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Officers are 'sick of political pledges to treat violent crime like a disease'

Federation also turns on highest echelons of policing for 'getting things the wrong way round'
Published - 24/04/2019 By - Nick Hudson - Police Oracle

Rank-and-file officers have turned on politicians and their own leaders for making their job on the frontline “worse” with trendy pledges to treat violence like a virulent disease.

The Police Federation has hit back after the Met was accused of “going soft” on climate change protestors, surrendering London’s streets which have already seen more than 1,000 arrests and 70 people charged over the last week . 

More than 10,000 officers have been deployed, backed up by 350 from neighbouring forces to police the operation to curtail the Extinction Rebellion.

While Environment Secretary Michael Gove told activists the government had “got the message”, the Police Federation claimed ministers and mayors on all sides of the political spectrum had not.

It has also torn into Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan accusing them of subscribing to the view that it is possible to make up for “patchy, poor-funded policing” by going big on public health programmes.

Unfortunately politicians – and some at the highest echelons of the police force – seem to have got things the wrong way round; argued West Midlands Federation Chairman Richard Cooke.

Mr Javid, who said serious violence should be treated like "the outbreak of some virulent disease – a national emergency", also sought to reassure frontline staff about the government's proposed "public health approach" to the issue.

Sergeant Cooke said he “shuddered with scepticism” at well intentioned commentators keen to label crime as an “illness”.

Now he fears, worryingly, that the latest person to “fall into this trap” is the Home Secretary.

In an impassioned speech, Mr Javid even seemed to suggest that he almost caught the crime lurgy when he was a child, claiming that he grew up in the most dangerous street in Britain, and was (unsuccessfully) pressurised to deal drugs and shoplift by his peers at school, suggested Sgt Cooke.

There is no doubt that public health projects can make a positive difference in the fight against crime. But such initiatives should be seen as the ‘cherry on top’ built on layers of solid, well-resourced neighbourhood policing.

For decades, an ideology that emphasises the role of “prevention” and “rehabilitation” and is more dismissive of “punishment” and “enforcement” when it comes to tackling crime has permeated our police forces, courts and prisons, he added.

“I, and the vast majority of my colleagues, believe that these contrasting approaches need to carry equal weight in our crime-related institutions,” said the federation leader.

“Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

“Such attitudes have led some experts to draw misguided conclusions from Glasgow the success study of choice for champions of the public health approach.

“After Strathclyde Police launched the violence reduction unit, which made gang-related stabbings and slashings a public health issue as well as a policing issue, violent crime virtually halved in 10 years.

“Not that 10 years is an acceptable time period to wait, but people forget that extensive police resources, a tough approach to criminals and robust use of stop and search was central to tackling violence in Scotland’s murder capital.

“Many of us in the police service are wary of moving further away as an institution from the idea that crime is a choice that must be severely punished, and the best place for violent criminals is in prison, where they cannot harm members of the public.

“Middle-class individuals of a liberal disposition may be of the opinion that anyone born on the wrong side of the tracks who ends up embroiled in a life of violent crime is a victim.

“But the vast majority of people from less privileged backgrounds do not choose crime.

“Medicalising crime could also be counterproductive – before we can help perpetrators of violent acts, they must accept responsibility for what they have done; if we send out the message that they are not to blame, we may actually be unwittingly preventing their successful rehabilitation.

“I also fear that a public health drive could also make some of the most frustrating aspects of policing worse.

“The last thing our officers need is more form filling. And the last thing the service needs is the launch of more ‘specialist’ units, tending to drag experienced officers away from general policing.

“Instead of virtue signalling about curing the “disease” of crime, Sajid Javid should restore the foundation of policing, put more bobbies back on the beat, confident to use their powers, including stop and search robustly.

“There is no substitute for old-fashioned community based policing.”

Meanwhile, police and crime commissioners have broadly welcomed the Home Secretary’s stance on tackling violent crime.

They subscribe to the view that while “additional police powers and funding are important . . . there is no quick fix”, believing it is “essential that those at risk can be identified and supported at the earliest opportunity”.

Association chairman and serious violence lead Mark Burns-Williamson says crime commissioners have long advocated a “whole system approach” with focused and properly resourced action across a range of areas.

He added: “PCCs will be engaging with the proposals to introduce a public health duty, but we are clear that there also needs to be an overarching government strategy as part of the spending review work in which each department sets out its role and the resources needed to deliver it and there is a mechanism to hold them to account.”

There were 285 homicides where the method of killing was by a knife or sharp instrument in England and Wales in 2017/18 – the highest number since records started in 1946.

In the year to September, police recorded about 1.5 million "violence against the person" offences - a jump of nearly a fifth on the previous 12 months.

Polling data released earlier this month suggested that public concern about crime is at its highest since the riots of 2011.

Ministers have announced a £100 million cash injection for police to tackle knife crime and relaxed rules on the use of enhanced stop-and-search powers in badly hit areas.

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