Letter: Police can and should do more than catch criminals

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Sir: In the aftermath of the devastating condemnation of certain aspects of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill during its second reading in the House of Lords last Tuesday, the Home Secretary will have had drawn to his attention the extract from John Alderson's paper in the series Violation of Rights in Britain ('Hark, the minister of police approaches', 19 January).

Mr Howard claims to be pursuing a policy aimed at making the police forces more efficient, based on his contention that the job of the police is to catch criminals. No one should quarrel with either of these propositions. But I know from past acquaintance that John Alderson and, I believe, most other senior police officers would maintain that a prior task for the police is to prevent crime. While Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall he was a pioneer of 'community policing', in which he succeeded in drawing to the support of his force all relevant organisations and individual citizens. Aside from security measures, the outstanding feature of this initiative was the development of constructive programmes in the community which involved young people at risk of offending.

If Mr Howard will heed the warnings he has received within and outside of Parliament, about the consequences of pursuing unflinchingly his current policies for dealing with crime; if he will accept the police have an important role to play in addressing the wider problems that lead to many kinds of offence - particularly among young people; if he has the good sense and humility to widen his perspective beyond the narrowly punitive line he appears to adopt at present; if he will act in accordance with this more humane and enlightened policy, then the Home Secretary will earn the respect of those of his critics in the judiciary, the police, the probation and social services - to say nothing about his predecessors in office - and others who, like myself, have had a long involvement in penal policy, which he does not command at present.

Yours sincerely,




20 January