Brown outlines plans for fight against crime

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown today set out new measures to tackle anti-social behaviour, as he put the fight against the fear of crime and yobbery at the heart of the general election battle.

The Prime Minister accused the Conservatives of ramping up the fear of crime by "abusing" statistics and spreading the "fiction" that Britain is a broken society.

And he warned that David Cameron's party would "politicise" the police by introducing elections for top officers.

Mr Brown repeated pledges that Labour will protect frontline policing against cuts as the Government seeks to halve the state deficit in four years.

He also said he wanted policing to be more "visible", with neighbourhood officers spending 80% of their time on the beat and patrolling singly rather than in pairs.

Speaking to an audience of police officers in Reading, Mr Brown said that he would legislate in the next session if Labour is re-elected to give victims of serious anti-social behaviour a "guarantee of protection".

Citing the case of Fiona Pilkington, who killed herself and her disabled daughter after failing to receive protection against bullies, Mr Brown said that victims should be supported in getting legal injunctions, with the costs paid by the agencies who had let them down.

He confirmed plans for a new non-emergency number to inform police about anti-social behaviour and said that from today there would be an expectation that anyone breaching an anti-social behaviour order (Asbo) will be prosecuted, and that the parents of those under 16 would also face action.

Mr Brown said the Conservatives were wrong to oppose the extension of CCTV schemes and the retention of DNA samples from people who are arrested but not convicted, and promised that both would be "on the ballot paper" in the coming election.

And he was scornful of shadow home secretary Chris Grayling's comparison of Britain with The Wire - pointing out that the city of Baltimore, where the TV cop show is set, experiences almost 200 fatal shootings a year among a population of around two-thirds of a million, compared to 39 in England and Wales.

Mr Brown quoted the British Crime Survey as proof that crime was down by more than a third since 1997, with 6 million fewer crimes each year including fewer burglaries and violent incidents and the lowest number of homicides for a decade.

He accepted that despite these figures, fear of crime and anti-social behaviour continued to rise.

But, in a direct attack on the Conservative rhetoric of "broken Britain", he argued: "You don't tackle the fear of crime by cultivating it, by ramping up a public sense of panic, by abusing the figures and claiming our society is broken."

Mr Brown added: "In the fight against crime we must always be vigilant. But we must also be careful. There are those who spread fear with fiction. Today I want to talk about the facts."

The Prime Minister said: "I greatly resent those who seek to talk down what has been achieved in our communities. We will never accept the simplistic and defeatist argument that our communities are 'broken'.

"Let us go back once more to the facts: a society in which not just crime and anti-social behaviour but also child poverty, illiteracy, and ill health have all fallen, cannot be called a broken society.

"I know there are problems, but I also know that there is nothing bad in Britain that cannot be fixed by what is good in Britain. We have it within ourselves not just to reduce crime but to reduce the fear of crime in our society."

Mr Brown said ministers had to take people's fear of crime and anti-social behaviour seriously, even if statistics showed the risk of becoming a victim was actually falling.

"I understand that it is not just crime and anti-social behaviour, but fear of crime, and fear of anti-social behaviour, that can damage our communities," he said.

And he added: "The risk of being a victim of crime today is the lowest since the British Crime Survey began in 1981. These are the facts.

"But we have to understand when people still fear crime and anti-social behaviour, that too is a fact. Any serious debate about crime must start by acknowledging that...

"We know the realities of crime, and we are dealing with them - with steady, measurable success.

"The challenge for the future is to have the same radical impact on the fear of crime and anti-social behaviour."

Mr Brown said he wanted to keep up the effort to "crack" the problem of loutishness: "We were the first Government to recognise the damage that anti-social behaviour was doing to the soul of our communities.

"We were the first to address it. We were first to legislate to tackle it. And we will be the first to crack it.

"Because I know that, while we've made real progress, people are still worried about anti-social behaviour. And if they are worried, I'm worried.

"So that means stepping up our fight against those who terrorise our neighbourhoods, intimidate decent people on our streets, and seek to make us fearful in our own homes.

"Let me tell you, there is no place and no excuse for those who perpetrate anti-social behaviour in my Britain."

Mr Brown warned Chief Constables that it was "not acceptable" for them to dodge new targets to have neighbourhood officers on the beat for 80% of the time by claiming it was too bureaucratic to measure.

And he issued a challenge to police authorities not to reduce numbers of police or community support officers. Government spending plans will allow them to maintain numbers on the frontline, he insisted.

In a swipe at Tory plans for elected sheriffs, Mr Brown said: "The operational independence of chief officers is a vital constitutional principle in Great Britain - and one that I believe no politician should tamper with. So we will protect our police, not politicise them."