numbers to fight crime.

The number of police has increased by 10% since Labour came into power and reached 139,000 by August 2004.

The Tories would add 40,000 more, the LibDems 10,000.

But crime clear-up rates are still low.

Both the government and opposition parties want more community policing, with the Conservatives calling for elected police commissioners.



Drugs


Labour is reviewing its decision to reclassify cannabis as a less dangerous Class C drug in 2004.

The idea was to free up police time to pursue hard drugs and drug dealers, instead of arresting people who use small amounts.

The Conservatives say the move caused confusion among the public and will reverse the decision.

The Liberal Democrats have a long-term goal of legalising cannabis and ending imprisonment for personal use of any illegal drug.



ASBOs


The government wants to crack down on anti-social behaviour

The government believes that tackling minor crimes and anti-social behaviour is the key to reducing crime rates.

One of its key weapons is the anti-social behaviour order (ASBO).

This is a court order obtained by the police or local authority to prohibit individuals from disruptive behaviour.

The Tories say they have got off to a slow start, while the Lib Dems would like to limit their use still further.



Prisons


The prison population has increased by 25,000 in the last ten years to a record high of nearly 75,000.

The rise in prison numbers reflect tougher sentencing policies, with more custodial sentences for burglary.

The Conservatives argue that even longer sentences without early release would help reduce the crime rate, and want 20,000 more prison places.

Half of prisons in England and Wales are overcrowded, with one in four sharing single cells.