Sometimes when you look at the National news with tales of Child Abuse, Murder and Terrorism it could be easy to forget that we live in the safest county in one of the safest and most decent countries in the World.
We live in a country where racism, religious bigotry and mistreatment of women are not tolerated under our laws. It’s the birthplace of democracy, a country where our Healthcare, Universities, Social Welfare system, Justice and way of life is still the envy of the World. People both rich and poor want to come and live here, to raise their families, build businesses or just grow old.
Despite the World financial crisis our economy is beginning to recover; more people are likely to be in work in the future and more investment into our country is likely to happen in the future.
There are many reasons we find ourselves in this fortunate position.
One that is often forgotten is that we are a society that underpins our economy and way of life by the maintenance of order. Corruption, Violent crime, Fraud and Anti- Social Behaviour are all relatively rare experiences for us. We can go to work, educate our children and build businesses being confident that the selfish and criminal will not spoil things for us.
But things are changing, fast. As our society becomes more complex, diverse and crowded, the threats to our future wellbeing and that of our children are increasing. The new era of high speed internet has brought about big changes as to how bad people go about their predation on us.
It is now very easy for terrorists to communicate unheard and unseen on hidden internet sites, paedophiles and those who wish to groom teenagers or vulnerable women have ideal tools in the form of such marvellous networking sites as Facebook. Meanwhile there probably isn’t a single one of us who has not received a bogus begging email for a relative needing an airline ticket or medical treatment in some foreign country.
Mobile phones provide easy means for organised criminals to con our elderly in rogue trading scams posing as bogus council inspectors. We saw how useful they were to criminals in the riots of 2011 when the looters used the latest software messaging systems to get ahead of the Police in their attempts to quell the problems.
Meanwhile organised criminals continue to exploit the inquisitiveness of our young by bringing yet more designer drugs or “legal highs” to our streets.
More important our “traditional criminals” haven’t gone away, they still burgle our houses and steal from our cars - it happened to me two months ago on my drive!
Its worries me to think that often our Surrey residents are late for work in London due to signal failures on the railway resulting from criminals stealing the cable. We lose our economic edge through the lost time this causes, meanwhile our competitors abroad buy scrap copper (the stolen cable) and use it to build infrastructure to help them compete more cheaply against us.
Why am I saying this as your Police and Crime Commissioner? I was elected to try and make our county safer, but I now realise it is becoming increasingly more difficult to do so; in fact I predict things will get worse. The reason is simple: In the face of the need to reduce public spending the Government is making the wrong choices.
The cuts to all the agencies involved in keeping us safer are now having a real impact on their effectiveness; it leaves many gaps for the criminals to exploit. Our Crown Prosecution Service, the people who prosecute suspects have been slashed, if a Surrey detective now wants to get legal advice on a serious case they have to sometimes wait weeks to do so . Our Court Service has seen similar cuts with magistrate’s courts closing across the county; hopefully you won’t be a witness or indeed a victim experiencing less than local justice.
But what of our Prisons? Yes I don’t want them to be welcoming and a place you would want to go back to but I would like them to attempt to rehabilitate offenders to come out and contribute. With staff reductions such ideas are for the most part pie in the sky with offenders locked in their cells sometimes for up to twenty three hours a day with no chance of education or the opportunity to confront their wrongdoing behaviour. When the inmates are released, often they are pushed out the prison gates with £47, sent to a hostel full of other criminals and left to effectively fend for themselves. They couldn’t go straight if they wanted to. It’s such a disgrace that I am personally mentoring a violent career criminal who was released recently. I hope maybe I can help him transform his life. Frankly after a former police career spent locking them up it appals me ; we shouldn’t be surprised at so many reoffending.
As for the police, like their colleagues in the Criminal justice system, I find nearly all of them do their best, but they are suffering swingeing cuts. Even having sold off most of our police stations the long term prospects for Surrey Police maintaining its current level of service are not good. Yes in the past year crime has fallen by 8% and arrests for Anti-Social Behaviour are up by as much as 15%, but as the cuts start to take effect this will not go on. Things will get worse, we will lose staff and cut even further into the current less than adequate levels of training received at all levels. There will be more failings and mistakes.
I foresee a Perfect Storm developing for the benefit of criminals; the effects will be worse elsewhere in the country where budgets have not been planned as well as here.
What am I going to do about it you ask; it’s the PCC’s job isn’t it?
Well I’m doing something about it now, I’m telling you we need to underpin our safety and prosperity and in the face of Government cuts, I am asking you if you are prepared to put your hand in your pocket or purse and make up the difference. That is why over the coming months you will hear more talk of a referendum on whether you are prepared to pay more for your Police precept in the Council Tax. I reckon about £1 a week more from a band D tax payer will enable us to not only maintain our current levels of visible policing but also improve things especially on Child Exploitation and Fraud. That means instead of four pounds a week the bill will be five.
This is a democracy, that’s why I am going to ask you, tell me what you think.
But remember, I can’t do miracles. So if like me you are concerned about your sense of safety let me know and we will all pay a little more.
The good thing is, if you don’t like the honesty of my message you can always vote for someone else next time.