Neill Harvey-Smith hopes the new Police and Crime Commissioner will leave policing to the Thin Blue Line and tackle the Thick Red Fog of fear and powerlessness.
A woman found notes left on her car, telling her she shouldn’t park at a particular spot at the side of the road. She checked with the police and they confirmed she could legally park there. So she continued – and her car was vandalised.
I read this story on the front page of a local newspaper last week. My first reaction was sympathy – for the frustration, the cost, the injustice that the woman did nothing wrong and was victimised. My second was surprise – why is this in a newspaper? Isn’t this just what happens?
Last year, I chatted to a PCSO who was following up reports that my car had been ‘abandoned’ outside my home. He confirmed that the car was parked legally. Days later, I found it covered in scratches and short of a wing mirror.
It never crossed my mind to report it to the police. I suppose I bracketed it together with the crisp packets and drinks bottles strewn outside the front door, the beer cans left on the wall, passing teenagers banging on the windows as we try to put the babies to sleep. It’s just what happens.
Official figures show a sharp reduction in crime across Staffordshire as a whole last year, with some of the crimes we fear the most – violence, burglary, robbery, car crime ““ falling dramatically. While there are notable exceptions – hotspots of burglary in Burslem and Tunstall, and higher car crime across Stoke Central – overall, we are safer than we were a year ago.
Yet many of us live in a thick red fog – a feeling of threat, a sense of danger around the corner, an acceptance of low-level crime and bad behaviour as a fact of life in our street, a sense we have to put up with it, the feeling that we just have to get on with our lives, in case things get worse.
The Thin Blue Line is doing its part. Last year, 89% of victims in Staffordshire were satisfied with the overall service provided by the Police, which is a high figure by national standards.
I hope the new Police and Crime Commissioner will deal with the Thick Red Fog. A much lower number of people – 72% – agree that the police deal with things that matter to their community. Electing a single high-profile Commissioner, accountable to us, able to speak with authority directly to the Chief Constable, has the potential to give us all a voice. He or she won’t be able to follow up every crisp wrapper. But neither do we have to feel that policing is a take-it-or-leave-it service. Getting together with neighbours, we will have an outlet for our concerns, and can start to take ownership of our streets.
Changing this culture of powerlessness, lifting the fog, is my big hope for the Staffordshire Police and Crime Commissioner. What’s yours?