Are police cuts the reason behind Blackpool's rise in burglaries?
Blackpool is a burglary hotspot '“ and some victims say it's down to a lack of police officers patrolling the streets.
An average of three home raids every day were recorded by resort police last year, with official statistics showing that nine out of every 1,000 people were targeted.
The overall crime rate also rocketed by almost 20 per cent and is now almost double the national average, with police solving fewer than one in 20 burglaries and robberies here.
Labour MP for Blackpool South, Gordon Marsden, said the crime figures were “worse than I had anticipated” and blamed years of government cuts for the alarming hike, saying the town gets no extra cash to cope with the millions of tourists.
He also accused Whitehall of failing to properly reimburse Lancashire Police the £5.9m cost of manning Cuadrilla’s fracking site in Little Plumpton and said officers are “spread thinly on the ground dealing with anti-social behaviour and other issues” which police community support officers (PCSOs) and community groups such as Neighbourhood Watch used to commonly deal with.
He said: “If police and PCSOs are not seen as often as people would like, it’s dispiriting for the community and an open invitation for people to cause trouble.
“I’m sick to death of government spokespeople, both locally and nationally, saying there’s more that can be done. You can only squeeze a lemon so much, and this one is squeezed dry.”
Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP, Paul Maynard, said the government was “putting more money into Lancashire Police, and Lancashire Police are recruiting more officers to serve in Blackpool.”
The Conservative MP, who shadowed police officers to learn more about the job, said: “I’m sure everyone living in Blackpool wants to feel safe and secure in their own homes.”
Rachel Hanley, chairman of the Lancashire Police Federation, said the number of officers has been dropping since 2010 and with around 800 fewer now on the streets there is “less of a deterrent”, giving crooks confidence they can evade capture.
She said: “I think there’s a real link between officer numbers and crime figures. We are recruiting more officers but simply replacing ones we have lost. We have been warning about the dangers of reducing the number of officers so massively, and saying there will be an increase in crime.”
The ONS’s statistics are only based on crimes recorded by the police and do not include burglaries that go unreported. They should be interpreted with “caution”, the ONS said, though statisticians said there does appear to have been a genuine rise in break-ins, because it is a crime “relatively well reported by the public, and relatively well recorded by the police”.
The number of bobbies on the beat is at its lowest level since 1996, when comparable figures began, according to the ONS, and nearly half of all investigations are closed without a suspect being identified.
Police, commissioner and the government speak out
Ch Insp Lee Wilson from Blackpool Police said: “While we continue to see increases in recorded crime, some of these increases are the result of more accurate recording of crimes, and some a shift in the type of crime we now investigate.
“We recognise that increases in areas like burglary will cause concern and we continue to work with our communities and partners to provide reassurance and reduce offences of this type but also to identify and prosecute offenders.
“Some of the increases also represent increased confidence of victims to report incidents and crimes to us. We have also increased our awareness of exploitation and vulnerability, which means we are actively unearthing more, previously unseen, crime.
“We are encouraged by victim satisfaction rates because we have been working hard to provide consistent and compassionate service to victims so that they feel confident to come forward.”
Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Clive Grunshaw (pictured), said: “Sadly we are seeing some of the effects of years of austerity in policing and other public services.
“Having faced losing 800 officers and a further 350 staff due to ever-reducing budgets, this is bound to impact on the way policing services are delivered.
“I will continue to hold the Chief Constable to account for how resources are deployed to ensure that high impact crimes like burglary are tackled. I have been assured that the constabulary is reinvesting in targeted crime teams across the county which will look specifically at tackling burglary.
“Victims continue to be at the heart of what the police do and I am aware that officers strive to get the best outcome they can for them.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “Police have the resources they need to carry out their vital work and we have provided a strong and comprehensive settlement that is increasing total investment in the police system by over £460m in 2018/19.”
“The Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner has chosen to use the precept flexibility and the force’s direct funding is increasing by £6.4m in 2018/19. In March 2017, Lancashire Police had reserves of £46.7 million. Lancashire Police were awarded £1.4m in Special Grant funding to help cover their additional costs in line with published guidance.
“However, we know the nature of crime is changing. That is why the policing minister spoke to every police force in the country to understand the demands they are facing and why the home secretary in May committed to prioritising police funding in next year’s spending review.”
Denise Langley had £17 stolen from her Church Street sandwich shop Dee’s Bites in June, when a number of eateries were targeted.
She said she is still waiting to see a police officer about the break-in, but added: “There’s not enough. It’s not their fault. It’s just the way we have to live now.
“The police try their best but they have to prioritise everything. It’s a horrible world we live in. People think they have a right to go into a property and take what they want.
“They know nothing will happen to them. There have no fear anymore.
“It’s just like being in a nursery. If you are naughty you get a slapped hand. That’s how they treat these disgusting people.”
Gas engineer Anthony Lydiate, 34, said his Second Avenue home was broken into as he and his five-year-old son Harrison slept upstairs.
A laptop, TV, and wallet were all stolen by raiders, who squeezed their way in through a small window in a downstairs toilet.
Mr Lydiate said he called police and was given a crime reference number for his insurance. Then, three days later, he said, a crime scene investigator arrived to look for evidence – but nobody was ever caught.
He said more officers are needed on the beat to deter crime, and said: “If I had walked around at night robbing houses 10/15 years ago, you would be scared [of getting caught].
“I was walking home with a bag one night and got pulled over three times by police asking what I was doing. You would not see that now. All the police are there for is to answer call-outs.”
Engineer Harry Hazell, 26, said his home in Green Drive, Cleveleys, which he shares with partner Amy, was broken into earlier this month while the pair were in bed asleep, with £5,000 of belongings taken, including his bright blue VW Polo car.
Four people were arrested after the car was driven past investigating officers just hours later, and Mr Hazell, who has applied to join the police in the past, praised the force for their actions.
But he said it “would be nice to have beat bobbies and to see more of them” and added: “I have no doubt that the Army, ambulance service, and police are underfunded. They don’t have enough money or resources and they are off dealing with petty criminality like weed growers.
“I can only feel sorry for them because when you drive down the A583 there’s 30, 40, 50 dealing with the [anti-fracking] protestors at the side of road, and there’s stuff like this going on in Blackpool.
“The problem is the police are stretched too thinly. That’s the long and short of it. When they get on to it, they are great, but the issue is there’s just not enough of them on the ground.”
Mr Hazell said he was “extremely happy with the police and what they have done with the investigation and how quickly they acted.”
He added: “I am pleased with how it had been dealt with and have nothing bad to say about the authorities.”
Shop worker Susan Anthony, 43, said her Central Drive home was broken into in December as she holidayed in Cape Verde.
Out of six burglars, just one was caught, she said, after police traced a stolen Xbox that was sold to a pawn shop.
When asked whether police were under-staffed, she said they were “100 per cent not,” but said the punishment meted out by the courts isn’t strong enough.
“There’s no punishment so they’re not bothered about doing it,” she said. “The guy admitted it and he got 12 months – he’s out walking the streets now.”
Chris Talbot from Mastercraft Upholstery in Bloomfield Road, Blackpool, said iPads, laptops and specialist tools were stolen after the business’s front door was kicked in earlier this month (above). Police attended, took a copy of CCTV footage of the raid, and tested for forensic evidence – and think they know who the culprit is.
Chris said: “They have a great picture of him and I have seen him on the street but what can you do? They took fingerprints and said they would be in touch but so far I have not heard anything.
“I think the deterrent is not there because they know they can kick someone’s door in and get to court, get a £100 fine, and be back on the streets.”
Burglary surge in hot weather
Homeowners were urged to take extra care with home security this summer, as new research suggested burglaries will rise next month August.
August is the main summer month for burglaries, with the data highlighting a 12 per cent increase compared to July, analysis of home insurance enquiries from MoneySupermarket found.
Expert Kevin Pratt said: “The summer months offer a unique window of opportunity for burglars. That makes it crucial to be extra vigilant, and to take the necessary steps to keep burglars at bay.
“In the heat of the summer, it’s tempting to leave windows and doors open to cool the house, but this could mean you’re putting your home, belongings, and even yourself at risk.
“You’re also in danger of making your policy ineffective in the event of a claim.”