Like many people, I have been the victim of crime. It was over a decade ago, but the thought of it never leaves me. One night, as we all slept upstairs, a burglar broke thought the front door, sliced the chain with bolt cutters, and stole our stuff.
Now, on the one hand I am grateful that I blamed the noises I heard at four in the morning on noisy neighbours, and didn’t venture downstairs. I am grateful that no-one was hurt. I am grateful that the police came swiftly, and later arrested the burglar (he lived up the road). One of the things the burglar stole was my pass for the Cabinet Office, so the police took it all very seriously, and I can’t fault them.
On the other hand, I felt invaded. Our lovely home felt tarnished. We moved house not long afterwards. Today, as I come downstairs each morning the first thought is often ‘have we been burgled?’ That’s often the legacy of crime: not just physical bruises or material losses, but a constant sense of trepidation, anxiety and a consciousness that your behaviour has altered forever.
As the Labour & Co-operative candidate for Sussex police and crime commissioner I want to highlight the experiences of victims — I prefer the word ‘survivors’ — of crime. We must provide greater psychological support for survivors, alongside swift action and redress. The relationship must not be transactional and bureaucratic, but empathetic and understanding. We must seek justice where it is denied, but most of all we must rebuild survivors’ sense of confidence. Most of all, it must be swift: the backlog of serious criminal cases has reached a record high of 56,000. I am a firm believer in the legal tenet, enshrined in the Magna Carta, that justice delayed is justice denied.
I aim to highlight the cuts to police numbers in Sussex. On 1st January 2008, the Sussex police headcount was 3186. On 1st January 2018 there were 2645. Today, the Sussex police website says there are ‘almost 2500’. So after ten years of the Tories, more than 500 police officers have been removed from Sussex streets, estates, towns and villages. This is mirrored in losses of police community support officers (PCSOs) and civilian staff. No doubt the Tories’ candidate will point to the recruitment drive and projected police numbers, but no one is fooled by this sleight of hand.
You don’t need a degree in criminology, just a degree of common sense to understand that fewer police on the streets means more crime, more anti-social behaviour, and a growing fear of crime and disorder. Violent crime is up by 86% in Sussex over the past five years. Fewer police. More crime. It’s not hard to see the linkage.
We need truly neighbourhood-level policing, with greater resources put into neighbourhood teams. People want to see uniformed police on their streets. People want bobbies on the beat, not out of nostalgia, but because it helps to fulfil the police’s primary goal of preventing crime.
The Labour approach to neighbourhood policing is set out in the 2004 white paper:
‘neighbourhood policing is at its most effective when it is a shared undertaking with the local community. People, and particular victims and witnesses, will only engage with their local police if they have the confidence that when they make contact they will be treated well and that their concerns will be listened to and acted on effectively.’
Prevention of crime and disorder must be the focus of our policing in Sussex. That requires a broader understanding of the interrelationship between crime and the wider social determinants of crime. The Tories can’t claim to be the party of law and order, while simultaneously closing our courts, police stations, Sure Starts, Children’s Centres, youth clubs, plunging a generation into long-term unemployment, and starving local councils of funding for the activities and institutions that create communities. That’s why I am keen to link Labour’s campaign for the police and crime commissioner role to the need to elect Labour county councillors across east and west Sussex: because these things are connected.
When we repeat the Labour mantra ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’ it perfectly encapsulates our approach to crime and policing. It shows we get it. It proves that our approach to policing is rooted in the principles established by Robert Peel, that prevention of crime is the most important priority, and that our policing must be based on the consent of the public. But it applies those principles to our modern, complex, digital society, and shows our understanding of the conditions that create crime. It is these values that I aim to apply to the campaign for police and crime commissioner in Sussex.
Paul Richards is the Labour & Co-operative candidate for police and crime commissioner in Sussex.