During the election campaign I knocked on thousands of doors across Ipswich and by far crime and anti-social behaviour was the number one issue people raised with me.
All too often, residents tell me they are scared of going into their own town centre. This is particularly true for many of our elderly neighbours, some of whom have lived in Ipswich for decades and lament the observable rise of disorder on our streets over the years.
The high-profile incidents are all too familiar to us. The brutal murder of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens in broad daylight still haunts Ipswich. The mass brawl which broke out on Norwich Road in November, resulting in a dozen arrests, represents another ugly episode in flagrant violent crime spilling out onto our streets.
While gang feuds and county lines grab the headlines, it’s also the persistent petty crimes and misdemeanours that are chipping away day by day at people’s sense of security. Large groups of men loitering in the town centre make passers-by uncomfortable. I’ve seen first-hand the intimidating behaviour, particularly towards women who are just trying to get home safe from work or a night out in town.
I’ve also spoken to retailers who are routinely the victims of theft. These business owners, many of whom take on considerable financial risk to provide the goods we buy, should not have to shoulder the additional burden of constant loss prevention. Tackling theft and anti-social behaviour must be one of the steps we take in regenerating our town centre. The wrongdoing deters customers and new businesses alike, and stolen goods and reduced demand drive up prices for honest and hardworking people.
It is impossible to start thinking about remedies to these issues without also being ready to confront the possibility that a disproportionate number of crimes are committed by individuals from certain communities. This is something we should be open and honest about. Brushing it under the carpet will not get us closer to solving the issue.
Unfortunately, calling things how they are has not been a quality which we have come to expect from many in positions of responsibility on these matters. People who should know better are too quick to spout to politically correct mantras and too slow to call out problems in certain communities, hindering our ability to get to the bottom of the issue and leaving many residents and victims feeling like they don’t have a voice.
In contrast to those who say we should be eternally tolerant of bad behaviour which may be rife in other countries but is not traditionally in ours, we must acknowledge the many benefits of immigration and respect people’s different cultural backgrounds while insisting that those who join our community meet us halfway when it comes to integration. This includes learning English, respecting women and obeying our laws.
Let me be straight-talking with you now: we must get tough on crime. We must take the side of victims rather than make excuses for the perpetrators. Large groups of loiterers need to be dispersed, shoplifters prosecuted and violent, weapon-wielding thugs dealt with through a zero-tolerance approach.
We must reclaim our streets. The Government’s plans for more police officers and tougher sentences are welcome but we must also take responsibility for our own neighbourhood. This includes securing a fairer police funding for Suffolk which currently has one of the worst deals in the country. As well as this, I’m calling for a greater police presence in Ipswich and more town wardens patrolling the streets.
Let’s not be in any doubt, this is a difficult problem to confront. But the truth must be faced head-on and just as importantly, action must be taken based on the facts as we see them.