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The day a force had to say ?no? to policing its people

MPs told of a chief?s angst when he literally ran out of officers on a ?demanding? Sunday
Published - 06/02/2019 By - Nick Hudson - Police Oracle

A catalogue of serious incidents saw an over-stretched force “literally run out of officers” one Sunday, shocked MPs have been told.

A teenage murder, four rapes, stabbings outside a takeaway, a shooting, five prison officers assaulted in a riot and a fatal road accident brought the Bedfordshire force to a standstill, Parliament heard yesterday.

MP Andrew Selous recounted the story – told to him by Bedfordshire Chief Constable Jon Boutcher in a letter  – as the House of Commons discussed funding for forces in England and Wales.

Details of the “particularly demanding” Sunday September 16 last year were raised as Home Secretary Sajid Javid fended off a barrage of protests from MPs after he tried to play down links between rising violent crime and dwindling officer numbers.

The South West Bedfordshire MP said: “The chief constable wrote to me to say on one Sunday – the 16th of September last year – the force literally ran out of officers.

“They had to deal with seven teenagers stabbed in Luton, four rapes, five prison officers being assaulted at Bedford prison, a fatality in a road incident, a 16-year-old being murdered in Bedford, and gunshot wounds coming into Luton and Dunstable Hospital.

“That was a particularly demanding Sunday, but that level is not unusual as far as Bedfordshire is concerned.”

Politicians last night approved Mr Javid's funding plan for England and Wales' police forces.

Labour Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott accused Mr Javid of "passing the buck of funding the police service to the public", she said it was "no way to fund a cohesive police force".

In reply, Mr Javid claimed it was "too lazy" to blame a drop in police numbers for rising crime, amid pressure to further boost funding.

The Home Secretary faced repeated questions from Labour MPs who warned that there are 21,000 fewer officers in England and Wales compared to when the Conservatives came into power in 2010.

But Mr Javid dismissed suggestions of a direct link and instead said the rise in serious violence, cyber crime and reporting of sexual offences could not be attributed to one factor.

The exchanges came as MPs approved the 2019-20 police grant, which will see up to £970 million extra made available to forces.

As Police Oracle reported in December, council taxpayers are expected to fund more than half of the potential increase.

Police and crime commissioners will be allowed to ask for an additional £2 a month per band D household, which is expected to generate up to £509 million in extra funding if all areas take up the option.

In December the National Police Chiefs’ Council calculated inflation at £435m – virtually wiping out the government grant.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Javid said the settlement provides the "biggest increase in police funding since 2010" and explained it will help forces recruit extra officers that "they've told me they need".

Intervening, Labour MP Jack Dromey (Birmingham Erdington) said ministers seem "reluctant" to answer questions about the impact of a drop in police numbers since 2010.

He said: "Police numbers have fallen by 21,000, some 2,000 in the West Midlands.

"Crime is soaring.

"Is the Government seriously suggesting that there is no link between falling police numbers and increasing crime?"

Mr Javid replied: "Where you are right is that there is absolutely increases in certain types of crime.

"For example, as I mentioned earlier, in serious violence, in cyber crime, in the reporting of sexual offences, we welcome reporting, including historical offences, we want to see more reported so we can investigate more.

"It does require more resource and it also requires, in some cases with some forces, changes of practises."

Labour's Ilford North MP Wes Streeting, intervening, asked: "Is he seriously suggesting there is no link between falling police numbers and rising crime?"

Mr Javid replied: "We have seen in recent years an increase in certain types of crime but I think it'd be too lazy of any of us to attribute that just to one factor.

"I do recognise resources are an important issue and that's why we're giving this record settlement today."

In response, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott hit out at the increase in local council precepts to fund police forces.

She said: "[The idea] that this somehow counts as a loosening of the purse strings, it really isn't, the precept is not some magic money tree.

"The precept is a tax. It is paid for by increasing charges on residents."

The Labour frontbencher said the precept is "not a progressive tax, it is a regressive tax which bears down disproportionately on poorer regions".

Accusing Mr Javid of "passing the buck of funding the “police service to the public", she said it was "no way to fund a cohesive police force".

Ms Abbott added: "There can be no question that the biggest indictment of this government's record on law and order is its long-standing failure to fund the police properly.

"And sadly this is as true of this year's funding allocation as of any other year, and it have to say in the kindest possible manner to the Home Secretary he is brazen, expecting members on this side to follow him into the lobby for this funding settlement.

"We would be less than responsible if we voted for a funding settlement which is patently inadequate."

There has to be a "direct relationship" between police on the ground and the ability to deal with crime, a Labour MP has said.

Concern over the settlement figure brought condemnation from both sides of the House.

Knowsley MP George Howarth argued the government's 2019-20 police grant settlement "goes nowhere near assuring people" that police could deal with community safety.

The grant will see up to £970 million extra made available to forces, while council taxpayers are expected to fund more than half of the potential increase.

Mr Howarth said: "We can't hide from the fact that there has to be a direct relationship between police on the ground and the ability to deal with crime."

He added: "The government have done too little, too late to resolve the problem that our communities and our police forces are facing, and frankly if it is the first job of the government, the Home Secretary to deal with community safety, then I'm afraid this settlement goes nowhere near assuring people that they will be able to carry out that duty."

South Dorset Tory Richard Drax raised concerns about any rise in the precept.

He said: "The pressures for next year are even greater and the bottom line, even with a continued and relentless drive in efficiencies, will still see the need to increase the precept for 2019-20.

"The minister has given permission for PCCs to raise the precept by £24 in 2019-20 but this is a delicate matter and household budgets are already under strain."

He added: "The worrying fact is that unless (there is) more money for the police in Dorset in the mid-term, more frontline officers might have to go and this is unacceptable to me and my constituents...Let's cut out all the waffle, give them the assets and the money to get on with the job and keep our people safe."

Labour's Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) argued that, as Merseyside Police had been "weakened" under the government, crime had been increasing, overall up by 162.5 per cent.

She said: "The argument peddled by government ministers that this is nothing to do with the £90 million cut in resource, the loss of a quarter of our police, the loss of 43 per cent of our PCSOs is laughably unconvincing and my constituents aren't fooled, they know there's a link."

Norwich South Labour MP Clive Lewis said his local force has lost £14 million in the last eight years, leading to "stark consequences", becoming the first force in the country to abolish PCSOs as well as cutting 100 officers from its staff.

He said: "Never since records began has police recorded violent crime been as high as it is today and never since records began has knife crime been as high as it is today.

"Arrests have halved in a decade, unsolved crimes are at an almost unthinkable two million cases.

"Norfolk has experienced the largest four year surge in knife and gun crime anywhere in the country.

"All topped off with serious crime predicted to increase 29 per cent."

Battersea Labour MP Marsha de Cordova said police funding had been cut "in the name of austerity" and there was a direct link with a 57 per cent rise in violent crime since 2013.

She said: "These cuts have consequences – they have consequences for police numbers...

Nearly one in six police officers have been lost in Wandsworth in the last three years alone.

"The Home Secretary refuses to acknowledge that the reduction in policing will lead to a rise in violent crime.

"It is fact and the evidence is there and... we are witnessing it daily."

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