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For Too Long, Austerity Has Excused Cuts - Investing In Our Police Is Literally Critical

04/06/2017 20:46 | Updated 04 June 2017
Tommounsey via Getty Images

In difficult times people get the opportunity to pause and reflect on just how good our public services are. From the police to our NHS teams of doctors, nurses and other frontline staff, we can and do rely on the fact that they are never found wanting. When it's time to stand up and be counted - even when there are fewer to count - they turn up. The harsh reality is that the people who do these tough, sometimes thankless, jobs need to be able to count on us and whilst it's been good to hear praise from politicians, I hope many take the time to reflect.

The police service, and some individuals within it, haven't and don't always get things right and learning from mistakes and reforming the service is important but that reform and restructuring needs to add up. No matter how you cut it, no matter what spin you put on diversification of resource or doing things differently, there are 20,000 fewer police now than there were in 2010. That's fewer eyes and ears on the street; fewer bobbies building relationships, community confidence and critically creating that visible reassurance and deterrence that is key at times like this.

Putting soldiers on our streets cannot be the answer. It sends the wrong message and a militarisation of security is what radicals want. It feeds into the myth that we are about oppressing others, appears desperate, and the symbolism of images of troops on our streets being edited and broadcast around the world feeds fanatics' fantasies.

Business as usual is not what they want to see, so let's force feed it to them? They want to see division, and work hard to hide behind and within a community that are no more responsible for their terror than the Catholic and Protestant communities living in Northern Ireland were for the IRA and UVF. This is about terrorists, individuals who use violence for their political ends. Only the fool with no knowledge of terrorism would associate criminal acts with a faith or community.

The real value in British policing, and what we lacked from a large section of the community in Northern Ireland, was consent. We lose that now at our peril. To gain confidence and build rapport you need to be seen, heard and demonstrate your ability to listen. Police officers can and do provide a valuable conduit to communicate and reassure alienated communities.

What we don't need now are more excuses. For too long the blanket of austerity has excused all sorts of cuts. Education, social care, health and policing; the infrastructure upon which a fair and just society is built require investment and support. Frontline staff do not deserve to be demonised - lest we forget plebgate; be demoralised, or suffer , or suffer the endless cuts on the back of 'you can do more with less' rhetoric.

Of course we have to face the reality of tighter financial times but we cannot continue to asset strip the critical services who in times of trouble make the real difference. Better we, who can, pay more tax for the things that matter than stand by applauding the actions of our public servants whilst some visit foodbanks when off-duty. 

Those who represent a threat need to see police feet on the street. Prevent in my opinion isn't working - it's a blunt instrument that in some cases can alienate those we should be embracing - and the rhetoric that crime has changed and there is an investment in different approaches just does not cut it. Politics isn't easy and many politicians across most parties want to do the right thing: the problem is we are all familiar with false promises and u-turns. It's easy to say the right thing at the right time to the right audience and wait until that time has passed, when the agenda shifts and you can move on without acting.

Action as ever speaks louder than words and whoever wins the election on the 8 June needs to get their priorities right: investing in education, social care, health and policing is literally critical.

Jim Gamble is CEO of INEQE Group and a former Police Head of Counter Terrorism in Belfast, Deputy Director General of the National Crime Squad and founding CEO of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre

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