Friday, 23 April 2010

Election 2010: Smart on Crime

The latest crime figures show an increase in violence over the last year on the government's preferred measure, the British Crime Survey (BCS). Even then, critics say that the BCS undercounts violence. It doesn't count murders - the most serious violence. It doesn't count repeated attacks beyond five offences - so it ignores tragic cases like Fiona Pilkington, the mother who committed suicide and killed her daughter, after police failed to respond to 33 complaints of bullying. And, until very recently it didn't count crime against those under 16 years old. In fact, the Home Office is urgently reviewing the BCS, because even Labour Ministers fear it overlooks violence against young people. And the local picture? According to the neighbourhood police statistics, violent attacks in Elmbridge have doubled since 2001.

So what is the Conservative answer?

First, if you don't count crime properly, you can't cut it. A Conservative government would make the commissioning and production of crime statistics totally independent of the Home Office - to prevent political fiddling of the crime figures.

Second, we need to cut the reams of paper work tying police officers to their desks, and make local police accountable to the local community - not Whitehall targets. A Conservative government would introduce locally elected police commissioners to make that happen. Surrey police are currently engaged in a county-wide review. I have written an open letter to the chair of the police authority, setting out what I believe Elmbridge needs to strengthen visible and responsive local policing. You can read it here.

Third, we need a clear and consistent message on drugs. Labour have sent out mixed messages on cannabis and other drugs. A Conservative government will send the clear and unequivocal message that drugs ruin lives and fuel crime, as demonstrated by our recent call for mephedrone to be banned (so the impact of the drug can be properly tested). We also need to do more to get addicts off drugs. At the moment, Labour policy is to dump most jailed addicts on methadone, a substitute dependency that does not cure their long-term addiction. It is a sticking plaster solution, and we need a stronger emphasis on abstinence-based rehabilitation, because getting prisoners to go clean is the best way to get them to go straight.

Fourth, we need to provide enough prison places to avoid Labour's disastrous early release scheme - that saw 80,000 criminals let out of jail early. But, the prison regime must also be made much more constructive, so we cut can re-offending rates. We need a greater emphasis on drug rehabilitation, training and getting prisoners to work where possible - so they can develop skills, and pay compensation to their victims. The Liberal Democrat policy of abolishing prison sentences of 6 months or less is irresponsible, putting public safety at risk. According to the most recent sentencing data for 2008, it would leave tens of thousands of criminals on the streets each year - including burglars, drug dealers, knife offenders and sex offenders.

Finally, we need to promote more positive activities for young people. I have visited a range of youth groups, from Hersham Youth center (see below, on bonfire night) to Sunbury and Walton Sea cadets. These are the kinds of inspiring local community organisations I would support as your MP.


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