Harriet Harman got into grief with some in the media last week for wearing a stab vest out on a police patrol. Critics said it made her appear too scared to walk out in her own constituency without protection. But, like me, Harriet lives in her London constituency, and neither of us wear stab jackets to go shopping, have a meal out or visit the local.
But when I went on a police patrol I did wear a stab jacket, not because I was scared, but because the then borough commander told me quite bluntly that he would not let me out on patrol without one – it was he said – the rules. Yet the coverage of Harriet doing the same thing, for the same reason has been used to amplify the fears of crime for people in London.
At coffee mornings, at surgeries and when I meet people campaigning on the streets you raise with me your fears for the children of the Borough and talk about the tragic deaths of young people on our streets and our parks. We have had far too many tragic young deaths in Newham, and London as a whole, but despite these tragic deaths, the number of murders in the capital has gone down every year for the past five years. But given these young deaths it is difficult to hear the statistics, but if we allow fear to keep us off the streets it will eventually create an environment that we would be right to fear.
I’m not saying that crime no longer exists in London, that would be ridiculous, but violent crime has gone down and we are doing all we can as a Government to make Londoners feel and be safer.
In Newham thanks to the policies of Mayor Livingstone we have had Safer Neighbourhood Teams covering the whole borough for 2 years. These teams, which provide more officers onto our streets, have met the much-repeated public desire for more “Bobbies on the beat”.
Across Newham, and in West Ham, the local teams have been able to target local community priorities have had a number of successes reducing anti-social behaviour.
Fear of crime has been a major problem that the Neighbourhood Teams of sergeants, police constables and Police Community Support Officers have addressed just by being there. Their high profile has not just made us all feel safer, we are safer as a result of their work.
Crime figures are down 32 per cent since 1997 - the chance of being a victim of crime is at its lowest for 27 years, but we need to make sure this is how we all feel.
This Government is not content to rest on its laurels, and later this year is introducing the Policing Pledge – a very real commitment to the people who live, work and visit Newham. The pledge has been designed to give you all a chance to have a real say over how your streets are policed.
The policing pledge will set out a national standard of what people can expect from their local team and may include home visits, progress reports, victim support and more information for the public. I applaud what has been done already by our Safer Neighbourhood Teams, and welcome the opportunity for local people having more say on how our community is policed.
If you want to see what has been planned in detail see the Met Police website, www.met.police.uk, and if you want to contact your local police team use the new Neighbourhood Policing website www.neighbourhoodpolicing.co.uk.
It is difficult for us to get crime in perspective with the different messages we get from the Government and the media, but my view is that if we allow fear to keep us off the streets it will create an environment that we would be right to fear.