Modern threats, policing cuts and a loss of respect

Northumbria Police

Northumbria Police

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Here is the second set of responses in our new series as we give our readers the chance to ask politicians of all stripes from the area for their views on the issues hitting the headlines.

Following a suggestion from a reader, we plan to run a regular feature in which we put your questions to politicians in the Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency.

The aim is that readers can ask a question or raise an issue that has been in the news, but get answers from local representatives about how it affects north Northumberland. Hopefully, it can provide a local view rather than just a national overview of policies, issues or talking points that are in the public eye.

We will be putting the questions to the candidates that stood in the constituency at last May’s General Election for the Lib Dems, Labour, Ukip and the Greens as well as the current MP, Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

If you would like to submit a question for the politicians, contact Ben O’Connell on 01665 602234 or using the email address above.

The second question, from a Rothbury resident is: Given the parlous state of world security and in particular the UK, how can the Government even consider reducing police numbers and at the same time, along with the police and crime commissioner, be less than enthusiastic about police performance, culminating in a loss of respect from the general public?

Nigel Coghill-Marshall, Ukip

According to Edmund Burke, the relationship between individuals and the state is one of mutually reciprocal duties and responsibilities. The most important of those duties for the state is to provide protection for the individual against external and internal threats.

Historically, we have, in the UK, been policed by consent. The public have agreed to this because those doing the policing have been perceived as being free from political control. Governments primarily concerned themselves with providing the wherewithal to enable the police to carry out their duties. From this came a level of mutual respect that existed in few other countries.

More recently, the police have become more politicised, resulting in a growing belief that respect for the police has fallen. This politicisation is enshrined in the creation of police and crime commissioners. Although designed as a role for independent, experienced people independent of political influence, most were elected on party tickets. Consequently, fiefdoms have formed with most PCCs being representatives of the locally dominant party. Because they are able to appoint their own staff there is a level of cynicism about the degree of patronage that they possess. It is my personal view that unless party nominees are excluded from this process, the role should be abolished. PCCs elected on party platforms are chosen on political grounds not on the basis of what they can bring to the role.

Recent judicial and public investigations into police shortfalls seem to have resulted not in operational improvements but in the imposition of even more bureaucratic controls that serve only to hamper police activity.

They have also appeared to introduce a reluctance on the part of the police to carry out their duties uniformly. Too often the police are target-driven.

At a time when threats from terrorism are increasing and ever more sophisticated crimes being perpetrated, there needs to be an easing of budgetary control to enable the recruitment of more police officers.

Truly independent oversight of the police is required to rebalance the equation in favour of the law-abiding citizen and away from the political process.

Only that way, will genuine mutual respect be regained. Only then, will the police be able to do their job.

Only then, will the terrorists and criminals realise that they will be caught.

Scott Dickinson, Labour

The Conservative Government can’t wriggle out of their shocking record in making the ‘thin blue line even thinner’.

They’ve cut more than £100million from our local police force resulting in some 861 fewer police officers and 1,000 fewer police staff, making the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) role even more important, especially one like ours that, along with other Labour PCCs, ran an effective campaign to challenge Osborne and convince him not to cut the budget further last year.

They shouldn’t ignore the Metropolitan Police Commissioner telling a conference that neighbourhood police are ‘the eyes and ears’ of counter-terrorism, ‘a vital link’ in our security coverage. He’s the most senior police officer in the country and one would expect him to be requesting more firearms and armour at this time and although he is doing so, he chose to focus a major part of his address on urging the importance of these eyes and ears in the community.

The message from Labour, both in Northumberland and nationally, to the Home Secretary is loud and clear – we need officers on the frontline gathering intelligence and keeping our communities safe. I agree with the most senior officer in the country, our community policing, officers on our streets, are the best way of protecting us from the current threats. Community safety must be the priority moving forward and I urge the Government to think again.

I hope during the forthcoming PCC elections that the public questions the Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates to ask why they have backed further reductions putting less police on our streets and creating even more challenges for rural communities such as those in Northumberland.

Julie Pörksen, Liberal Democrats

Bobbies on the beat can help deter acts of terror, yet it is competent security services that will be instrumental in thwarting terror attacks.

The Conservative’s Investigatory Powers Bill, the ‘Snooper’s Charter’, justified by fear of terrorism, is not only an infringement of our fundamental human right to privacy, but will make work more complex for the security services.

The data collected by mass surveillance on each of our personal internet browsing histories will make finding that elusive needle in a haystack even harder.

I do believe it is worth having a functioning local police force, and that numbers should not be cut.

Calculating value for money for prevention of crime is difficult and the role of the police is much more than just crime statistics.

With the loss of local police stations, reduced visibility and accessibility of the police is a big issue for some communities and could be improved with increased police on the streets.

Individual police and crime commissioners (PCCs) cannot be as good at providing the checks and balances and challenging police performance as police authorities were with their diverse representation.

Performance improvement of the police, like any service, requires constant attention as demands of that service evolve over time and staff change.

The PCC should help create a culture of self-improvement in our police forces – not just self-defence when failings occur.

There will be some failings – abuse of power, fraud, racism – however, I believe a quality force is one that continually tries to minimise the risk of these failings occurring, admits and learns when it fails, and ensures failings are not institutionalised.

Across the country, I believe many communities do trust the police, although with notable exceptions reported, such as young black men in London – due to the stop-and-search rates they face.

Trust is not a given and I think many police forces now acknowledge this and are working hard to earn public trust.

For two years I worked in Peru – it was not a safe feeling knowing I trusted any stranger such as an unlicensed taxi driver more than a police officer.

In Britain, I feel safe knowing that I trust the police and can turn to them for help.

Soon, the Conservative Government and the security services could be monitoring every single one of us.

When this happens, will you trust them?

Rachael Roberts, Green

It is deeply concerning that there could be a loss of respect from the general public towards the police. Policing is one of the essential public services that bind our communities together. Its success depends on a level of mutual trust and respect, between both the police and the public, and the police and the Government. When policing is working well, it is an essential tool of a community rather than a tool of the state.

The loss of trust and respect between the police and the government will inevitably have a serious impact on the level of trust and respect between the police and the public.

However, it is clear the current state of the police service, and that breakdown of the relationship with government, is a direct result of deliberate policies promoted by the Conservative Party. This is just one part of an ideologically-driven dismantling of the wider public sector. It is happening in teaching, in the prison service, in town halls and in the ongoing destruction of the NHS.

Conservative Party policies are based on an ideology of exploitation – every situation, every resource, every person, must be exploited for the maximum possible gain. At a national level, this depends upon the maximum amount of power being in the hands of the minimum number of people; at a personal level, this encourages (and depends upon) envy, greed and paranoia.

The suggestion that the cutbacks of the last six years are as a result of ‘a need for austerity’ is a smokescreen to disguise the truth that the Conservatives will not stop until all public services are in private hands, run for private profit rather than for the good of the communities of the UK.

The regrettable answer to the question is therefore that the Government is reducing police numbers, and does show a lack of enthusiasm and support for police performance, because the resulting demoralisation, division and dismantling fuel their argument for privatisation.

I read something today, suggesting that what children need to learn is not the value of money, but the value of people.

That is a cornerstone of a civil society and underpins good policing. It is this simple truth that the current Government wilfully ignores and seeks to overturn – for them the value of money comes first every time.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative

The world around us continues to pose a threat to us here in the UK and while our armed forces and security services ensure we are safe from external threats, it is also important that our police forces are able to respond to changing threats. We are helping them to do this by increasing funding on policing by £900million annually by 2019/20. This allows forces to adapt to changing threats and train more firearms officers to make sure that we can protect the country from future terror threats.

This Conservative Government has given the police just one target: cut crime. The police are now free to use their professional judgement to best protect our communities. We have cut red tape so the police can focus on what matters – fighting crime so we have safer communities.

Our changes save an estimated 4.5million hours of police time, equivalent to 2,100 police officer posts. The results show it is working. Crime figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), show an annual fall of eight per cent and the lowest estimate since the survey began in 1981.

One of the major innovations that has contributed to this fall in crime was the introduction of police and crime commissioners (PCCs). PCCs are elected by local people and have real power. They can hire and fire chief constables, control budgets and set priorities for policing.

It is PCCs who are responsible for setting police officer numbers in each force, not the Government. If people have concerns over local police numbers or the direction of their force, they are able to elect a new PCC who can change that policy.

That’s why the forthcoming elections for police and crime commissioners are so important.

It is our chance to vote for our priorities for our police force. Northumbria Police presently spends more than £100,000 on political employees.

That is £100,000 which could fund Rape Crisis work in Northumberland which is presently woefully underfunded compared to its Tyneside work.