Paul Dale sees a Birmingham councillor launch a scathing attack on West Midlands Police during a full committee meeting.
A Conservative councillor has launched a scathing attack on West Midlands Police’s “disturbing” detection rates for crime.
As councillors from all political parties congratulated the police force at a full committee meeting on its efforts to tackle crime, Matt Bennett could stand it no longer.
He rose to point out that targets for detecting serious crimes are “woefully low” and police officers are failing by some way to meet their own modest ambitions.
Chief Constable Chris Sims beamed contentedly at the contribution from most councillors, particularly Labour’s Marj Bridle who gushed that she had never known a time when police officers had been so in touch with the communities they serve.
Even comments about Project Champion, the embarrassing episode which resulted in public protests forcing Mr Sims to remove more than 200 anti-terror surveillance cameras placed in Muslim parts of Birmingham, were couched in terms of thanking the police for being understanding and acting so swiftly.
But the atmosphere changed abruptly when Coun Bennett (Con Stockland Green) tore into what he saw as an appalling failure to get to grips with crime.
Some people might think he has a point.
For while total recorded crime in Birmingham has fallen by 12.5 per cent since 2007, the chances of someone who has committed an offence being caught and convicted remain extremely low in most instances.
The latest West Midlands Police figures for Birmingham show a 31 per cent detection rate for serious violence, a 19.8 per cent rate for serious sexual offences and, alarmingly, a tiny 8.3 per cent detection rate for domestic burglaries.
Detection rates for crimes involving robbery are 13.4 per cent, and for vehicle crime the figure stands at just 5.6 per cent.
In other words, more than 90 per cent of house burglaries in Birmingham and 80 per cent of serious sexual crime go undetected. Is it any wonder that most people disbelieve the Government when it insists that crime is on the decrease?
Targets set by the chief constable and agreed by the police authority hardly suggest there is much confidence in any ability to do better.
The force aims to “improve” by solving half of all violent crime, a fifth of serious sexual offences and burglaries and a quarter of all robberies.
The detection rate target for vehicle crime is just 11 per cent.
Other forces comparable to the West Midlands are performing better on the whole:
* In Greater Manchester, the detection rate for violent crime is 47 per cent. Across the West Midlands, it is 36 per cent and in Birmingham 31.3 per cent.
* Greater Manchester police manage to solve 19 per cent of robberies, against 21 per cent in the West Midlands and 13.4 per cent in Birmingham.
* On Merseyside, 65 per cent of violent crimes are detected compared to 36 per cent in the West Midlands and 31.3 per cent in Birmingham.
* In Leeds, 50 per cent of violent crimes are solved and 23 per cent of robberies.
And for critics who inevitably will seek to cloud the issue by stressing the difficulties of policing a large urban area, a glance at what is happening in Warwickshire may prove instructive.
The police force there fares no better than Birmingham, managing to detect 16 per cent of robberies and 14 per cent of burglaries.
Coun Bennett said he was shocked by the figures, adding: “If Manchester and Merseyside can do better why can’t we?
“It’s actually quite disturbing to see exactly how many crimes go unsolved every year.”
Coun Bennett is in a small minority of city councillors backing a Government proposal to replace police authorities with directly elected police commissioners.
He said: “There is a cosy relationship between police authority members and no incentive for them to challenge the police or hold them to account.
“No one wants to talk about crime figures. The targets are woefully unambitious and the police don’t even expect to solve the majority of crimes.
“If you are sexually assaulted in Birmingham you have an 18 per cent chance of seeing justice done. That’s just not good enough.
“I support the idea of police commissioners because I would rather have one directly elected person responsible for the police than 17 ineffective people.
“Most people don’t know the police authority exists and they can’t influence the authority through the democratic process.”
The outburst earned Bennett a rebuke from Moseley Liberal Democrat councillor Ernie Hendricks, who is the city’s lead member on the police authority.
Turning to address Bennett at the council debate, Hendricks said: “You are an angry young man.”
Coun Hendricks said he retained full confidence in Mr Sims’s ability to cut crime and improve detection rates.
“We have quizzed the force about the figures and have been assured that things are being put in place to tackle this,” he added.
Coun Hendricks added that the unsettling impact of Operation Paragon, a police force restructuring programme designed to save £50 million, was partly to blame for the plunge in detection rates.