Imagine the scenario. You will probably have seen something similar on TV. It is many people’s worst nightmare.
An elderly couple interrupt burglars in their home. Traumatic enough, but at least the couple are relieved the gang has run away. Except, that is not the end of it.
The following night, three offenders, armed and masked, return and force their way in. While the husband attempts to defend the couple’s property, the wife runs to raise the alarm. After a violent struggle, the husband also flees and the gang escape with a considerable amount of the family’s precious belongings.
This is the outline of a true story but I cannot go into detail as, thanks to excellent detective work, the offenders were later caught and are currently awaiting trial for this and a number of other alleged crimes.
This is what the police call Serious Organised Acquisitive Crime or organised crime for short. Put crudely, it is people randomly stealing from others, not to feed a habit, as is often the case with burglary, but just to make a profit. I tell it now because I hope it is a sign of a different approach.
Last year, all police forces were overwhelmed with ‘County Lines’. This was the name given to the transport of illegal drugs across police and local authority boundaries, usually by children or vulnerable people targeted by gangs giving and taking orders by mobile phone.
It was apparent to me that the squeeze on police resources during austerity had left them with insufficient resources to tackle other, equally dangerous threats to the county. Serious organised crime was being ignored, particularly in rural areas.
I raised this with the security minister in 2019 and with regional organised crime units and argued for a change of direction; and because I strongly believe that every crime matters, I made some money available to the Chief Constable. It is to his and his team’s credit that this issue has been addressed. Throwing money at a problem is not always the answer but the story above is evidence it has been well spent.
Of course, circumstances have changed once again – and dramatically. The challenge now is to continue taking the fight to organised crime gangs when the pandemic will make money tight again.
That is the job of a Police and Crime Commissioner and Chief Constable, balancing resources with the public interest.