I was brought into the Government last year to be the victims’ voice in Parliament and champion active and safer neighbourhoods.
Amid the smouldering wreckage of the rioting and looting on our streets, and the senseless murders (devastating for my family as these shocking events occurred over the fourth anniversary of my husband Garry’s death), it’s obvious that action on anti-social behaviour has never been so urgent.
The police ultimately took charge of a very difficult situation to return order and the courts are dealing swiftly and effectively with the hundreds of resulting criminal cases. The criminal justice system is sending out the strong message that this shocking behaviour will not be tolerated. But more has to be done.
Technology is being used in all sorts of amazing ways to help fight crime, worldwide. But here in the UK we have been slow to embrace the future. Technology can be our eyes and ears. Essex police for example use ‘Carmacams’, discreet body-worn cameras whose filmed disorder can be cast-iron evidence in court, do away with coaxing frightened witnesses to testify, and cut down on police paperwork, time and costs. Why aren’t these used more widely?
In the US static kiosks parked in streets require offenders on parole to ‘clock in’, freeing up probation officers to focus on rehabilitating offenders, and keeping proper tabs on criminals’ whereabouts. We should invite open scrutiny into the workings of the criminal justice system, following the transparency encouraged by the Communities Department. Online crime maps with millions logging on shows there is a huge appetite for this information.
More open, innovative partnerships between central and local government – as pioneered through ‘directgov’ – a direct route through to what’s going on in people’s local areas – can make a vast difference. We should harness the riots’ ‘people power’ which swept away the debris, and awakened the silent law-abiding majority. We must empower citizens to volunteer in their local communities and to work together to improve safety.
We cannot continue fighting age-old problems with antiquated solutions. Innovation and personal responsibility have to play a part. This is a time for bold thinking and bolder action. The readers of this blog and my colleagues in both Houses can lead real change if you step up and join me to realise my vision of safer, happier neighbourhoods. We cannot wait a moment longer to take back our communities.