Community policing ‘gap’ claimed

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Community policing has disappeared “in all but name” in some areas as stretched teams are asked to cover the work of more than 9,000 axed colleagues, Labour will say.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper will use analysis of police recruitment figures to highlight the gap between the extra work and the number of new officers to deal with it.

A police watchdog raised growing concerns last week that local bobbies are being taken off the beat, with a third of people reporting having seen fewer local patrols in the past year.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said funding cuts risked some forces having to “cut too hard and too deep into neighbourhood services”.

Although staffing in neighbourhood teams is rising by an average of 8%, this masks a trend where officers are diverted from visible policing by paperwork and duties such as responding to 999 calls, guarding crime scenes or traffic duties, according to HMIC’s critical report.

Labour said analysis of official figures by the House of Commons library showed that 15,307 fewer officers were involved in CID, c ommunity relations and safety, dogs, traffic and “response” units.

But only 5,950 had been moved into neighbourhood teams where that work had been transferred.

In the first of a string of speeches by shadow cabinet members aimed to highlight key differences between Labour and Conservative policies, Ms Cooper will promise that a Labour government would offer communities ” a guaranteed minimum level of neighbourhood policing”.

It would also “l egislate for the wider social purpose of policing” to ensure a return to beat patrols and better information with public bodies, such as hospital data showing knife wound hotspots.

“These figures highlight that we are well on the way to losing neighbourhood policing as we know it,” she is expected to say.

“The choice is clear: we will support neighbourhood policing whilst the Tories seek to undermine it.

“In many areas, there are neighbourhood police only in name.

“What people used to think of as neighbourhood police teams now have to cover 999 emergency response, traffic calls and detective work rather than being on the beat.

“With rising violent crime, a growing justice gap and continued antisocial behaviour in our communities, taking people’s neighbourhood officers away and putting them in cars, or back at the station doing paperwork, is a retrograde step.

“PCSOs are also being cut to the bone and neighbourhood work is becoming a ‘nice-to-ha ve’ rather than a cornerstone of policing.

“With nearly 10,000 fewer response officers, nearly 1,300 fewer traffic police and hundreds fewer detectives, neighbourhood policing is being protected in name only.”

Ms Cooper will also accuse the Government of “turning their backs on victims” of domestic violence after figures showed increasing numbers of perpetrators were getting away without a criminal record.

Labour has pledged to ban the use of “slap-on-the-wrist” community resolutions in domestic and sexual violence cases.

Data from 15 police forces compiled by the Opposition shows that there were 3,305 such uses last year – up from 1,337 in 2009.

Advice from the Association of Chief Police Officers suggests the punishment is suitable only for crimes such as minor criminal damage, low value theft and anti-social behaviour.

Ms Cooper will accuse Home Secretary Theresa May of failing to act on promises to address the issue.

“These figures are deeply worrying,” she is expected to say.

“Domestic violence is an incredibly serious crime. Two women a week are killed by their partner or an ex, and 750,000 children will grow up witnessing domestic violence.

“For the police to simply take a violent abuser home to apologise risks making domestic violence worse and makes it even harder for victims to escape a cycle of abuse.

“Labour has called on the Government previously to prevent the use of community resolutions for serious crimes, including domestic violence. Today’s figures reveal that nothing has been done.

“This is just another sign that this Tory-led Government just doesn’t take violence against women seriously.

“Community resolutions can be very effective for things like anti-social behaviour. But they shouldn’t be used for violent offences, and especially not for domestic violence. That is why Labour is committed to banning their use for domestic and sexual violence.

“A Labour government will introduce a Violence Against Women and Girls Bill to place women’s safety at the heart of our legislative programme.”

Labour said the speech would highlight the choice between the Labour ban or “five more years under the Conservatives turning their backs on victims and downgrading action on violence against women”.

The Government had ignored warnings in a joint inspection report from prison, police and probation watchdogs, the party said.

A Home Office spokeswoman said a review had already been conducted into the inappropriate use of out-of-court settlements and all forces had been written to by the Home Secretary in the wake of the watchdog report instructing them to produce a domestic violence action plan.

“No government has done more to tackle the abhorrent crime of domestic abuse than this government,” she said.

“Our groundbreaking Clare’s Law will help protect women from abusive relationships, while domestic violence protection orders are cracking down on the destructive cycle of repeated abuse.

“We have also legislated to criminalise forced marriage and are taking decisive action against female genital mutilation.

“The Government has also provided £40 million to fund support in local communities and to educate teenagers through our ‘This is Abuse’ campaign.

“It is not acceptable for the police to use out-of-court settlements for serious criminality and that is why the Government is already reviewing how they are used.”

The Home Office is yet to respond to a consultation on the use of out-of-court disposals, which ended in January.

The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill – currently before Parliament – will further restrict the use of cautions for the most serious offences and repeat offenders.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of national domestic violence charity Refuge, said the figures were “deeply disturbing” and called for a public inquiry into police and state responses to the issue.

“National guidance from Acpo makes it clear that community resolutions are not appropriate for domestic violence cases.

“And yet these new figures show that police forces are wilfully ignoring this guidance. What is the point of having national guidance if police forces do not adhere to it?

“Community resolutions can involve asking perpetrators to apologise to their victim, pay compensation costs or take part in restorative justice.

“These types of remedies may be effective for some crimes – but domestic violence is not one of them.

“When women make the extraordinarily brave step of reporting their partners to the police, they must feel confident that they have the full weight of the law behind them.

“Violent men must be held to account by our criminal justice system. Community resolutions can also be very dangerous, as they can put women and children at further risk from perpetrators, who may use them as yet another way to intimidate and control their victims.”

She welcomed Labour’s commitment to a ban but said all political parties had more to do to address domestic violence properly.

“We need a radical shift in the way we, as a society, view domestic violence and in the way our state agencies respond to victims.”

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