Tuesday 2 March 2010

Webchat on crime and policing

David Hanson, Minister of State for Crime and Policing; Crown copyrightMinister for Crime and Policing David Hanson, has answered questions on the government’s policy on crime, the police, and what the government is doing to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Read the transcript

Moderator says: David Hanson has just arrived at Downing Street. We will be starting the webchat in a few minutes.

Alan Troake: Why can’t we have more police officers on the streets?

David replies: Good morning. Really glad to be here. Crime is one of the top issues of concern in my constituency and in many parts of the country.

We currently have record numbers of police on the streets and the government has committed until 2012-13 to provide the funding to continue to support record numbers of police and community support officers. It’s absolutely vital the police are visible which is why the Prime Minister committed yesterday to maintain the target of police spending 80% of their time patrolling.

Paul: Do ASBO Work?

David replies: Hi Paul – ASBOs are a very effective tool to stop poor behaviour. Over 90% of all those who received an ASBO or other anti-social behaviour intervention didn’t commit further crime after the third intervention. What ASBOs do is protect the public. And in the Crime Bill before the Commons now, we are extending them to include parents. It’s very important that ASBOs are enforced and that’s why yesterday we announced that we will prosecute if someone breaks the conditions of their ASBO.

NG: In light of the PMs speach this morning, what do you think the top three polcing priorities are?

David replies: Thanks NG. The first priority is to maintain police and police community support officer numbers. That means visible policing and driving up confidence. We need to tackle anti-social behaviour and by the end of March we expect that every local council area will have minimum standards which will allow local people to know their rights and to get a response. We also need to ensure that police forces link up to tackle serious crime, such as drugs, which cross police boundaries and need a regional response.

Doris Fone: Hi, I have just been to New York for the second time with my 6th form students and found it a pleasant and safe place to enjoy, especially for my students who were able to roam around without coming to any harm. I understand that there has been a Zero Tolerance policy in NY now for several years and this has had a very positive impact on this city. I dare say it would be far more dangerous to allow young people to roam as freely around London or any of the key cities within the UK and the likelihood of them being harmed would be relatively high! My questions is, are there any consideration for the future to adopt similar policies of Zero Tolerance throughout the UK – to make our cities safer and more pleasant for UK citizens as well as any tourists? After all with 2012 in sight should that not be one of our priorities?

David replies: Thanks Doris. It is important we have zero tolerance of key issues such as anti-social behaviour, knife crime and gun crime. We have targetted 16 key areas where extra enforcement and support to communities is helping tackle knife crime – this resulted in a drop in knife murders last year. Nobody should have to suffer anti-social behaviour and I believe that the minimum standards will mean the police respond more quickly on this key issue.

Year 12 Politics Holywell High School: As our M.P. what have you done to reduce anti-social behaviour in our community? Can you explain to us what you believe the current situation is in Holywell, Flintshire?

David replies: As Minister, I’m prioritising anti-social behaviour. Yesterday Flintshire County Council was one of the areas included in the Pathfinder Neighbourhood Agreement which will help local people to decide on the priorities in their community. I know also that the local police in North Flintshire are very visible and that Inspector Dave Roome would be happy to meet with you to discuss any concerns. Perhaps you could contact me as your MP directly on 01352763159.

Emma W: Is the ‘Policing Pledge’ an empty set of promises? How is compliance being monitored?

David replies: Thanks Emma. I can assure you that the Policing Pledge means something – real commitments such as response to 999 calls and non-emergencies, time spent on the beat and regular meetings with local people. We, through the Police Inspectorate, are monitoring how police forces perform against the pledge. And one of the things we’re pushing is for local people to be able to meet with their local Inspector to discuss issues such as police performance.

Gerald Barrass: why do police community support officers who get payed for the job of policing have no arrest powers yet special police who do not get payed for the job have. Gerald Barrass from Billingham Cleveland.

David replies: Hi Gerald. PCSOs do a great job. We now have over 16,000. We had none as recently as 2001. Their main job is to engage communities and to be visible in support of the police. We’re improving training for PCSOs and we’re giving them extra powers to tackle fireworks and graffiti as part of their work to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Sam: What is being done to cut the amount of excess paperwork and bureaucracy that takes up so much Police time?

David replies: Let me agree with you Sam – the police still do too much paperwork and there still is too much bureaucracy, but it is coming down and I’m working hard to reduce this dramatically. We’ve already cut police bureaucracy, and reduced by 50% the amount of information the government asks for, and in the Crime Bill in the House of Commons last week, I moved amendments to cut bureaucracy even further.

Andy Farrell: How can you say that in reply to NG. Every council has had standards in place since the introduction of the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act was introduced! The reason why there are problems is because the commitments made in these strategies have not been fulfilled.

David replies: Every council has had a legal obligation to produce a crime and disorder plan since 1998 but we’re now focusing on specific minimum standards to tackle anti-social behaviour. This includes a contact point, knowing what response you’ll get, and making sure the police take your concerns seriously. We’ll be announcing more on this next week.

Nathan Hazlett: What will the government do to ensure a more honest sentencing system which is proportionate to the seriousness of the crime?

David replies: There have been a few questions on sentencing. The Government believes in ensuring that we do punish individuals with strong sentences. Those who commit serious offences are spending longer in prison than a decade ago – for example we’ve just increased the maximum sentence for knife murder to 25 years. The government has built an extra 20,000 prison places and will continue to ensure that serious, dangerous and violent offenders serve longer sentences to protect the public.
John: How effective have community based initiatives been at preventing Youth Crime? (Offending & Re-offending).

David replies: John – the government has committed £100 million to the Youth Crime Action Plan which has helped put in place regular police patrols after school, Friday and Saturday night activities and tackling problem families. This intervention, coupled with strong enforcement has meant that we saw a reduction in first time entrants into the criminal justice system last year. The PM has announced measures to expand Family Intervention Projects to 50,000 families in England over the next five years.

Mr. C O’Flynn: Dear Mr. Hanson, Another 3 attacks by vicious and dangerous dogs have been reported today with loss of life being avoided only by good fortune. When will the government act to prevent this occuring? Surely people do not have a ‘right’ to own such an animal anymore than they have a ‘right’ to own a dangerous wild animal or a fire arm.The same breed or crosses are almost alway implicated. Why the inaction or delay? Sincerely C O’Flynn.

David replies: Dogs are an important issue, particularly in urban areas. The Home Secretary and the DEFRA Secretary are urgently looking at this issue and hope to make announcements shortly.

allan sayers: they say perception is reality. Although crime figures seem to have been reduced and police numbers up the perception is the opposite. How can we ensure people feel safer.

David replies: We now have a single target of public confidence. This has risen in the past 12 months from 46% to 50% of the public having confidence in the police and councils working together. We want to get this figure to 60% in the next two years. You’re right that fear of crime is important. That’s why we announced yesterday that we should make sure we have visible policing and that the public help choose policing priorities.

Ian McDowall: When does the government plan to conform to the legal requirement not to retain DNA samples from innocent people?

David replies: Last week in the House of Commons, Parliament agreed to the Government’s proposals to retain DNA for a six year period for people arrested but not convicted of a crime. This is very important as there are many cases where DNA has been instrumental in securing a conviction. We believe this conforms to legal requirements and ensures protection for the public.

Alexander: Why doesn’t life actually mean life?

David replies: A life sentence remains a life sentence and individuals who are released on license can be recalled at any time if they commit any offence. The sentence given includes a minimum term of imprisonment, and individuals are only released when assessed as being safe to return to the community.
Alexander: Why don’t we have our prisoners doing useful things when in Prison – such as being on a production line or Repairing roads and digging ditches outside Prison (which you see in the USA) – do you not think this is a waste of man power?

David replies: Hi Alexander – prison has to be about preparing people to return to normal life and the Justice Department is working hard to make sure that prisoners have employment training and skill development as part of their sentence.

For those sentenced to community sentences we have expanded community payback. You may have seen people wearing orange jackets doing work in communities that local people have voted on. You can vote for schemes by looking at Goverment announced yesterday a further £4 million of money taken back from criminals’ assets will be spent on projects you can choose next year.

Peter Knight: Are there any plans to reform the police forces, and create a national police force so that cases like the Soham murders won’t embarrass regional police forces again. There are numerous national crime units that would be better co-ordinated by one national crime detection force, and detection would be better under a national umbrella, rather than the fragmented and fiscally challenged regional forces.

David replies: We’ve looked at mergers and have said before Christmas that it’s a matter for local forces to discuss with their local communities to decide on whether a merger is possible. I’ve committed half a million pounds to support forces that wish to merge and I know that there are some forces actively considering this now. Some things like terrorism are dealt with nationally, and the Serious Organsied Crime Agency looks at national issues also.

Stephen Hardman: I manage a team of front line Social Housing team and we work with over 30 safer neighbourhood police teams, in Hampshire. Some police teams are in tune with multi agency working, using problem solving models, and sharing information with aim to prevent crime and disorder, and others quite simply are not. What measures are in place to improve this issue, so we can provide sustainable responses to local neighbourhoods in a truely balanced multi agency manner.

David replies: We’ve recognised that crime prevention is not just a matter for the police. Yesterday we strengthened the work we’re doing to get better cooperation on the ground. You’re absolutely right that partnership is key. Look at our Safe and Confident Neighbourhoods Strategy and see how you can make it work locally.

Andy Farrell: I’ve been campaigning against anti-social behaviour for over a decade. When will Government actually listen to what needs to be done and not just assume it’s listening to what needs to be done?

David replies: Andy – One of the things we announced yesterday is, by 2012, we are to introduce in England the 101 police non-emergency number which will allow issues to be raised and make it easy to report non-emergency crime. This scheme is already operating in Wales with great success and will make it easier to raise concerns and to make sure something gets done.

Robert Stokes: with regards to London 2012, Can you assure the public that the Police and security services will be given the necessary resources (technical and manpower)to provide a level of security required by such a high profile event?

David replies: The security at the Olympics is absolutely vital. We’ve committed extra resources to ensure that the Olympics in London are not just a success, but are also undertaken with the highest level of security to protect those who live in, and are visiting London.

John: While ’situational’ crime prevention is to be applauded, do you think that this should go hand in hand with ’social’ prevention in order to tackle the root causes of crime, if so what measures are being taken to encourage this by the police?

David replies: The government has always been committed to tackling the causes of crime. I mentioned earlier the youth Crime Action Plan, but we also need to extend CCTV, design better crime prevention measures and give people a say on their local priorities. The announcement yesterday included the right to petition for more CCTV and the partnership working with local councils will help tackle some of the longer-term issues that I know we face.

Thanks for all your questions. If you want more information please look at the Home Office website or your local police force website which you can access via the crime map website which also lets you see how the police are performing in your local area and what crime rates are locally.

Thanks for all the questions once again,
Best wishes, David

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