Inner city Birmingham is facing growing crime and a loss of confidence in the police as a result of spending cuts, an MP has claimed.
Khalid Mahmood (Lab Perry Barr) said cuts in officer numbers, the loss of community support officers and plans to close police stations overnight were sending the message that criminals would not be caught.
He said his constituency had already experienced an increase in crime – with Asian families targeted by criminals on the lookout for gold jewellery.
Official figures do not back up Mr Mahmood’s claim that crime has increased across the constituency, but the MP said there was anecdotal evidence of a major rise in certain areas.
Traditional Asian jewellery, which can be decades old and passed from one generation to the next as wedding gifts, has shot up in value as the price of gold has risen during the global economic crisis. Gold currently sells for £1,116 an ounce – up from £346 five years ago.
The outspoken comments come from an MP who has a history of supporting the police and has praised them for building strong links with the community in his constituency, an ethnically diverse area of the city which saw rioting in 2005 and 1985.
Mr Mahmood said the force’s success in building good relations was being put at risk as it struggled to cut spending by £126 million, following cuts in grants from central government.
He said: “We’ve lost 67 officers across the Lozells and East Handsworth ward. That’s a huge number.
“You’ve got community support officers that are not there any more.
“The local police aren’t being supported, despite a very good effort by a lot of very good officers. If you haven’t got the resources you can’t do something.”
The MP also highlighted plans to close Handsworth police station in Thornhill Road overnight. The station is currently open 24 hours a day.
“It’s about the representation of the police in an area where there’s been all sorts of trouble, all sorts of real issues.
“And just to even close it at night – and we held a meeting where almost 100 people turned up to express concern about this – it’s a symbolic gesture.
“It’s that sense of security you have when you know there is police station which is manned 24 hours. It would mean we are going backwards and giving confidence to the criminal element to start up again.”
Crime was increasing in the area, Mr Mahmood said.
“We’ve had a spate of burglaries. The police have been on to it but they haven’t got their resources, and these people know that. Particularly a lot of the Asian ladies who wear gold have had gold snatched from them in daylight.
“They [criminals] know that there’s nobody around to chase them, so they’ve become much more brazen in doing that.”
The cuts risked undermining the progress made by the police in recent years, he warned.
“Over the last 10 years we’ve had some brilliant community policing.
“We’ve got community support officers on the street who are recognised by residents and who knew what was going on in their areas and worked very hard.
“Local sergeants who were in charge of their small patches in my constituency, particularly in Lozells and Handsworth.
“Before I got elected, people would say to me ‘Handsworth, Lozells? You wouldn’t dare walk out in the evening anywhere near that’. I think the work the police have done over the past ten years was absolutely phenomenal in changing that perception.”
Cuts in police numbers made it harder for members of the public to build good relationships with the police, he said.
“We have got community forums and neighbourhood forums in our patch, and we used to get five or six officers at those meetings and we don’t get that any more.
"What used to happen was people would go at the end of the meeting and speak to them, raise issues and raise concerns, and they can’t do that any more. So my fear is that while this is going on, its going to have a huge effect on the crime figures. And I think to the detriment of the city and I think to the detriment of the safety of my constituents.”
Official crime figures don’t confirm Mr Mahmood’s claim that crime has increased across the constituency.
Across the Perry Barr constituency there were 632 burglaries recorded in January – down from 721 in the same period last year, according to figures from West Midlands Police.
There were 385 robberies in Perry Barr in January up slightly from 381 a year previously.
But Mr Mahmood said unreported crime was in fact becoming an ever greater problem.
“You speak to anyone in the constituency and they’ll say yes, definitely.
“Both in Handsworth Wood and Lozells and East Handsworth there have been significant increases.
“Significant robberies of people’s families, family jewellery for example.
“One family had £30,000 worth of gold stolen. They just got married last year and this was predominantly wedding jewellery that they had been given. Both the husband and wife were at work, and somebody managed to get in and get away with it.”
Mr Mahmood is supporting former Labour councillor Mike Olley’s bid to become the first elected crime commissioner of the West Midlands.
A spokesman for West Midlands Police said the force had put a new police team in place to cover Soho Road, Handsworth, in response to requests from local residents.
In a major interview with the Birmingham Post last week, Chris Sims, the Chief Constable, insisted operational performance was unaffected despite the cuts he had been forced to make as a result of central-government spending cuts.
Every one of the force’s departments have been put under the microscope and asked to strip out unnecessary costs and protect the frontline, he said.
He said: “We have gone through a vigorous and rigorous review of every budget line and taken out everything that we can. In some critical areas we have fundamentally changed the way we work.
“We are at the end of that process, and we know pretty much where all of that £126 million gap is coming from and how it will be found.”
Mr Sims also said: “In amongst what feels to the public like cut, cut, cut, there are areas where we are putting more resources into protecting the public better.”