Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Property Values : Should we give higher priority to lower level crime?

Whatever you think of their ideas, there’s little doubt that Think Tank Policy Exchange has exercised considerable influence on crime and justice developments in the last few years.  Recommendations for Police and Crime Commissioners, tougher community sentences and bigger cheaper prisons can all be found in PX reports and while their closest links are with the Conservatives, the charity can boast connections with all parties. Tottenham MP David Lammy  is a Fellow and today presented the fruits of his labours :  a report called Taking Its Toll The Regressive Impact of Property Crime in Britain. Somehow I can't see it joining the list of PX policy successes.

All in all it’s a disappointing piece of work whose central tenet that there is a property crime epidemic sweeping across Britain seems manifestly untrue. The latest Crime Survey found thefts to be at their lowest level since the survey began in 1981. Yes 4.2 million is a big number. But a whole range of action has been taken in recent years to address the problem, which gets only cursory attention in the report. Of course there’s more to be done and some of Lammy's recommendations for better prevention and data analysis are sensible ones. But his call for a return to proper neighbourhood policing, focussing on what matters to the community, seems in the current financial climate pie in the sky.

Lammy also overcooks his argument by claiming that that property crime enjoys a "de facto decriminalisation". Try telling that to the 30,000 people sentenced to custody last year for theft offences- about a third of the total who went to jail. Lammy wants courts to send more – at least that’s what I think he means by “implementing a penalties escalator”.  There’s hardly any mention of restorative justice or rehabilitation which could break the cycle of reoffending he deplores.  He’s right that the victims of burglaries and other serious crime deserve better treatment by the system. But his argument is not helped by lumping together a disparate range of offences. At his launch event there was talk of devastating impact on victims in the same breath as concern about London’s 20,000 bike thefts. I’ve had countless bikes nicked over the years.  I actually got one back -the police told me they have loads that owners never reclaim.  But I could not really argue that the police should devote more resources to investigating the thefts. There are just more important things for them to do.

And that is the nub of the problem. The police have to make choices and priorities, all the more if they are to face a further 20% cut in resources. As would be mayor does he really want them to spend more time on low level misdemeanours at the expense of knife crime, child abuse or terrorism; or indeed of the cyber- crime through which more and more people are likely to suffer losses?  

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