The first thing anyone interested in policing wants to know is: what will reduce crime?
On this, people divide into two camps.
There are those who take a firm line on punishment. They say stiffer sentences deter criminals. Even if they don’t deter, if people are locked up, they can’t commit more crime, at least not in the community.
On the other hand, there are those who say, as long as you have young men (crime is mainly about men) with little chance of a job, who get involved with drugs and alcohol, you will get crime. You need to get upstream of crime by providing jobs, tackling substance abuse and homelessness, and so on.
We have a lot of theorising, a lot of opinions, and not always much evidence.
As Police and Crime Commissioner I’m interested in the evidence. What works according to the facts on the ground.
Generally, the evidence suggests that there is no single or simple answer to crime reduction. However, the chances are you need both the appropriate sentence and the preventive work.
Take knife crime. While knife crimes have been going up in most of the UK, they fell in Glasgow – by an astonishing 70% in ten years. What they did in Glasgow was create a Violence Reduction Unit which was not just about law enforcement, but also tackled those issues of addiction, homelessness and unemployment. That involved the NHS, the local authority and voluntary bodies as well as the police, working together.
They helped turn some lives round.
This has been widely reported. What has not been so widely reported is that at the same time Glasgow also had intensive stop and search.
However, two years ago they abandoned this part of the policy fearing it had a bad effect on community cohesion. Knife crime is now rising again – up 4.4% last year.
In Sheffield I have been meeting mothers from ethnic minority groups who don’t want the carrying of knives to become normal behaviour. They fear for their children’s safety.
So they are not against stop and search, provided that it is fair and proportionate: it has a deterrent effect. They also favour the stiff sentence that can follow a knife crime.
They have not always thought like this; but now they do.
We need to get the balance right. Tackling jobs, houses and employment is crucial. But enforcement also has its place.
By Dr Alan Billings, Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire