Yvette Cooper: ​We need more police in our town centres

There just aren’t enough neighbourhood police officers. Photo: Simon HulmeThere just aren’t enough neighbourhood police officers. Photo: Simon Hulme
There just aren’t enough neighbourhood police officers. Photo: Simon Hulme
High streets should be the heart of our communities – places where people can shop, meet friends or family, and where local businesses thrive. But all that is blighted if a small minority can get away with smashing windows, shoplifting, harassing shoppers and staff or causing antisocial behaviour because there just aren’t enough police to crack down and stop it.

Since the Tories came to power, neighbourhood policing has been decimated – here in the Five Towns two thirds have been cut, and town centre patrols lost. It’s a similar pattern across the country. That’s a disgrace and it means our communities are paying the price.

Everywhere in the country is being affected. Criminal damage and vandalism affecting town centres has gone up by a shocking 30 per cent in the last year alone. Yet there are 6,000 fewer neighbourhood police officers and 8,000 fewer PCSOs. Half the country say they don’t see the police on the beat any more – they are right, because neighbourhood police have been cut right back.

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Over the Easter weekend we saw disgraceful scenes around Castleford’s war memorial which should be a place of respect to the fallen. Town centre windows have also been smashed yet again with too little done. We’ve had a recent spate of burglaries affecting people and residents in Normanton. It is appalling that hard-working local businesses should be hit like this.

I have met with the West Yorkshire Chief Constable and the Wakefield Superintendent to set out the urgent need for more neighbourhood police and stronger action in our town centres and local communities. I’m also working with local councillors and Wakefield Council to call for a new action plan for our town centres – including additional patrols, better CCTV, action against key criminals, and stronger prevention. West Yorkshire Police have agreed to some additional patrols but we need to go further.

The police are overstretched and action to tackle antisocial behaviour is too weak. So I’m also calling for 13,000 more police officers and PCSOs across the country, stronger powers for repeated antisocial behaviour and neighbourhood crime, and action on prevention.

This is vital for our communities and for our local economy. M&S closes in Castleford this week after their corporate management refused to think again, shifting to out of town stores instead. After local shoppers have supported the store for over 90 years, we deserved better than this. But we need new businesses to come into town, where we have vital new investment and improvements planned by Wakefield Council.

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That’s why I believe the government must take action to tackle town centre crime and support local high street businesses by abolishing their business rates and boosting neighbourhood police patrols. Instead, ministers are ignoring local policing, and have chosen to hand out tax cuts to the richest one per cent.

After 13 years of the Conservatives, too much feels broken and things have gone backwards. That’s not good enough. We need common sense, practical action to boost our town centres, tackle the antisocial behaviour of a minority and build a better future.

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