UK: The cost of the Bill. (4 of 4)

UK: The cost of the Bill. (4 of 4) - It is the constant upward spiral of crime statistics which has forced the Met to consider other ways of keeping crime and bills pegged down. Clarke speaks of "designing out crime" - avoiding badly lit estates that are

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

It is the constant upward spiral of crime statistics which has forced the Met to consider other ways of keeping crime and bills pegged down. Clarke speaks of "designing out crime" - avoiding badly lit estates that are perfect for ambushes, and building houses that are difficult to break into.

This, however, relies on co-operation with the local council, something which has proved difficult in Hackney. Left wingers have long demanded that the police be more publicly accountable - a demand that has been strongly resisted by both the Home Office and the police forces themselves. Hunt claims that even the public distrust of the police during the '80s has had a positive impact. "Antipathy has had a beneficial effect on us over the past 10 years," he says. "Now we're focused in on those areas where there have been difficulties."

A drive around some of the division in a patrol car illustrates the problems that Clarke has to deal with. As the car passes slowly down the notorious Sandringham Road (of "no go" fame) the street is shrouded in shadows. Street lights are either missing altogether or bulbs are waiting to be replaced. Derelict houses, shady, low-level housing estates and the inevitable builders' skips compound the problem.

"Now they've closed down the pub and the local community centre it's pretty boring here," admits Bateman. "There's not much going on apart from those dealers," he continues. "There's no point in trying to arrest them," explains the plain-clothed Kennedy, who is poised to jump out, away from the unhelpful advertising of the patrol car. "They'll have gone before we get out of the car." Sure enough, as it crawls by, one slips into the cafe. "Warning the others," explains Bateman. The only practical way of catching such petty offenders is to mount a costly and time-consuming surveillance operation.

Clarke says that his biggest routine problem is street crime because it exerts an influence out of all proportion to the numbers involved. "We have seven muggings a day, spread over a population of 185,000 and over an area covering several square miles," he says. "I wish that we could publish a 'risk factor' at the same time as the crime statistics," he continues. But if street crime is the most serious and difficult problem to counter, his next big operation is to be mounted against the local red light area in the north of his district.

Prostitutes, their "ponces" (as the police know the men who protect and control women), drug dealers and kerb crawlers - all have created a barrage of complaints from local residents. To keep the local community happy, Clarke is about to mount a major crackdown on the trade, but he openly admits that it is a labour of Sisyphus. Almost all of the women are driven by poverty or drug addiction and treat the fines of £100 for a first offence and £400 for subsequent convictions as a matter of routine. As Clarke admits, a clampdown simply leads to the women moving to King's Cross or Tottenham, but as he says wearily: "They'll be back as soon as my back's turned."

Meanwhile, the evening ends as it began for the patrol car. A disturbance has been reported from the estate across the road from Safeway. The three officers sigh as they check the brick walkways that ring the estate's central courtyard and which provide perfect vantage points to hurl bottles at intruders. It is quiet apart from the routine abuse from the estate's numerous children. As they reach the fourth floor it is clear that the squatters have gone.

As before, the first task is now reassurance. The first question that Morley asks the anxious resident is: "Did one have pink hair?" He did. The query has two functions: firstly it confirms the officers in their suspicions, but its second, and arguably more important, role is to calm the residents. "The police have their finger on the pulse," it seems to say.

Sure enough, the squatters have drunk the contents of their bottles and are now in an exuberant mood, much to the annoyance and concern of their neighbours. But just as predictable is the result. Judging by the blood, one has cut a vein on the glass that he was hurling from the walkway. "Was it the pink-haired one?" asks Kennedy, with perhaps a hint too much hope. It was. Wearily the officers advise the tenants to raise a petition to force an eviction from the council. They then walk cautiously back to the car - it is not too late to be ambushed, even by one of the residents whom they have come to protect.

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