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Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.
With all the political distractions, those in charge have lost touch with reality when their prime responsibility is to keep people safe. This is especially important as crime levels soar – and we all need to understand why.
In Ipswich, residents remain shocked by the murder of an 18-year-old man in the heart of the town centre, outside M & S, close to the Town Hall, at 3.25 pm on Tuesday, 17th January. Emergency services responded quickly but were unable to save him, with a post-mortem confirming he had been stabbed four times. The following day, a 35-year-old man suffered puncture wounds to the chest in a robbery close to the town centre, fortunately surviving after hospital treatment.
There have been a number of serious knife-related incidents in the town in recent months, with a senior Police Officer acknowledging the devastating impact on the community.
In an interview with the Ipswich Evening Star, he explained that ‘despite working tirelessly, we weren’t able to prevent what happened, but this ties into a larger cultural issue around a willingness to carry weapons and the willingness to engage in this kind of offending.
“What we are competing with here is not just criminals but people that are culturally engaging in a different way of life than what we are used to.”
He further commented that:
“What is particularly acute about these incidents is we are seeing what the rest of the country is seeing which is more brazen and daylight assaults rather than in the evening…. We will continue to arrest offenders and take a lot of proactive action.”
Within days, two teenagers were arrested for the murder and held in custody, pending court appearances.
The police increased their presence in the town centre, and were granted extended stop and search powers for a period, as local people mourned the loss of the young man, with church services, and flowers at the scene.
The senior officer acknowledged that post-covid, “we have seen a slight increase in violence, but that is at a common assault level.” How right he was. Days later my middle-aged male neighbour was beaten up by a supposedly ‘homeless’ man, as he walked through the town about 9 pm, leaving him with serious back injuries, unable to work.
Like so many other towns across the country, Ipswich has lost key retailers in the last couple of years, and incidents like these are unlikely to encourage future inward investment when people are too scared to travel into the town centre for market day, to visit a restaurant, cinema or theatre. The most commonly used word is: terrifying.
Lack of custom adds to remaining traders’ financial worries as their costs continue to rise. Nor does it help when major retailers are complaining about losing £30,000 a week to shoplifters in their big stores, and £10,000 in their neighbourhood stores; even charity shops are targeted by small groups on a daily basis, stealing hundreds of pounds worth of donated goods.
People are even wary of walking through the wonderful Ipswich parks, fearful of the inevitable drug dealers which the police and park wardens try to control. Protecting your car from theft or a break-in is another worry.
But, instead of praising, and supporting, the police, who are struggling to contain criminal activity, all we hear from politicians (and much of the media) is criticism of those (male) officers in the Metropolitan Police who committed murders and other serious offences. The Met is one of several forces in special measures for its failures in preventing crime and enforcing the law.
Of course, it is right in our free society that forces are challenged to review procedures, ensuring evil officers are ‘outed’, yet their numbers are tiny in comparison with the many thousands of men and women who sign up to devote their lives to protecting people. Instead of undermining trust in our Police, with an endless culture of blame, adding to public fear, they deserve respect, the resources and confidence to actually do their job: policing by consent.
As a councillor, I worked closely with my neighbourhood police team, who were invaluable in identifying issues which needed to be addressed, focusing on the local and wider community, whether in housing, abuse, child safety, speeding traffic or resolving neighbourhood disputes. Having been cut back during the austerity years, they are greatly missed. Hopefully, they can be revived when the promised extra 20,000 officers are recruited.
According to the Police Foundation, there is a serious skills shortage in data analytics and digital forensics, with specialists for cybercrime and economic offences which now account for more than 50 per cent of crime. Most modern investigations involve collating digital evidence, but the Police National Computer is nearly 50 years old and needs replacing to meet 21st century technical standards.
This investment is urgent, but it demands real expertise. Government IT projects have a habit of costing a fortune, but not delivering.
Suffolk has a new Chief Constable, who has only been in post for a couple of months, as has the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. They will undoubtedly be held to account over time, but ministers and other politicians need to give them the space to do their jobs, without interference.
Meanwhile, we need to have the truth about the reasons behind escalating crime. The UK is not America, where mass shootings happen on an almost daily basis, but recent drive-by shootings have killed innocent people – destroying families. People are concerned that such incidents may become widespread, despite supposedly strict gun control laws.
Trust in our leaders is evaporating, and needs to be restored – in particular when it comes to keeping people safe.