By Local Democracy Reporter
By Steve Shaw
A Southend councillor has said that police cuts are “destroying lives” after new figures revealed that knife crime has risen significantly across the county in the past two years.
Data released under a Freedom of Information request by Local Democracy Reporter Steve Shaw, shows that the number of recorded offences involving a bladed weapon shot up across Essex in 2016, shortly after £63million in police spending cuts were announced.
One of the biggest increases in knife offences was in Southend where the number rose from 195 in 2015 to 310 in 2016, an increase of almost 60 per cent.
A similar increase was seen in Thurrock where it jumped from 144 offences in 2015 to 226 in 2016 and in Basildon rose from 199 to 279.
The increases were mainly recorded under the category of “violence against the person”, with Southend seeing a 67 per cent increase in that category.
The numbers have remained high and are continuing to grow year on year.
Last year, Southend recorded 367 knife offences – the highest figure for the whole county – and in 2018 there has already been 162.
Essex Police were forced to make several significant cuts at the beginning of 2016 as part of cost-cutting measures, including closing several police stations and slashing a number of PCSOs who play a key part in neighbourhood policing.
The 2016 cuts did not see any cuts to operation police officers but they did come shortly after a previous round of cuts in 2011, which saw the force lose a significant number of front-line officers.
Independent Southend Councillor Martin Terry said: “Recent statistics show that there was a dramatic drop in gang and knife crime in Glasgow due to a major increase in neighbourhood policing – this is the exact opposite of what we have done here in Essex. Our police do a very good job but they can’t be in two places at once.
“People’s lives are being destroyed by these mindless cuts.”
Southend councillor Mark Flewitt, who oversees public protection, said: “If you said that just because there is a reduction in police it makes people go out and commit crime then I would say for some that is true but for others there is no logical explanation for their crimes.
“Having more police won’t put an end to crime but it may put an end to such high peaks as it may put off the weaker willed criminals.”
Essex Police have acknowledged that crime is rising but said it is in line with national trends and there is little evidence that it is a direct result of police cuts.
A spokesperson for the police said: “Essex has experienced an increase in crime over the last few years but that is part of a trend being experienced right across England and Wales. There is no evidence that crime in Essex has changed as a direct result of the decision that the force – as the lowest funded police force in the country per head of population – took to close some police stations that were no longer in heavy public use.
“Essex remains a safe county and the increase in offences is below the national and regional levels. In other crime areas Essex has seen decreases in burglary, theft and shoplifting, despite the country and our region seeing rises.
“The way crime is committed is constantly changing and we must ensure that our focus is on the crimes which cause the greatest harm. We are recruiting 150 more frontline officers by the end of 2019, to fight and prevent crime in our communities.”
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said: “Crime levels have risen but they are still lower than they were 10 years ago. Safe and secure communities are the bedrock on which we build success and wellbeing for all and we are doing all that we can to support the Chief Constable to bring these figures down.
“We recently increased the policing element of the Council Tax and have worked hard nationally to increase Government funds for policing so we can increase the numbers of police officers who will be visible on the streets of their communities.”
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that overall crime levels nationally were also at a fairly consistent level between 2012 and 2015 but then rose significantly from 2016 onwards.
It notes that the rises seen in recent years are due to a combination of factors including better police measures in tackling domestic abuse, which is included within the category of violence against the person.