Most people see crime and antisocial behaviour as serious problems. These are often in the news, and people imagine that they could be the next victim. But Police statistics indicate that Kirkstall ward is among the safest places in Leeds, with serious crime rates a fraction of those in neighbouring areas. Even one crime is one too many, so how might the situation be improved?.

Serious crimes are national news, and it is easy to imagine that we live in a dangerous world. In reality, people are far more likely to be killed or injured in motor car accidents than to suffer violence at the hands of thieves or murderers. Despite the newspaper stories, police statistics show that "priority crime" has fallen steadily in recent years.

Priority crime includes burglary, robbery, and car thefts – the crimes that most affect most ordinary people. Serious violence is rare and quite often there are no local cases during each accounting period. National figures suggest that gun crime is increasing especially in relation to drug "turf wars". This is worrying, although these crimes are still extremely rare, and so far they have not been an issue in Kirkstall.

Even the most trivial crimes can be a serious problem for the victims, but the best way to reduce crime depends on the type of offence:

One problem was easily solved. During the worst years of the Thatcher government over 3 million people were out of work, and many youngsters had no prospects whatsoever. "The Devil makes work for idle hands to do" and crimes were born from sheer frustration. Full employment was a massive success for New Labour, and the crime rate fell steeply as Britain got back to work again.

Prison works?

Petty thefts and robberies are often carried out to feed a drug habit. A minority of prolific offenders commit the majority of offences. To protect the public, it would clearly help to lock up repeat offenders for as long as legally possible. This seems to upset some Lib Dem "do gooders" but we don't see a problem with it. Treating the addiction might be better, if only we could find a way to do it.

Imprisonment will definitely cut the crime rate but is unlikely to result in permanent cures. It costs nearly £30,000 per year to keep each prisoner in jail, and many re-offend soon after release. Prisons can be "universities of crime" introducing people to new partners and criminal skills. Many existing prisoners have mental health problems. We need effective alternatives to prison for first offenders and those who might be weaned away from a wasted life.

Community punishment?

Jailing repeat offenders to protect the public may be justified, but it is an expensive solution that rarely produces long-term cures. It costs £90 per day to keep each offender in jail, so it makes sense to look for cheaper and more effective treatments.

First offenders are normally sentenced to Community Punishment, which means doing unpaid work that may also include a training element. A successful scheme has operated almost unnoticed in Kirkstall for many years. There have been relatively few problems and hardly anyone knows it is there.

At present the maximum sentence is 300 hours. This is not sufficient for effective training if the offender is unemployed. It is sometimes difficult to find suitable work for offenders, since criminals must not take existing jobs from law-abiding citizens. Completely new projects are ideal, and for this reason we support the use of community punishment trainees to construct the proposed new public park in the Kirkstall Valley.

Better policing

Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) were a Labour Government initiative, which has greatly improved neighbourhood policing and contacts between the police and local communities. They are largely paid for out of central government funds. This doesn't stop local councillors trying to steal the credit for them! Some people have received a “crime survey” from the Liberal Democrats, which is a fine way of spreading alarm, and seeming to care deeply, without doing anything practical about it. The Police statistics are clear – adjacent wards represented by Liberal Democrat councillors have much higher crime rates than Kirkstall Ward.

Crime flourishes in transit areas with many private landlords and short term lets. Kirkstall has a more settled population where most people know their neighbours. The Labour councillors in Kirkstall have been more successful at controlling bad landlords than the councillors in adjacent wards. Kirkstall PCSOs are often redeployed to deal with crime in Headingley or Hyde Park. Much of the crime and antisocial behaviour in Kirkstall is committed by intruders from areas with Liberal Democrat councillors.

Anti-social behaviour

Kirkstall councillors receive many complaints about threatening behaviour by teenagers gathered near shops. These groups are often bored with little to do, since Kirkstall has not received its fair share of youth funding under the present Lib Dem / Tory coalition. It can be difficult to decide when rude, unpleasant behaviour turns into a criminal offence, so many of these incidents are not reported to the Police. ASBOs are a Labour innovation which can help in serious cases, but we should not criminalise young people without sufficient cause. Instead we are trying to curb the supply of alcohol and experimenting with diversionary activities, using sports clubs, traditional youth organisations, and also "youth shelters" for hard to reach groups, located away from shopping areas.

Last updated 29 November 2008 at 20:40. Back to the top

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Promoted by John Illingworth, 37 Kirkwood Way, Leeds LS16 7EU