Ask any government minister about the current level of crime and they will give you a raft of statistics showing you that crime has fallen in the last 5 years. You might therefore be forgiven for wondering why, of the 6 stories featured on the front page of this week’s Surrey Advertiser, 4 were stories about local criminal activity and a fifth was about a sacked policewoman.
The fact is that the official figures only measure the clear-up rates of reported offences. Behind those figures is hidden the evidence which presents itself to anyone whose eyes are open: that petty criminality is rife and is quite simply not being reported or prevented.
For example the bus shelter at the end of my road seems to be vandalised every 6 weeks or so. The local council fight a losing battle against the spray-paint brigade who tag the walls of a local pathway. Flower baskets put up by the local Cobham in Bloom voluteers are taken down and thrown across the high street.
I used to go up to Doncaster every Friday evening. To get from the trian station to where my car was parked the shortest route lay directly through the town centre. I always took a long detour. Despite the fact that police cars patrolled the area and officers would intervene if violence actually occurred, they did nothing to stop the shouting, swearing, leering, spitting, foul-mouthed groups of both sexes stumbling from one cheap booze venue to another. If I was giving the town centre a swerve is there any surprise that older citizens never went in at all after dark? And if no-one who is not trying to get as drunk as they can as quickly as possible goes into our town centres is it any surprise that no-one wants to open new cafes and restaurants and so the only business capable of making money is the “vertical drinking establishment”, to borrow an unlovely trade phrase?
It has got to the stage where we must try “zero-tolerance policing”. This is the system popularised in New York where the police arrest anyone acting in an anti-social manner and always fully investigate the most minor act of vandalism. The result there was that, whilst it is true you are still more likely to be murdered in New York than in London (no doubt due to the ready availability of firearms), you are less likely to be the victim of virtually any other crime.
This will may mean the public paying for more officers to be trained. I suspect that we would be prepared to do that if we could see the results. It would also require a bonfire of the forms that officers currently have to fill in whenever they stop someone. And if that horrifes the human rights industry, then it can only be a good thing.