Police budget reductions blamed as crime soars

'Cuts mean crime'
'Cuts mean crime'

Soaring crime rates across the Fylde coast are proof police cannot afford to keep axing jobs in the face of extreme budget pressures, force bosses have today been warned.

Cuts to front line policing have been blamed for the rise across Lancashire, bringing to an end years of falling crime figures.

The Lancashire Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said the “worrying” increases – which are most severe on the Fylde coast – show heavy budget cuts imposed by the Government are now taking their toll.

Among the official figures for the period between April 2013 and March 2014 are:

Overall crime in Wyre was up 10 per cent on the previous year. In Fylde it was up 6.2 per cent and in Blackpool it rose by 3.6 per cent.

Shoplifting in Blackpool and Wyre soared to its highest level in 11 years.

Blackpool, which already had the worst rate of sexual offences in Lancashire, saw a 17 per cent rise in crimes of that type.

Robberies in Fylde went up 50 per cent.

It comes after The Gazette revealed Lancashire Police has lost almost 700 officers since 2009, with more set to go as bosses work to save a further £20m .

The force has already had to slash £54m from the budget since 2011, due to central funding cuts, and senior officers say future cuts are likely to hit the front line.

Rachel Baines, chairman of the Lancashire Police Federation, said: “The rise in crime of 10 per cent in Wyre is alarming and shows now is certainly not a time to be reducing police

officer numbers.

“Any rise in crime is something police need to tackle but we cannot continue to do what we did before with 700 fewer officers.

“There is still £20m to find, which is only going to see

further cuts to the front line. Without wishing to alarm the public, that is worrying.”

But while she played down the importance of the rise in sexual offences being reported, saying the trials of high profile celebrities like Rolf Harris and Stuart Hall helped bring more victims forward, she said the reasons behind the rise in overall crime are a cause for concern.

“People are more confident in reporting sexual offences following recent high profile cases,” she added.

But, in reference to huge rises in shoplifting across the Fylde coast, she said: “It is a sad state of affairs when people are having to steal basic items. It is a social problem.”

Across Lancashire, all theft rose by 5.8 per cent last year – but in Blackpool, where more than one in nine people were victims of crime last year, the number of offences went up by 10.7 per cent. In Wyre and Fylde, which are among the safer areas of Lancashire, the increases were 14.4 per cent and 17.7 per cent respectively.

Dave Blacker, chairman of the Talbot PACT, blamed Government cutbacks, saying

police are doing as well as can be hoped given their dwindling resources.

“This is a wake-up call,” he added. “Enough is enough – we need to stop the cuts and strengthen the police.

“We are not in a position where things have gone drastically out of control but, for me, this is an amber light that says we need to look at policing numbers.”

Overall, crime in Lancashire rose by three per cent, compared to the two per cent North West average and a national fall in crime of one per cent. Despite crime in some areas, including Preston, falling, there were increases across Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre.

In Blackpool there were 1,616 reported cases of shoplifting, up from 1,457 the previous year. Violence resulting in injury was at its highest level since 2009, with 2,285 cases recorded – 158 more than the year before. Robbery was also at a five-year high, with almost one case reported every three days.

However, there were decreases in drug-related offences and theft from the person.

Charlie Docherty, chairman of the Central Holiday Area PACT, said he felt many of the problems his members face are social rather than policing issues.

He added: “Crime has gone up – we have had hotels broken into, garages broken into, drugs and begging.

“Hoteliers have mentioned these increases – every month it’s the same and it absolutely is a concern.”

The rising toll...

In Blackpool:

Violence crimes – 3,947 (2.7 per cent)

Sex offences – 371 (17.4 per cent)

Robbery – 153 (13.3 percent)

All theft – 8,075 (10.7 per cent)

Of which shoplifting – 1,616 (10.9 per cent)

Vehicle crime – 1,043 (6.1 per cent)

Criminal damage/arson – 2,555 (4.6 per cent)

Domestic burglary – 759 (22.6 per cent)

Drugs – 620 (-9.8 per cent)

In Wyre:

Violence crimes – 1,107 (11.4 per cent)

Sex offences – 123 (73.2 per cent)

Robbery – 21 (16.7 per cent)

All theft – 2,677 (14.4 per cent)

Of which shoplifting – 536 (33 per cent)

Vehicle crime – 474 (1.7 per cent)

Criminal damage/arson – 987 (12.2 per cent)

Domestic burglary – 208 (3 per cent)

Drugs – 163 (-19.7 per cent)

In Fylde:

Violence crimes – 611 (4.4 per cent)

Sex offences – 56 (19.1 per cent)

Robbery – 21 (50 per cent)

All theft – 1,607 (17.7 per cent)

Of which shoplifting – 289 (18.9 per cent)

Vehicle crime – 297 (37.5 per cent)

Criminal damage/arson – 503 (1.6 per cent)

Domestic burglary – 191 (52.8 per cent)

Drugs – 134 (2.3 per cent)

‘We are confident of improvement’

Det Chf Insp Mark Winstanley from Blackpool Police today told The Gazette officers are confident crime figures will improve.

He said budget cuts were a “considerable challenge”and said last summer’s excellent visitor numbers across the Fylde coast have contributed to the rising toll.

But he added: “While any increase in reported crime causes us concern, these figures need to be considered in context against some major improvements that have been made in respect of how the public can now report crime.

“This is coupled with the fact that Lancashire Constabulary is managing a significant reduction in resources as a result of the budget cuts and there is no doubt that this in itself presents a considerable policing challenge.

“We are working hard to ensure that we continue to deliver the best service possible in the face of this challenge and will endeavour to minimise the impact that this will have on the public wherever possible.

“Recognising also that last year was a particularly busy and successful summer for Blackpool and the Fylde coast in respect of visitor numbers, the associated increases in some of the crime categories are not unexpected.

“This is particularly prevalent in respect of volume crime categories such as vehicle crime and assault, given the volume of visitors to the area during the summer months, and has been complemented by significant improvements to our crime recording practices.

“There has also been significant progress made with regards to improving the mechanisms available by which sexual offences can be reported. The increase in reported sexual offences is consistent with the national picture and we have made real progress in increasing public confidence to come forward and report that they have been the victim of a sexual offence.

“Our aim is to keep the residents of Blackpool and the Fylde coast safe and to keep them feeling safe.

“We have developed targeted plans this year to reduce the numbers of victims of crime and we have run a number of operations with the objectives of reducing crime and targeting those individuals suspected of committing crime.

“I am confident that this response is paying dividends and that this year will see an improvement on the picture that has been reported from 2013/2014. “