This blog is adapted from a speech delivered on Monday 28 July
I want to begin by paying tribute to Bob Jones. He served with great distinction as Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, and before that leading West Midlands Police Authority, always championing neighbourhood policing and victims' rights. A councillor for over 30 years who did so much to stand up for his own community. I benefited, as many of us did, from his advice and wisdom over the years. Bob was a very kind and intelligent man who cared deeply about the communities he represented. He will be missed by us all.
As David Jamieson - Labour's West Midlands Police & Crime Commissioner Candidate - has said, this is a by-election that no-one wanted to take place. But it is a by election we will take seriously because policing is too important to turn our backs. We didn't support the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats introduction of Police & Crime Commissioners. We have always argued that the system has too few checks and balances. And we're clear substantial reforms will be needed.
Lord Stevens' independent review recommended options for reform. And Jack Dromey, our shadow policing minister is consulting now on what those reforms should be, which we will set out later in the year.
But we also know policing is too important to turn our backs. And that is why we have chosen such a strong candidate in David Jamieson. Born and bred in the West Midlands. He has taught in schools across the Midlands and served as an MP from 1992 to 2005. He is greatly experienced in issues relating to community safety and policing from my roles as an MP, local Councillor in Solihull and as a former member of the West Midlands Police & Crime Panel.
I've known David for many years - he is someone with great experience in campaigning on community safety and policing, but also in getting things done. The West Midlands doesn't want a Tory or UKIP cheerleader for cuts decimating our police, or dividing our communities.
We want a Labour campaigner who will stand up for local communities: Stopping the handover of core public policing to private companies. Starting to recruit 450 Police Officers and put them on the beat, despite massive Tory-led Government cuts. Maintaining neighbourhood policing. Backing stronger action for victims - and especially to tackle violence against women.
But I have a particular and immediate concern about the way Theresa May has set up these elections. Theresa May held the last Police and Crime Commissioner elections in November. We warned repeatedly that was a bad idea. It cost up to £100m - the cost of thousands of constables - and turnout was less than 15%.
Now thanks to the legislation the Government drew up, this by-election has to be held on 21st August. People are away on holiday.
Normal polling stations are closed or fully booked. Over 100 usual polling stations in Birmingham alone are going to be closed. And the cost is going to be substantial. £4 million for this by election.
Yet this is Theresa May's decision and Theresa May's legislation. Turnout was less than 15% last time, what do they think it will be now? Holding an election on 21st August isn't fair on the people of the West Midlands, isn't fair on the police, isn't fair on the candidates, makes a mockery of democracy, and a mockery of this Government's attitude to policing.
But that is why I want to talk today not just about the election here in the West Midlands, but about the choice the country will face on law and order at the next General Election. As Ed Miliband has said, this is a choice about the future of our country and the big challenges ahead.
Challenges that I do not believe the Tories or Liberal Democrats are equipping our country to face. Over the last four years, the Tories have fragmented and undermined many of our public services, in the criminal justice system - policing, prosecution and probation, in our NHS and our education system.
Too often they have pushed fragmentation and competition where collaboration is needed instead.
Too often they have ignored those who most depend on our public services - the victims of crime, the communities facing challenges, the patients in the NHS, the parents worried about their children's education.
Today I want to talk about what that means for policing and crime. Police and Crime Commissioners set up primarily so the Government had someone to blame. Promising the frontline would not be hit - yet now 8,500 frontline police officers have gone. Here in the West Midlands as in many urban areas, crime is going up even as police officers are going down. It is great that car crime and theft have kept falling now for decades, but crime is changing. Serious crimes are increasing. The Government isn't responding:
- Neighbourhood policing undermined - the core building block of crime prevention and community safety at risk
- A growing justice gap - fewer victims getting justice, fewer criminals caught
- The clock turning back on violence against women
- Little action to deal with new and growing crimes
- And little done to tackle concerns about fragmentation, standards and confidence in policing and the criminal justice system
As Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary warned only last week, they have a "growing concern that neighbourhood policing is being eroded. The already thin blue line in our communities is narrowing still further".
Instead of working with communities, staying out on the beat, working to prevent crime and strengthen community safety, neighbourhood police teams are being forced back into their cars to pick up everyone else's work too.
Thousands of officers have been cut from response units across the country - so the neighbourhood police have to do that too.
1,300 fewer traffic officers - so the neighbourhood teams are covering traffic calls.
Overall what were once neighbourhood policing teams are having to covering the jobs of over 9,000 frontline officers cut from other units. Yet these are the very officers and PCSOs who have helped prevent crime over many years.
And look at what is happening to victims. Fewer criminals are being caught, fewer victims are getting justice. In the last year violent crime increased by 7,000 across the country, but 7,000 fewer people were convicted of the crimes. There was an increase in reported sexual offences of 8,000, from 52,000 to over 60,000, but again fewer convictions were secured. And for fraud, there were 42,000 more crimes recorded last year, but incredibly over a thousand fewer people were prosecuted and convicted.
And I am particularly worried about the justice gap and the lack of action when it comes to violence against women. Not only have prosecutions and convictions fallen at a time when reported crimes are going up, there is a growing use of community resolutions which are just inappropriate for serious crimes. Community Resolutions can be very effective for low-level antisocial behaviour. But the guidance from Chief Officers and the Home Office says they should not be used for serious crime, including domestic violence. Yet the number used for domestic violence has almost trebled in the last three years.
Much as the Home Office like to tell us this is OK, it isn't.
The HMIC have shown the police frequently underestimate the seriousness of domestic abuse. And the idea of taking an abuser back to see the domestic violence victim for a state sanctioned apology and to make amends is just dangerous. Far, far too often victims are trapped in a cycle of abuse that outsiders don't take seriously - and community resolutions will just perpetuate.
Yet what has Theresa May done about it? Nothing. Refuges are losing support. The criminal justice system is taking less action not more. Victims are being let down. And at the same time, the Government has failed to make sure policing is fit for the 21st Century.
We know that British policing at its best is the envy of the world. Officers show great bravery every day. But a long shadow has been cast by the failure of the system to sort out problems in policing - from Hillsborough to plebgate, the IPCC has failed and the Government is doing too little to ensure professional standards are strengthened and confidence is maintained.
We know too that British policing is at its best when it collaborates with everyone else - with communities, councils, probation. And the problem will grow in future. The Tories hostility to our public services mean they are ignoring the importance of making sure the police are fit for the 21st Century.
They are out of touch with victims who need support and justice. Ministers are failing to make sure that policing is fit for the 21st Century. Failing to deal with concerns about standards. Failing to make sure they can keep up with modern crimes. Neighbourhood policing - in the words of one police officer - will facing an existential crisis if we go on like this. Domestic and sexual violence will continue to be a serious and badly neglected crime - especially given the evidence that violence in teenage relationships is getting worse. And they are failing to deal with growing crimes in the future.
Failing to deal with increasing violence in teenage relationships. Failing to work to prevent domestic violence and sexual abuse. Failing to deal with growing modern crimes. There's been a 25% upsurge in reported online fraud. And the real picture is even worse because so much online crime isn't even reported.
Yet the police are not prepared for the scale of this challenge. Only three forces have been found to have developed comprehensive cyber-crime strategies or plans. Reports of online child abuse are also increasing, and the prevalence of abuse images over the internet is a vastly different challenge to previous decades. Yet Theresa May has weakened the child protection system so convicted of child sex offenders are no longer barred from working with children. And it is frankly shocking the National Crime Agency has suggested to the media that 10,000 child abuse suspects have been identified in its investigations, but they do not have the capacity to investigate all those crimes.
So what is the choice before us? The work the police, council and communities have done together over decades to cut traditional crime has been immense. We need to build on that. We know resources will be tight. That's why we are working with Chris Leslie's zero-based review to make sure money is well spent. So we don't waste money on elections in November or August, or subsidising gun licences.
We know too that at its best British policing remains the envy of the world - setting standards across Europe, training the best and brightest of police forces across the globe. But we also know there are growing challenges. That is why we asked Lord Stevens, Met Commissioner to draw together an Independent Commission on the Future of Policing, a Royal Commission in all but name, to look at how to make sure policing was fit for the 21st Century - setting out a major programme of positive reform.
Why we launched a major Women's Safety Commission - involving Vera Baird - to draw up new legislation to tackle domestic and sexual violence and improve women's safety. Why Peter Neyroud has been drawing up plans to tackle online fraud and crimes of the future. And here's that choice: A Labour government that would return to the core principles of neighbourhood policing, or a Tory government that will push the police back into their cars, turning their backs on communities.
A Labour government that would make tackling violence against women and girls a top priority, with legislation ready for the first Queen's Speech, new national standards and a commissioner to ensure they are enforced. And compulsory sex and relationship education to teach zero tolerance of violence in relationships.
Or a Tory government that turns its back on growing problems, and fails to equip our teenagers to cope with the pressures and exposure to online abuse. A Labour government that believes in partnership and collaboration - the police working with councils, the NHS, Ministers and communities to tackle crime.
Or a Tory government that believes only in fragmentation and competition - probation services out to tender, and undermining police collaboration. A Labour government that believes we need to work with the police to increase standards and professionalism with radical reforms. Or a Tory government that just wants someone else to blame.
A Labour government that will put victims and communities at the heart of our reforms.
Or a Tory government that will put commissioners and contracts at the heart of theirs.
And here's why it matters. We in the Labour Party know that crime wrecks lives, destroys families and undermines communities. We know that often it is the poorest communities, or the most vulnerable, who are hardest hit. We know that victims of crime need a government who understands how hard things are for them and who is prepared to help. We know that public services, when it comes to law and order, save lives, defend the innocent, sustain our communities and our democracy. We believe in effective public services, and we want to strengthen them not ignore or undermine them. We believe in supporting victims and communities, not turning our backs on them or being out of touch. These are Labour values.
That's why David is standing to be Police and Crime Commissioner, to promote those values. And why we want a Labour Government elected next year.
Yvette Cooper is the shadow home secretary and Labour Member of Parliament for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford