Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Tough sentences are the only way to protect police and public


Almost every day brings a fresh example of worsening criminal violence, committed in broad daylight, and now directed at police themselves. Last week two officers were attacked viciously on a busy street after a routine traffic stop in Merton in south London.

The female officer of the pair sustained head injuries from a ‘karate’ kick while her male colleague suffered cuts after being dragged around in the road. A video taken by a bystander shows one suspect taking a run-up as he launches a flying kick to the woman officer’s chest, which knocks her to the ground while the other suspect attacks the male officer on the ground. Flippant running commentary tweeted from passers-by added insult to police injury.

Understandably shocked by the lack of public support (‘Oh dear me, he just kung fu-kicked her in the head! Look! I am getting this all live, boys and girls, I thought I’d just stop and have a little watch’) the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, Ken Marsh, issued a warning. The police could start letting violent suspects go if the risk to his officers got too high. That, more than the violence itself, seemed to wake the media up, as it was no doubt intended to. Yet quizzing Marsh on the BBC’s Today programme, John Humphrys showed little sympathy. He passed by the appallingly bad public behaviour to suggest that Marsh was making a fuss: ‘Hasn’t it [violence] always been like that?’

No. It hasn’t, though it’s a state of affairs that has not developed overnight. As I’ve argued previously, the British state has been following a campaign of leniency towards crime, in particular to violent crime, for over 50 years now. We are now reaping what these absurd policies have sown, as exemplified by this particularly shocking but sadly no longer unusual incident.

What it so clearly underlines is that today’s criminals need have no fears about retribution from the state. The leniency of our sentencing system means they will not suffer much consequence of their actions. In fact they know they can ‘get away’ with anything, given that there little chance they will be caught or, in the case of the tiny minority who are, that their sentences will be light.

For those who have the propensity for criminal violence, there is now no reason not to indulge it.

Our justice elite knows this but still it does nothing to change course, leaving the police to respond. Ken Marsh said: ‘We’re going to come to a point where we’re going to start pushing messages out to our colleagues: “Risk-assess it dynamically and, if you think you can’t detain a person, just let them go”.’

Of course police withdrawal on the grounds of their own safety will just give further licence to violent thugs – and another reason for them to feel safe to commit violent acts. This holds nightmarish consequences for the law-abiding.

At the same time the case for protecting the police is unarguable. A law reported to be coming into force in December will potentially increase the penalties for those who attack police and others in uniform. But if previous criminal justice responses are anything to go by, this will bring little or no change. The change that is needed is in sentencing policy. Those who commit violence against the police should receive draconian prison sentences. The public are also in the front line of the undeclared war that criminals are waging against society, and this is the only way to for the public to be kept safe too.

There need be no head-scratching about this. We know how to provide such protection. Unarguable evidence from the US which I explained here, and more fully here, has shown that the introduction of a ‘three-strikes’ sentencing policy for repeat violent offenders has caused crime rates there to plummet. Similar policies in New Zealand, introduced in 2010, have also been successful.

We do not need to be distracted by those who argue that such a move would lead to the need for more prison places and so increase costs and therefore our taxes. On the contrary, the fall in violent crime in many US states, for example, California, since the three-strike system was introduced, has resulted in the demand for fewer prison places. In other words, large numbers of violent offenders throw in the towel after their second conviction for a strike offence. They do not want to go down for ‘the big one’ which they know will follow a third conviction. This is the template that will make Britain a much safer place, but we lack politicians with the vision and courage to implement it.

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David Fraser
David Fraser
David Fraser is the author of Licence to Kill, Britain’s Surrender to Violence. He is a former senior probation officer and criminal intelligence analyst with the National Criminal Intelligence Service (now the National Crime Agency).

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