Speech to the Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership Conference, London 2009
Gordon Brown (Labour)
Last week I attended the unveiling of a memorial to PC Sharon Beshenivsky - the 38 year old West Yorkshire police constable who was brutally and tragically killed at the scene of a robbery in Bradford in November 2005.
I had the privilege to spend some time with her family - her widower Paul - and her children including Lydia - whose fourth birthday it was the day her mother died. As for all such families of victims, the sentence never ends - but they are determined to keep her memory alive. And I can tell you her children are a wonderful tribute to her. She would be so proud of them today.
Sharon’s courage - her sense of duty, her desire to protect people - and to put others first - epitomises what is best about our country. And events like those of last Friday remind us of the huge debt of gratitude we owe to all those who risk their lives every day to fight crime and keep us safe in our homes, on our streets and in our communities.
Yes, we have succeeded in cutting crime. But it’s impossible to come away from such an event without a real sense of anger. Anger that a small minority can cause such grief.
So I am here today to launch our new crime strategy - together with Jacqui Smith, who has done so much to bring this strategy together - and to talk with you about new kinds of crime; and the new causes of crime we face; and how we will together - the police and everyone else involved in local crime and disorder reduction partnerships - build on what we have achieved over the past decade to fight back against crime, anti-social behaviour and fear in our communities. And I want local authorities in all areas - as well as the police - to make this their priority.
I am determined that we act on the public’s concerns - Louise Casey is here today and in the review I asked her to carry out last year the public made clear they wanted three things:
• that criminals face clear consequences for breaking the law
• that the police and other services tackle the issues that matter to the public - from anti-social behaviour to gun and knife crime
• and that the public, the victims of crime, their families and communities - know what service they are entitled to get from the police and the courts, and how they can shape that service to reflect their priorities.
And so at the heart of our approach is a more visible, locally accountable and innovative police service.
Already since April last year there are 3,600 neighbourhood police teams in place - covering every part of the country - a unique achievement.
A truly local service in every part of the country, a local service underpinned by clear national standards - enshrined in the policing pledge that will deliver for local people. Citizens now have a right to know how many beat patrols are done. Citizens now have a right to know how quickly their police respond to calls.
And they now have a right to be informed what happened in each case. And this is important because too many people I meet are frustrated when they see a crime committed and then hear nothing more about the arrest, the trial and the sentence.
So from this autumn - through a single online portal - the public will be able to track each case; and also see the crime statistics for their local area, how they have improved in recent months or years, how they compare with other areas, and what is being done.
But information on its own is not enough.
Families want to be able to have a say in and influence how their local policing keeps them safe. This is the essence of the new vision for neighbourhood policing: that members of the public can identify problems, ask for - and get - action.
I want to give citizens in their communities a real say over the setting of local priorities;
• over how to improve the safety of their streets;
• over how to strengthen support for victims; and
• over how offenders should pay back to their communities.
So we are insisting that every month police hold meetings and they are now taking place in almost every community.
But we can go further. The public themselves should be able to identify streets where they don’t feel safe and get their local force or council to take action. Whether that means more police on the beat, more community support officers on local buses, or more street lighting and CCTV. So this summer we will launch the next stage in Safer Streets - a safer streets interactive website where the public share information with each other and use virtual pins to show the authorities where they want action.
And I also want the way people feel about the service they get to influence how neighbourhood policing evolves in their area. There must be proper recourse and redress if the promises in the policing pledge are not delivered in every part of the country. So in the autumn, we will publish a white paper to guarantee that accountability and to improve efficiency and productivity across the service.
To ensure neighbourhood policing works people need to see that our policy of punish and prevent is working and also that victims and witnesses have all the support they need.
We now have over 150 witness care units and specialist support including domestic violence advisers. Over 80 per cent of victims are now satisfied with their experience but we must go further, which is why earlier this year we appointed Sara Payne as the first independent voice for victims. I’m very pleased that Sara is with us today. She is currently travelling round the country, taking ‘victims’ journeys’ to experience the system as they do, and will come back to us with recommendations about how we can do better at supporting and caring for the victims of crime.
I was really pleased that Sara recently helped us launch new measures to support victims of domestic violence.
And I’m proud also that under this government, there are now over 120 specialist domestic violence courts and that the conviction rate for domestic violence has risen by over 30 per cent since 2004/05.
Over the past five years, we have invested over £11 million in this area, including 28 sexual assault referral centres, up from only five in 2001; with further increases planned - until each police force has one by 2011.
Violence against women is an obscenity and fighting it will always be a priority for this government.
Punishment must be visible and must be real payback by those who have hurt their communities. I know there have been concerns about this reform, but I have backed Jack Straw in doing this because I believe there is no reason why the punishment of offenders should be a secret. It gives people confidence in justice to see those on community payback with the new orange jackets, doing hard work in public, now not just for a few hours a week but increasingly for many hours a day.
We have insisted that local people have a say in what the pay back is, including through online voting. The public must have confidence the police and courts are punishing those who break the law. And over the next year we will go further - last week in the Justice Green Paper we set out how we will communicate the courts’ decisions at local level. And over the coming year we also plan to extend intensive community payback for unemployed offenders - targeting offenders who are on the verge of receiving a prison sentence.
People have the right to be informed, consulted and to participate. Of course, government must provide strategic leadership - setting core standards but it should then step back, trusting and empowering police officers and the courts to innovate. To use their expertise, their knowledge of the area and their relationship with local people - to break new ground in tackling the fear of crime.
And as they do so - each area can learn from the innovation of others. Such as the Wanstead neighbourhood police team here in London - offering to walk people the last mile home if they feel unsafe. I want every area in the country to consider doing this.
And the Epping Forest neighbourhood police team have now created an e-mail chain of over 70 farmers who keep each other informed of rural crime and keep burglars at bay. I want every area to consider using mobiles and e-mail to give people instant advice on safety and any other crime or anti-social behaviour problem that worries them.
And because not everyone has access to the internet, I want to see police premises in high-streets and in shopping malls up and down the country. In South Yarmouth, the police and local authority have taken over a shop on the high street, where people drop in and talk to the police about their neighbourhood and get crime prevention advice too. I want to see more forces do this as a core part of neighbourhood policing - making use of the £40 million basic command unit fund to do so.
Staffordshire police have cut 80 per cent of recording for 80 per cent of crimes - and I want every area to reduce the form-filling, for example by using more than 18,000 new handhelds we have funded over the last year - equipment that enables officers to connect to the police computer from the beat rather than returning to the station to fill out forms - saving up to half an hour every shift.
So if local, neighbourhood policing can help people get home, help people share information about crime, and can be available on the high street so that people can express their concerns, and available on email and on mobile phones, then neighbourhood policing can become policing direct to the public, for the public, shaped by the public.
But how much more effective can neighbourhood policing and neighbourhood safety become if we are able to complement the visible presence of police on the streets and on patrol:
• by using CCTV and all the latest technology at our disposal
• by working with volunteers, from neighbourhood watch to community crime fighters
It is because confidence is so important, that tackling the fear of crime isn’t some extra, a luxury - it’s fundamentally about fairness, because fear of crime affects some people more than others. It’s just not acceptable that some of our older people feel less able to go out after dark; that women can feel constrained in what they do because they are worried about getting home safely; or that young people hesitate before crossing into another estate. Our streets belong to us all and in Britain - everyone has the right to live without fear.
It is easy to think CCTV is ‘excessive’ if you never take a rowdy night bus, or if you live in a gated community or can always afford a licensed cab. But for plenty of decent, hard-working people, those luxuries aren’t an option. We will never stand by and let people’s quality of life be compromised by fear of crime.
Research shows CCTV makes people worry less about becoming victims of crime - that is why we have funded CCTV in nearly 700 town centre schemes.
But CCTV doesn’t just make people feel safer - it actually makes us safer too. Last month saw the tenth anniversary of three horrific murders after an extremist linked to the BNP targeted our gay and black communities with bombs planted in the Admiral Duncan pub and Brixton market. David Copeland was identified and convicted only after CCTV footage was released. As happened with the killers of toddler Jamie Bulger - and of course the July 7 bombers.
So, by deploying the latest CCTV technology, by mobilising thousands of volunteers and with locally accountable, innovative neighbourhood policing at its core, we can build in each community a new approach to neighbourhood security in Britain. The most personalised, flexible and responsive policing service possible.
For some, political fashions may come and go. But my core beliefs remain the same:
• fair rules
• clear consequences for those who break them - no excuses
• punish and prevent
• defend and protect our way of life
Bearing down on crime and its causes will mean applying the same principles that underpin our commitments across all the public services:
• to invest - with nearly 15,000 more police officers than 1997, and 16,000 new police community support officers
• and to back that investment with a commitment to innovation and reform.
And, behind it all, the hard work of dedicated public servants like all of you here today. It is through your work that since 1997 crime has fallen by almost 40%, serious and dangerous criminals are more likely to go to prison and stay there for longer, and people’s chances of being a victim of crime are the lowest since records began in 1981.
And I am proud of that these achievements. I don’t accept that decent hard-working people should be expected to put up with anti-social behaviour, vandalism or drug dealing as simply a fact of life. For me, tackling crime is fundamentally about fairness, because it is ordinary people on middle and modest incomes who are hardest hit by crime.
But we also need to recognise that today the nature of communities is changing, so the nature of crime, and the causes of that crime, are changing too.
We face new kinds of crime - especially knife crime, organised crime, e-crime and identity theft - and now, of course, the new challenge of preventing what happened in previous recessions - where crimes like burglary and robbery went up.
We face new causes of crime - including binge drinking, youth gangs, and problem families.
And we need new ways of responding - for government, the police, courts, local authorities and communities themselves. Let me take each of these in turn.
First, to new crimes - and new ways of responding. Overall, violence has fallen since 1997 - but gun and knife crime is still a problem, especially in some of our cities. We have already acted decisively.First on gun crime - and now on knives - we have brought all the agencies together, with additional funding and support, with:
• more targeted stop and search
• action to tackle gun and knife supply
• graphic education campaigns warning against the danger of knives
• longer sentences - a five year minimum for carrying a gun, and those convicted for carrying a knife now over a third more likely to go to prison and their sentences more than a third longer;
• and US-style street teams including reformed ex-gang members working to stop trouble escalating in the first place.
And all this has brought results. Gun crime is falling across the country, with provisional statistics showing a 16% reduction in recorded firearms offences during the last quarter of 2008 compared to the year before - and the evidence indicates it is falling faster in those areas targeted by our gun programme. In the year to February, it fell by a quarter in London - and gang-related gun incidents were down by over 90 per cent in Manchester until the tragic murder of a 16-year-old over the weekend. A tragedy that only serves to remind us of the need to keep driving this work forward.
We are not, as some have argued, going to stigmatise whole neighbourhoods as “gang zones”, but instead target individuals - by civil injunctions for gang members to stop them travelling into the areas they regard as their territories, and preventing young people on the fringes of gangs - like brothers and sisters - from being drawn in.
Knife homicides have fallen from 59 in the last quarter of 2007 to 52 in the same period in 2008. Building on reductions for serious stabbing incidents that were admitted to hospital in 2007/08, we have now seen provisional figures indicating that in June to December 2008, following the start of our knife crime campaign, 30 per cent fewer teenagers were admitted to hospital with stab wounds in the areas targeted by the programme - as opposed to 17 per cent in non-programme areas. These falls are both compared to the same period in 2007.
But each new senseless murder of a young person is still one too many. And that’s why I have given my support to a new campaign led by Richard Taylor, Damilola’s father, involving schools and youth clubs, parents, businesses, community leaders - and role models like John Terry, Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand who attended the same school as Stephen Lawrence; and who still remembers the day his headteacher told the school Stephen had been killed. All these people are coming together to say with one voice that carrying a knife won’t make you safer, only more likely that you’ll get hurt.
At the launch of the campaign - I met Amber, a 17 year old who survived being stabbed 32 times by her boyfriend. Today she is studying to become an art therapist, helping disadvantaged and troubled young people express themselves through art. She says:
“…We’ve got to teach children how to believe in themselves and give them opportunities so they see that knives aren’t the answer. They think they’re acting hard or protecting themselves but they’re just adding to the problem.”
And that’s really the inspiration for the campaign - that we can together make a practical difference, so that thousands more young people have somewhere safe to go in their local areas, a place to enjoy themselves and keep out of trouble - with the opportunity to do something positive too.
And I can announce today that we will be challenging local authorities to match our efforts to increase radically the positive activities available for young people on Friday and Saturday nights - and in high crime areas we will give the police more of a say over how that money is spent.
As well as street gangs we are seeing increasingly sophisticated international criminal networks which operate in the shadows but are responsible for the worst kind of crimes: people trafficking, drugs, and - as we saw with the Gooch gang in Manchester - gun crime.
We were the first government to set up a dedicated agency for tackling them at national level - the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Last year, we seized over 80 tonnes of cocaine from overseas, success that is showing up in the steep fall in the purity of the cocaine on our streets. And let me say that we will never falter in the fight against drugs, whether it’s seizing dealers’ assets or clamping down on the cheats who claim benefits to fund their drugs habit.
Let me be clear that the Serious Organised Crime Agency is here to stay. But we need to go further, and we will shortly be publishing a new strategy that sets out how we will make Britain an even more hostile environment for all organised criminals; bearing down on fraud and e-crime; freezing the illicit funds of international criminals; aggressively closing down front businesses; and harassing organised criminals through the use of tax investigation and other powers.
We will legislate to shift the burden of proof so that criminals have to account for their houses, cars, and other assets - as we have already made them do with their cash. And we will target foreign criminals. Let me be clear: there is no room in Britain for anyone who comes here and abuses our freedoms and our hospitality.
We have increased the number of foreign criminals we have deported - 4,000 in 2007 and 5,000 in 2008, and over the next year we will deport 6,000. We are now deporting criminals from other European countries who have been sentenced to one year or more in prison for a serious offence. And our new electronic border controls now allow us for the first time to count people in and out; and also to check them against watch lists. Already these measures have led to nearly 3,000 arrests, for crimes including murder, rape and drug dealing. These checks will cover 95 per cent of all passengers by 2010.
Our new crime strategy includes not just a continued focus on guns and knives, and new measures to tackle organised crime, but also a renewed focus on burglary and robbery.
And this summer we will launch a new programme to bring together all the different agencies involved in fighting burglary and robbery to make sure we know where crime is happening, who is committing it, how and when. we will provide additional funding and support, together with police action, tougher sentencing - and probation and neighbourhood police teams working together to keep track of those released from prison, to steer them away from crime, and to ensure that those who fail to reform will be more swiftly caught and punished.
And also prevention: a partnership with the mobile phone industry, to design-in features which make phones worthless for anyone who steals them - in the same way that we worked with car manufacturers ten years ago to revolutionise in-built protection against car theft.
In fighting all these new crimes, we will continue to harness new technology. As well as CCTV, the number of crimes detected through improved DNA technology has nearly tripled over the last ten years to 17,000 last year.
Some people think that the liberty of the convicted and the accused should always trump the liberty of everyone else who might be a victim of crime. But if we immediately wiped from the DNA database everyone who had been arrested but not convicted of an offence, some sickening crimes would have gone unsolved and many dangerous criminals would have remained at large.
For example, Abdul Azad was arrested in February 2005, had a DNA sample taken but was released without charge - and a few months later, a rape occurred in Stafford, 25 miles away. There were no clues until skin from the victim’s fingernails was profiled and found to match the DNA taken from Azad. As the police said: ‘we would never have caught him had his DNA not already been on the database’.
The simple fact is that DNA has helped us convict some of the most monstrous criminals. Mark Dixie, who was brought to justice for the murder of Sally Anne Bowman; Steve Wright, who murdered five women in Ipswich; John Pope convicted of a motoring offence but subsequently matched to the murder of 13 year old Karen Skipper; and Ronald Castree, arrested for something unrelated but found guilty of murder committed almost 30 years before.
Liberty is the foundation of our constitution. Yes, we have to protect the rights of the accused, but we also have a duty to protect the freedoms of the innocent to go about their business in safety and security.
Second, new causes - and new ways of responding.
Over the last decade we have tackled the causes of crime through improving education, housing, youth services and employment. And through Children’s Centres and by extending Family-Nurse Partnerships from 10 PCTs and local authorities last year to 30 this year, on the way to our ambition of 70 areas by 2011 - we are transforming the support families get in the early years - not only reducing future crime, but also improving life chances overall.
It was in part because of the concerns I know parents have over the increasing strength of cannabis that I believed it was right to reclassify it as a Class B drug - as well as maintaining ecstasy at Class A.
And we have expanded Safer School Partnerships, where the police support schools and help forge more positive relationships between young people and the police, from hundreds of schools in 2006 to several thousand now. And I believe that all schools should have this support if they or the parents think they need it.
But there are some parents who need more than just support - those whose families are chaotic, whose kids are getting into serious trouble, and where the police or teachers tell me that, when they go to the parents to talk about the kids’ problems, they realise that it is the parents who are the problem. For this small hard core of problem parents we need earlier intervention - with expert advisers who can spend time with the family, help them, and draw up parenting contracts setting out parents’ responsibilities.
And there must be clear consequences if they don’t mend their ways. That’s why the intensive Family Intervention Programmes are so effective in dramatically reducing crime and anti-social behaviour. Police, teachers, housing officers and others working together to send the same message - there can be no excuses for unacceptable behaviour.
We have gone from a handful of these programmes in 2006 to 180 by this summer now covering nearly 2000 problem families - and with at least one programme in every local authority. So we are well on our way to achieving our goal of reaching 20,000 families by 2011.
And in the light of recent horrific cases like that of Baby Peter, we will set out a clear list of early warning signs which would automatically trigger a parenting intervention, covering problems with drugs or alcohol, domestic violence, the persistent absence or exclusion of children from school, or their involvement in crime or anti-social behaviour.
The rise in binge drinking is another of the new causes of crime we face. The police and other agencies have a wide range of powers to tackle pubs, bars, clubs or shops whose customers are causing trouble.
They can add new licensing conditions and even shut premises down.
To support them in using these powers, we are going to bring in a new mandatory code on the sale of alcohol - not as some have asked bringing in a minimum price, which would punish the majority of responsible drinkers - but to tackle binge drinking, targeting the kind of promotions - like “drink all you can for a fiver” - which can turn some town centres into no-go areas.
And I know that people have legitimate concerns about the link between crime and mental ill health.
There are too many cases where people have become the victim of those with serious mental disorders. We are committed, following publication of Lord Bradley’s review in April, to improve security in medium and low secure hospitals, and to introduce a combined assessment of mental health need and risk to others, for joint use by the NHS, police and probation.
Third - meeting these new kinds of crime and address these new causes requires further reform of our police service and justice system. Unlike those who advocate that now is the time to cut back - we will maintain investment so with the three year police grant settlement to 2011 there is no reason for police numbers to fall on financial grounds alone.
And we will match that continued investment with continuing reform: towards a more strategic role for government, strengthened professionals, and more empowered local communities.
We will move away from top down targets, give more discretion to forces, and enable local priorities to be set by local people.
Since last year’s policing green paper, central government has halved the form-filling we ask of our police forces. Now it’s the turn of forces to do the same for their officers.
But with greater freedom for the police comes greater responsibility. I welcome last week’s commitment by the Met to ensure terrorism search powers are not being over-used - the latest step in a process I set out in autumn 2007. And all of us, and I know this includes the overwhelming majority of police officers themselves, were shocked to see the footage of those incidents during the G20. We should, of course, remember that policing large protests is difficult and dangerous. I believe it is healthy to have a public debate about how this difficult task can be carried out - strengthening the trust between the public and the police. And this will form part of our white paper this autumn - and will reflect the lessons from the HMIC Review and also the Kingsnorth Review.
I believe we have the best police service in the world. And at the heart of all our reforms is the ambition to bring them closer to the communities they serve - to increase the visibility and accountability of policing, and so to build stronger links with communities.
We are taking the same approach in the justice system, bringing it closer to local people’s needs - and driving reform through new technology. Today a video link between Charing Cross police station and Camberwell magistrates’ court will mark the start of a new approach that allows a case to be heard in court while the defendant is still in the police custody suite. This will cut the average time from charge to first hearing from days to under four hours, saving £2 million a year to start with and more than £10 million when rolled out more widely.
And in last week’s justice green paper we announced that 30 areas across the country will follow Liverpool’s lead by appointing new community prosecutors, to be tasked with ensuring community concerns are reflected in court, together with a new problem-solving approach in which judges and magistrates will make tackling the causes of crime part of the sentences they hand down, with local agencies working together on options for magistrates including drug treatment, alcohol treatment or housing support.
But now we will go further - today publishing the first league tables so people can see how well their local area is doing in seizing criminal assets.
We have quadrupled the amount of assets seized since 2001, to £135m last year - including the example of fraudster Mark McKinney forced to pay back £3million of assets including a Bentley, a helicopter and a luxury villa in Spain.
And for the first time we will give local communities a say in what is done with the assets that are seized. From today £4 million of criminal assets will be available for projects decided by local communities. people will be able to vote on a website, or give their views at neighbourhood policing meetings or citizen’s panels, on projects than could range from cleaning up a playground of graffiti and broken glass to providing activities for young people to do on a Friday night - whatever local people decide.
To conclude: we must be clear-eyed about the challenges we face but we must also be positive about our ability to respond to them; and about our strengths as a country.
We will never be defeatist either about the economy or about our society. We will not succumb to the old politics of the 1980s and an age of austerity, with all the avoidable misery that age brought - but will build instead an age of opportunity.
We must remember that while there are problems with knife crime, and we must deal with them, there are many areas in which it is almost unknown; that while there are problem families, they are in a minority, the majority of parents are doing a great job and the majority of young people are well behaved - and that there are many thousands of examples of young people seizing new opportunities and contributing greatly to their communities.
The work you do is vitally important - keeping people safe, but at the same time ensuring Britain remains the fairer, more tolerant, more united country it has become over the past twelve years.
We will always back you in making Britain safer. With your help, we will fight back against crime and the fear of crime. We will stick to our policy of punish and prevent; we will strengthen confidence in every community and together we will build an innovative, personalised and locally accountable neighbourhood policing and justice service. A service that reflects the values of our society, supports its communities and is the envy of the world.