The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) latest crime figures, released in January, make for grim reading.
The figures show that violent crime recorded by the police in England and Wales rose by 19% in the year to September 2018. That includes a 14% increase in homicides – the highest total for murder and manslaughter in more than a decade – and an 8% increase in the number of offences involving knives and sharp instruments. The number of admissions to hospital in England following assaults involving a sharp instrument increased by 15%.
The cost these crimes is devastating. Those directly involved face life-altering injuries, trauma or even death. Within the wider community, when an incident involving a knife attack or a violent assault hits the headlines, it creates a climate of fear that affects everyone. Safety is paramount to a community’s emotional and economic wellbeing.
But our communities don’t need statistical bulletins to tell them any of this; they already feel unsafe in our public spaces. They don’t need us to tell them there were 20,000 fewer police officers employed in 2018 than in 2010; they have already noticed the lack of police on our streets and know that, when they call 999, they could face a wait of hours or even days before officers are available to help.
In my constituency, people are keen to come forward and talk with police, councillors and other community leaders about the impact of violent crime on their lives.
Fears over safety and in particular about the rise in knife crime were brought to a head last year by the murder of 19-year-old Fabian Kacica in Southend town centre in May. Our residents feel that Mr Kacica’s tragic death could have been prevented with a stronger police presence.
Local residents are not disinterested but disenfranchised, and they must have their voices heard in the discussion about how we make communities safer.
Here in Southend a community-led campaign, Safe Southend, calls for funding for more police in our town. Hundreds of people have already signed a petition promoted by the campaign.
The campaign highlights the willingness of local people to engage with decision-making about community safety. Our communities have strong and valid concerns about crime and it is our job to facilitate their engagement, listen to their experiences and work alongside them to drive change.
Taking part in residents association events, organising roundtables with community leaders, and supporting grassroots campaigns are all ways we can achieve this. For Labour activists, candidates and representatives, the time has come to step back from making speeches, take a seat around the table, and listen to local people.