For the past five years, all over the country, the number of police officers has been reducing. In South Yorkshire we have seen a fall of over five hundred. Yet, on the whole, crime has kept going down.
These are not helpful facts when Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables say to the government we cannot take many more cuts. They just reply, ‘Stop crying wolf. Crime is falling’. So what are we to say about this puzzling situation – police numbers are down and so is crime? There are two points that need making.
The first is that falls in crime are not simply due to police activity. Yes, it’s important that criminals are caught and successfully brought to trial. It’s important that some are locked up. That stops them offending and deters others. This needs adequate numbers of police. It’s also important that when offenders are released, police and partners manage their rehabilitation back into the community otherwise offending will start again.
But crime falls for other reasons as well. Thefts from cars have fallen because car security has improved and people are more careful about leaving valuable items in view. Burglaries are down because houses have been made more secure.
So crime can fall even if police numbers are down for these non-police reasons. This is why these sorts of crime have fallen not just in this country but across Europe.
But the second thing that has to be said, so that both government and public are clear, is that crime is not the only thing the police are concerned with.
In fact, if you look at what the police do, 80 per cent of their time goes on non-crime matters. Non-crime but no less vital.
I recently spent some time walking around parts of Goldthorpe and Rotherham with local police and Police Community Support Officers.
They spoke about neighbour disputes they helped to resolve. They told me about low level anti-social behaviour they dealt with before it got out of hand and perhaps resulted in criminal activity. They went into schools to talk about being safe on the internet. They assisted with crowd control at football matches and helped search for missing children or adults with dementia.
None of this was directly concerned with crime, yet it was all crucial in keeping communities safe and well-ordered.
So governments may continue to cut the funding of the police, and crime figures may still go down, but the community may start to suffer in other ways. This is why we must try to maintain good numbers of both police officers and police community support officers in all our communities.
One of the things I find most heartening as I go round with the police in the many different types of community that make up South Yorkshire, is the way local officers can tell me everything about the people and places in which they serve, and people speak to them as they go. That is policing as it should be.