Where have all the police gone? That question isn’t just rhetorical, but is one that is being commonly asked when we knock on doors around the district.
Simply put, there is now no routine police presence on our streets. Even the Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), the not-quite-police force created to plug gaps left by the withdrawal of beat bobbies seem to have disappeared.
This isn’t just a matter for handwringing shows of regret. Crime rates have risen across the country as this austerity obsessed shambles of a government has cut 20,000 police officers: that’s right, 20,000 – since 2009.
In Kent, there are 532 fewer police now than in 2010, a cut of 14%. This is why the only time you see them now is when they are dashing to the scene of a crime or an accident.
PCSO numbers are also down nationally by 40%. So where there used to be at least one PCSO for each ward in the district, at best now they cover two wards, and often there are vacancies which simply don’t get covered at all. As a result, there is nothing even remotely like neighbourhood policing taking place in Canterbury.
Why has this happened? Directly as a result of a 20% cut in the core funding of police budgets, at a time when the things that drive some people to crime, like poverty, unemployment and debt, are rising dramatically.
The effects are evident throughout the city.
Dane John and Westgate Gardens are becoming more and more unruly, not helped by the absence of any real council staff presence. So too the City centre at night. Drivers are speeding not only on main roads but around the housing estates without any fear of being nicked. Anti-social behaviour is on the rise, as many of the residents I’ve spoken to confirm. Night-time noise, litter, drug dealing, careless driving, bad parking, abuse and vandalism are becoming the norm.
Across the country, violent crime is up, while our people despair of getting any response from the police even when they do report a crime.
These issues are not trivial. They blight the lives of our communities every day, creating fear even among people who haven’t been victims.
If these cuts continue, as they are planned to do, by the end of this year there will be fewer police officers than at any time since the 1970s. Already, police numbers have fallen proportionally well behind as the population has grown.
This isn’t just reckless, a failure to think through the effects of cuts by the government. It is an entirely deliberate policy with predictable results, since the impact on crime rates has followed the pattern of previous cuts in police numbers under the Tories. The policy is being pursued without the slightest concern for the people it affects most.
It may be considered crude of me to point this out, but those people are most likely to be less well off and less likely to vote Tory. Which is why putting them at risk while taxes for the wealthy are cut is considered acceptable by this government by the rich for the rich.
Perhaps, if Anti-Social Behaviour Orders are a way of preventing crime, it’s time we served one on this government.