In defence of the police

Why I won’t be weeping for Raoul Moat.

For once, I have to disagree with my friend and colleague James Macintyre. Yesterday James wrote that Angus Moat, brother of the dead gunman Raoul Moat, "should be heard" and he condemned the "trigger-happy police force in this country".

Let me address both these claims, which I consider to be a load of rubbish. First, "trigger-happy" police? Don't get me wrong. I condemned and castigated the Met for the death of Jean-Charles de Menezes at the hands of CO19, as well as over the 2006 shooting of the brothers in Forest Gate. I think the number of deaths in police custody is still far too high. But "trigger-happy"?

For a start, the British police remain largely unarmed. And in the case of Moat, Northumbria Police have confirmed that "no shots were fired by police officers" and that "the suspect shot himself". I'm sorry to have to point this out to James, but policemen using Tasers against an armed, wanted man, after a six-hour stand-off, can't be described as "trigger-happy". If you want to know what "trigger-happy" police look like, see here or here.

Then there is the bizarre claim from Angus Moat that his little brother Raoul was the victim of a "public execution". Is he having a laugh? Some might argue that his brother -- on the run for a week, having killed an innocent, unarmed man and shot a police officer in the face -- should have been shot on sight. He hadn't relinquished his weapon, and yet, as I've pointed out, police officers spent six hours trying to negotiate with him and ended up using Tasers, rather than live ammunition, to end the stand-off.

Perhaps Mr Moat Sr should go to China or Saudi Arabia, where they carry out rather gruesome and merciless "public executions", and see how different those look. And perhaps he should be sending his condolences to the family of Chris Brown, who his little brother murdered in cold blood, rather than extolling Raoul as a "friendly, generous soul -- a very loyal individual, warm, with a great sense of humour, just a lovely, lovely guy".

Yes, warm, friendly Raoul Moat, who, prior to his shooting spree, had been serving time for assaulting a nine-year-old child. In the words of the Independent on Sunday, "He killed a man he didn't know, seriously wounded a woman and a police officer, and assaulted a little girl. But well-wishers wanted to grant him the sentimentalising gestures normally reserved for the victims of crime and accidents."

Such "well-wishers" are, in my view, fools. And I, for one, won't be weeping over his death. Yes, there are "serious questions" for the police to answer, such as "why Moat's former partner was not protected after a warning from Durham Prison authorities, and the lack of surveillance at the homes of known Moat associates", etc, etc, but the police are not responsible for Raoul Moat's death. Raoul Moat is responsible for Raoul Moat's death (and, of course, Chris Brown's, too). Good riddance, I say . . .

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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