18th Dec, 2018

WESTMINSTER DIARIES: Police need support but too simple to blame lack of funding

Recently the Police Chief Constable for the West Midlands said that the police force offers ‘poor service’ to victims.

This admission came after a year which saw a rise in the number of opportunistic crimes such as car thefts being committed in the borough.

Crime is not simple and the police in our borough work tirelessly to keep us safe.

But it is clear that officers need more support in some areas such as rural policing.

As residents we can all do our bit to ‘target harden’ our property – keeping car keys out of site or using a steering wheel lock to prevent theft, for example.

But more widely, we need to have a grown up conversation about the future of local policing.

The choices made at the top have a direct impact on our local police teams and I have always argued that whilst in number, crimes in the city may outnumber those in our community, the needs of victims in Solihull borough is no less great than those elsewhere.

Yet the rhetoric we hear from the Police Commissioner is always about the issue of funding and does not tell the whole story.

In many cases the figures used are accumulative – even though the force’s budget is awarded annually.

And it is all too easy to blame the government, even though this year an extra £10million was allocated to West Midlands Police.

Instead, we should look carefully at the decisions being made by the force leadership and how of our local police service and evolving to meet the changing nature of crime.

A former local superintendent told me that cyber-crime requires the police to use different resources than they would if tackling traditional crimes.

In this instance, having more ‘bobbies on the beat’ will not achieve the reduction in this type of crime that we all want.

Of course, there is still a place for traditional policing, but how do we balance this?

My constituency of Meriden is 63sq miles and with such a large area to cover, more and more we can expect to see police officers to be out on the beat in their patrol cars rather than on foot.

Therefore, the decision to reduce the number of patrol cars in my constituency was, in my view, very unwise.

This, coupled with decisions not to make greater use of police reserve funding – the second highest level of reserves in the country – during the period of austerity and planned closures to police stations will inevitably have an impact on front line services. Yet were all preventable.

Fundamentally, these are choices. In this situation I would expect the Police and Crime Commissioner to speak up for the public. This elected position was created to hold the police to account.

This is no time for mud-slinging and point scoring but instead for grown up discussion and how to protect the public better with the extra resources the government has provided.

Dame Caroline Spelman

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