We need the police more than ever, says Richard

Monday 3 August 2015

Discovering Burglar Bill has paid you a visit is an almost uniquely disquieting experience.

The last time it happened to us, the prowler or prowlers had forced entry at the dead of night.

We didn’t hear a thing but we knew all about it when we came down for breakfast – a splintered window frame, cupboards and drawers ransacked, my briefcase gone and the car keys too.

The car turned out to be still in the drive but glove box and boot had been thoroughly rifled.

We were also minus our TV, microwave and sundry portable property.

Belatedly, we had an intruder alarm fitted and now I never leave money, keys or my briefcase downstairs at night.

However, I can still remember the stomach-churning blend of rage and apprehension I felt that morning: a real, visceral sense of having been violated.

Strangers going through our most personal possessions, creeping through our private space, helping themselves to trinkets and heirlooms worth little in monetary value but part of the background bric-a-brac of our private and precious family life.

Frankly, for an hour or two, I wanted to kill the b*******. I even entertained some vengeful (and criminal) fantasies of my own.

I pictured descending the stairs during the break-in, armed with my trusty .22 air rifle, and delivering some well-aimed lead slugs at retreating buttocks.

This was some years ago when we lived in Manchester. The police came promptly and were extremely sympathetic.

In fact, I sensed that they were pretty angry on our behalf, too. They made it clear they had nothing but contempt for burglars and the way they casually trampled through people’s lives.

And that meant a lot.

Even though the thieves were never caught and we were destined to be permanently separated from our possessions, Manchester Police went firmly up in my estimation.

They were on our side. They cared that we were upset and off-balance. They certainly didn’t make us feel that we were wasting their time.

But this week, the public was bluntly told that such beneficial encounters may soon be a thing of the past. We must be prepared to accept that police officers will not pay us a visit after a burglary.

They have, according to Sara Thornton, head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, better things to do with reduced resources.

Nailing child sex offenders, for example. Investigating cyber-crime. Catching terrorists.

So unless a burglary is accompanied by violence, it looks as if victims will have to be content with being given a crime number for insurance purposes over the phone or via email.

No more sympathetic and reassuring visits from concerned coppers.

While I totally accept Ms Thornton’s assessment of the changing nature of criminality, including a continuing fall in the number of burglaries (though not round our way, we’re currently having a spate of them) I think she has made completely the wrong call.

Effective policing is (in a democracy) broadly speaking only possible with the people’s goodwill and consent.

And one of the key roles of a police force is to reassure the public. Burglary may be, on the criminal scale, a relatively low-grade offence – but not when it happens to you.

Then, it is a very big deal.

It is traumatising. I did not sleep well for weeks after our break-in and yes, I kept my .22 oiled and loaded under the bed.

But if there is an upside to burglary, it is this: it gives individual police officers a perfect opportunity to meet people in their own homes and offer sympathy, reassurance and implicit evidence that this is what you get for your money – police men and women who stand in your corner and want to put the cuffs on the bad guys.

In an age when there are fewer and fewer bobbies on the beat and most of us only ever see officers whizzing past inside a patrol car, it is an invaluable opportunity to reassure and relate to ordinary people.

Ms Thornton is deeply unwise to discard it.

Read Richard and Judy's columns for the Daily Express here.
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  • Dear Richard, I read with interest your comments about domestic burglary and what would appear to be an increasing indifference to it by the police. Although reported burglaries are on the decrease there were still over three quarters of a million committed in the UK during 2014. Burglary is an insidious crime, the manifestations of which go far beyond the damage caused or loss of property.This I know from having two daytime burglaries at my house and being employed as a scenes of crime officer in the Metropolitan Police for ten years. I have known victims move house and have breakdowns or suffer from long term depression. The feelings engendered in the victim of anger, insecurity in their own home , particularly if there are children in the family, and violation of their privacy might take up to six months or more to disappear. To the house holder the burglary is very important and if they feel the police do not attach the same importance to it they will feel let down and cheated of the service they expected to receive. In any subsequent dealings with the police they will probably be less cooperative than they might have been. We police by consent which is easy to lose but difficult to regain. Perhaps Ms Sarah Thornton should be referred to Sir Robert Peel's nine principles of policing.

    Mike Stanford