Estate where detection of crime trebled

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR says the Walpole estate in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, is an ideal hot spot, so perhaps it was only right that I was accosted by a 12-year-old boy two minutes after arriving. "Hey mister," said the youngster who called himself Daniel, "I want compensation. Someone's nicked me bike."

And indeed they had. An hour after Daniel "found" his new bike, someone else on the pebble-dashed council estate had decided to "find" it too.

But Daniel's artful dodging is a mere blip. Four years ago this was wild Walpole in Huddersfield's Crosland Moor area. Burglary, disorder and violent crime was through the roof. Gangs of youths roamed and terrorised with impunity.

Walpole is by no means the worst ghetto Britain has produced. It's very average. Just over 340 houses cling to the steep Walpole Road that marks the boundary for the gangs that live here.

In 1994, the Home Office chose this estate for a pilot project called "Biteback"; the theory being that most victims end up being repeatedly targeted, particularly for burglary. Huddersfield Police Division targeted burglars and protected the victims. In short, instead of blanket zero- tolerance policing it adopted quality not quantity. It worked.

Four years later, repeat burglaries are down 70 per cent, burglaries throughout the division have been halved to 2,000 and crime detection trebled. Biteback was adopted force-wide and has been implemented by other forces.

Detective Chief Inspector Chris Gregg, at Huddersfield CID, puts the success down to a new system of intelligence gathering and crime-pattern analysis. Knowledge is power, he says. And that knowledge now comes from a range of grassroots sources. Taxi drivers, postal workers, milkmen, shopkeepers and landlords have all been enlisted.

This allows Det Chief Insp Gregg's officers to take the trouble-makers out of circulation. He prefers not to use phrases such as "zero tolerance" to describe the tactics. "We don't agree with zero tolerance. There's simply no point in deploying officers at random hoping to catch someone doing something. You must target your resources effectively."

Those resources include the use of special constables who work the area building relations. A six-strong gang was caught and locked up and the trouble evaporated. After the members' release they apparently reformed their ways. A local film-maker involved then in acting and has now charted the gang's activities and experiences in a 30-minute documentary to be shown locally on the big screen and cable television.

"They've become the estate's luvvies," said one officer. "But if they had a chance of making a dodgy 50 quid, I'm sure they'd still take it."

What They Said

ANOTHER party conference, another crackdown on crime. A brief history of Home Secretary conference speeches of the past 20 years shows neither party has been shy about indulging in shamelessly populist rhetoric.

October 1988, Brighton. Douglas Hurd can't resist pandering to conference withpledges to introduce a new extradition law and a measures to seize terrorist funds - both of which were repeated in Jack Straw's recent anti- terror Bill. "We want to prevent London from being a haven for foreign criminals whom our friends want to bring to justice."

October 1990, Bournemouth. David Waddington tells the hangers and floggers what they want to hear. "I am absolutely sure in my own mind that some people minded to commit murder would be deterred from doing so if capital punishment existed." Mr Waddington also pre-empted Mr Straw with pledges to extend by-laws to "sweep drunken louts off the streets" .

October 1994, Bournemouth. Michael Howard delivers 27-point package, including measures to remove the right to silence. Less than half of the plan was implemented.

October 1995, Blackpool. Mr Howard goes one step further, with longer sentences for habitual offenders. "Some people won't like it. They'll say it's too tough. I've got a simple answer. If you don't want the time, don't do the crime. No half-time sentences for full-time crimes," he said.

October 1997, Brighton. Weeks before his son is arrested for drug possession, Jack Straw dismisses calls to legalise cannabis "Drugs wreck lives, we will not legitimise their use." He promises to make race violence and harassment a specific offence. "I want zero tolerance of crime in our neighbourhoods."