The following is taken from an article by Chi first published in The Journal’s print edition on Friday 14th September 2018.
Yesterday’s NAO report highlighted how negligent Ministers are unaware of the impact of police cuts on our streets. My day with Northumbria Police last week showed me how the Police protect us not only from the baddies in our communities but those in Government too.
Before my day on patrol I knew cuts were having an impact. I meet regularly with both our Chief Inspector Karl Wilson and our Chief Superintendent Neil Hutchinson to discuss local policing issues from knife crime to fly tipping. I have a close working relationship with the Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird to keep up to date on policing policy as well as the dire state of police funding. I invite the police to my regular Ward Summits which brings community stakeholders together to discuss local issues so I can prioritise them in Parliament. And I follow closely as my colleague and Shadow Policing Minister Louise Haigh champions the great work our police do despite having their funding and numbers slashed. I thought I was familiar with the state of policing in political terms.
But a day with the police taught me so much, not only about the job they do but the absolute dedication they bring to doing that job without proper Government support.
10am found me at Forth Banks Daily Management Meeting where the NewcastleGateshead team share updates on overnight arrests, intelligence, appeals to the public, court appearance and any other issues. I got an idea of just how much is going on in the Command area, from robberies to sexual assaults and anti-social behaviour. As team leaders read out how many inspectors, police officers and community support officers they would have on duty that day I was told that was down by a third since 2010. Northumbria has lost 1000 officers in that time and that translates directly into a third less police out on our streets. Tory claims that crime would go down even with fewer police officers have been shown to be false the stats have crime rising particularly for violent offences and peoples’ experience bears that out.
From Forth Banks I went to Ponteland to spend some time with the Communications team. Large screens displayed the numbers of calls at that moment. I sat with an agent, looking at a map of Spital Tongues scarily alive with emergency calls. I learnt that calls were up by thousands– but staff numbers significantly reduced.
After a short and fortunately uneventful patrol I returned to Forth Banks to tour the 50-cell Custody Suite. Everyone brought i is subject to an extensive and time-consuming risk assessment that can result in round the clock monitoring to prevent self harm. Whereas before there had been a separate remand team, now officers are taken from the response team, reducing further the number of police on our streets. The cells themselves were bare and frightening – they would certainly sober anyone up.
At 10pm I started a two hour night-time patrol – single crewed with the local Bronze Command Inspector Steve Wykes. As we walked streets crowded with people best described as very merry, we discussed the challenges – drunkenness, anti-social behaviour, safe-guarding, begging, homelessness… The Police are having to deal with the impact of cuts in public services from health to housing. They are improving their processes – having mental health specialists in the Custody Suite for example – but that can’t make up for such drastic cuts. When we had a call to respond to a drunk and disorderly in a metro station the Inspector was the only police officer available – and he was far more concerned for my safety than his own. We did meet others who support our night time economy – the Night Pastors as well as the St Johns Ambulance – but it was clear to me that police resource were extremely stretched for so many merry Geordies and visitors on a Friday night.
My day with the police taught me that they are protecting us not only from the wrong-doers on the streets but the wrong-doers in Government too. The ‘thin blue line’ is stemming the consequences of slashed youth services, rising homelessness, poverty and mental health issues as well as cyber crime, historical sex abuse and current-day sexual exploitation and trafficking. What struck me was the dedication, commitment and genuine warmth of the police officers and support staff – giving up breaks, working unpaid overtime, going that extra mile to keep us safe. They deserve to be properly funded in the high pressured and often dangerous job they do. The Tories aren’t going to do that, a Labour Government will.