Labour’s Heworth councillor Dafydd Williams raised the issue of crime and anti-social behaviour in York at the recent full meeting of the City of York Council. Figures for 2017-18 show that violent crime in York city centre is at its highest level for a decade, as is violence against the person and domestic violence, while burglary is up 65%.
Cllr Williams said “What we are seeing is not only a perception of increased crime but an actual increase in some very serious crimes. The loss of some 130 police officers in recent years can not be filling the public with confidence at the same time as public perception around responses to anti-social behaviour is not good either.
“We are calling on the council’s Executive to look into the reasons why crime is going up so we can see if there’s anything the council can do. It may well be the explanation is significant cuts not only to a number of crucial council services but also to the Police has had a cumulative effect that is, unfortunately, compromising public safety”.
Labour’s Guildhall councillor James Flinders, also raised his own concerns. “We’re concerned about rising violent crime in the city centre, often relating to alcohol misuse. But we’re also worried about the city centre as a safe place for people to visit during evenings and weekends, which many, particularly those with young children, will not do.
“We know the Police are working hard to tackle city centre related anti-social behaviour, but it’s unfortunate that many residents see the city as somewhere to avoid at certain times, which in turn affects city centre businesses that desperately need our support.
“With cuts in numbers right across York, it’s clear that a Police presence has become a rarer sight, and we know residents feel less safe as a result. The Police and Crime Commissioner’s reductions in police numbers across York means policing teams seem less accessible and are as distant as we can remember.”
Cllr Williams also raised the issue of the link between drug and alcohol abuse and crime at a time when the council is cutting over £0.5m from substance misuse services. In a council 2016 Exec Report (item 36) approving the cut, ruling Tory and Lib Dem councillors were told that investment in this area not only prevents crime, but that for every £1 invested, £2.50 is saved from the wider costs to society. The cuts went ahead nevertheless and will see the budget fall over five years from around £2.3m to £1.8m.
Linking rising crime to austerity, he also pointed out that between 2011 and 2015, when a Labour-led council in York had an executive member dealing solely with crime and anti-social behaviour, the city bucked the national trend and crime was reduced, but since this position has not been continued under the Lib-Dem/Tory coalition, crime has steadily risen once more. This was, he believes, because the executive member provided a focus under which all the various partner agencies across the city could work together.
Claire Douglas, prospective Labour candidate for Heworth and Chair of Tang Hall Community Centre, also addressed the meeting on the experience of residents in York’s outer districts.
“The critical work of PCSOs ( Police Community Support Officers) in our communities outside the city centre is severely under strain. There are three PCSOs covering the Heworth and Heworth Without area, two miles from top to bottom, two miles across, with approximately 8000 households, and we constantly lose PCSOs to the acute need in the city centre. In the meantime, police visibility, their awareness of what is going on in our community, the early intervention preventative work the PCSOs are there for, is pushed to the back burner.
“People feel less safe in their communities and in their homes. The incidents of theft, burglary and attempted burglary is on the increase. Graffiti and damage to public property is commonplace. The use and dealing of drugs and the reality of knife and gun violence is happening in full view and broad daylight in our residential streets and in our parks. How many times have I heard it said, in York? That doesn’t happen in York. It does.”
A motion, raised by Cllr Williams, and passed unanimously by the council, sought to create a more joined-up approach to working with partners on these issues, and to commission a report examining the reasons for rising crime and anti-social behaviour. The motion also agreed to lobby the Police and Fire Commissioner for North Yorkshire, Julia Mulligan, to increase numbers of frontline police officers in York.
Cllr Williams summed up by saying that there was a fundemental issue with lack of funding in all of the support services, including the police, and that has to be addressed at a national level, but locally we can do something about it also.