The Tories are calling for the police force to be given the biggest shake-up in its 173-year history, emphasising zero tolerance of petty crime.
In a policy speech yesterday, Oliver Letwin, the shadow Home Secretary, outlined plans for a new era of "neighbourhood policing", under which individual officers would be allocated small designated areas to patrol.
They would be constantly vigilant for low-level offences, such as graffiti, drug dealing and fly-tipping, on the basis that these could develop into more serious crimes. An "anti-vandal hotline" would be established for the public to alert police to the minor crimes that can blight an area and begin its decline into lawlessness.
Mr Letwin's plans marked a change of emphasis for the Conservatives, whose law and order policies have stressed the importance of deterrents for criminals. He told a party meeting in London that tough sentences and high-level policing would never be sufficient on their own, adding: "The neighbourly society is the most important defence we have against crime."
Mr Letwin said he had been impressed by a recent visit to New York, where murder rates have dropped by 80 per cent and violent crime is down by 75 per cent. "New York is now noticeably a safer and more pleasant city to live in than London. The city is cleaner; there is less low-level disorder. The morale of ordinary policemen is far higher."
With the message that Britain had to learn lessons from America, he said: "What I am proposing is the biggest change to policing since the foundation of the police service by Robert Peel. It is still the case that failure to deal with minor crimes will create the conditions from which major crimes arise."
Mr Letwin added: "American cities have shown, over the past decade, how a true combination of conventional policing and neighbourhood policing can be used to crack crime."
He acknowledged that his vision of neighbourhood policing echoed this week's anti- mugging initiative by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary.
But he said: "The Government is moving in this general direction sporadically, with quick fixes. The difference is I am saying we need to do it full-scale, right the way across the country and quickly, rather than in bits and pieces."
But the Home Office minister Bob Ainsworth accused the opposition of passing off repackaged government proposals as original thinking.
He said: "Oliver Letwin talks a good talk, but the facts speak for themselves. Labour has delivered a fall in crime and record police numbers. The Tories let police numbers fall while crime doubled."Reuse content