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Boris Johnson promised the wider use of public “chain gangs” to tackle yobs as he defended his approach to law and order in the face of police anger over a pay freeze.
The Prime Minister, launching the Government’s Beating Crime Plan, said people should be able to identify those who have been sentenced to community service for anti-social behaviour carrying out their punishment.
The plan also includes a permanent relaxing of conditions on the use of controversial Section 60 Stop and Search powers, effectively undoing reforms brought in by his predecessor, Theresa May.
Mr Johnson used a visit to Surrey Police headquarters in Guildford to highlight the plan, but was criticised by the force’s Police Federation branch in the latest sign of the strained relationship between rank-and-file officers and the Government.
The Prime Minister said he is keen to tackle problems with low level disorder, which he acknowledged could have a major impact on victims.
He said the coronavirus lockdown “has driven some anti-social behaviour” and promised to tackle it.
“Somebody’s anti-social behaviour may be treated as a minor crime but it could be deeply distressing to those who are victims,” he said.
“If you are guilty of anti-social behaviour and you are sentenced to unpaid work, as many people are, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be out there in one of those fluorescent-jacketed chain gangs, visibly paying your debt to society.”
Offenders taking part in “community payback” schemes are already required to wear a hi-vis vest while carrying out the unpaid work, but Mr Johnson said “you are going to be seeing more of that”.
The wider use of Stop and Search is controversial because of concerns that it disproportionately affects black and minority ethnic communities.
But Mr Johnson insisted it is not a “strong-arm” tactic and it has the backing of parents.
Section 60 powers give officers the right to search people in a defined area during a specific time period when they expect serious violence, and officers can look for weapons before they can be used, or those used in a recent attack.
The Prime Minister said: “I think that giving the police the backing that they need in law to stop someone, to search them, to relieve them of a dangerous weapon – I don’t think that’s strong-arm tactics, I think that’s a kind and a loving thing to do.
“The people who often support Stop and Search most passionately are the parents of the kids who are likely themselves to be the victims of knife crime.”
The visit by Mr Johnson and Ms Patel to Guildford was criticised by Surrey Police Federation, just days after most officers were hit with a pay freeze.
Surrey Police officers shouldn’t be used as part of a PR stunt to show that everything is rosy between policing and the Government – when nothing could be further from the truth. Full view here from Chair Mel Warnes on Home Sec & PM visit to the county https://t.co/VSMkVYQ9IO pic.twitter.com/Slbl592C3e
— SurreyPoliceFed (@SurreyPoliceFed) July 27, 2021
“Our colleagues should not be used as public relations pawns by politicians,” said chairwoman Mel Warnes.
“I very much doubt any of our colleagues will be smiling at the thought of meeting two people who have decided against giving them any sort of pay rise despite everything police officers across the country have done these past 18 months.
“Police officers have given everything. The Government has given us nothing.
“Frankly, their visit is not welcomed by, I am sure, the majority of hard-working police officers.”
But Mr Johnson defended the resources being put into policing despite the spending restraint needed due to the coronavirus crisis.
“When I stood on the steps of Downing Street two years ago I said I wanted another 20,000 officers on the streets of our country,” he told reporters.
“We are now almost half the way there. We are putting £15.8 billion into supporting our police.
“But of course it’s been a tough time financially for the whole country.”
Campaign groups have criticised the Government’s plans for not doing enough to tackle the root causes of crime.
Human rights organisation Liberty had said easing the restrictions on Stop and Search would “compound discrimination” in the UK.
The strategy includes plans for league tables for forces’ 101 and 999 call-answering times, a national online platform to allow the public to contact police, and efforts against county lines drug gangs to be intensified.
It also includes a £17 million package to persuade young people who go to an emergency department with a stab wound or have contact with police to stay away from violence.
But Iryna Pona, policy manager at the Children’s Society charity, said intervention should take place long before young people end up in hospital.
She added: “We want to see a long-term plan for investment in early help for children at the first signs that they are vulnerable to being groomed.”
Mr Johnson’s reforms for England and Wales will also see the extension of a pilot announced earlier this year which involves burglars and thieves being made to wear GPS tags on release from prison.
Change is inevitable but we don't always see it coming. Fortunately, there are ways to adapt to change, and even to take advantage of it.
Occupational Therapist Charlotte gives us her tips👇 https://t.co/zbNmI2eBmC
— Children's Society (@childrensociety) July 26, 2021
The strategy will also trial the use of alcohol tags – which detect alcohol in the sweat of the wearer – on prison leavers in Wales in a bid to reduce alcohol-related crime.