AT the start of this year there were headlines screaming that Britain was “in the grip of an austerity crimewave”.
Nationally, figures were starting to spiral with more robberies, more thefts of valuable items like iPhones, increases in thefts of lead and other metals and a surge in demand for stolen goods.
Criminologists warned it was a likely outcome as people felt the pinch with the loss of jobs and benefits cuts but also wanting to maintain their standard of living – so increasing the demand for cut-price or knock-off items.
Police chiefs also admitted the economic situation in England and Wales was certainly driving crime up.
But despite that, it seems locally we are bucking the trend.
The very latest crime figures, which include the past week, show that across what police describe as the “western area” – that’s Southampton, Eastleigh, Romsey and the New Forest – crime is falling.
In the past 18 months there have been almost 6,000 fewer crimes compared to the 18 months before that.
And in the past six months alone the statistics show there have been 3,763 less incidents compared to the same six months last year.
Detection rates are also the best they have been in some time, with one in three crimes being resolved.
They are figures that make pleasant reading for the policing chief for the area, Chief Superintendent Dave Thomas, who can happily say they are winning the war against the villains.
It has been a long time, and taken a lot of hard work, to get to the point where the recorded figures are on spreadsheets swathed in green – meaning a drop – compared to the bright red boxes that were all too familiar not so long ago.
The figures show how in the past 12 months:
Violent crime, including knifepoint robberies and stabbings, has dropped by more than 1,000 from 6,156 to 5,038
Antisocial behaviour is down by 1,946 from 15,970 reported incidents to 14,024
Sex offences have fallen by 50, from 321 reports to 271
Rapes have dropped by almost a quarter, down 25 from 103 to 78
Burglary has reduced by 335, from 2,416 to 2,081
Thefts from cars are down by 380 from 1,577 to 1,197
Shoplifting incidents have fallen by 235, from 2,006 to 1,771
But just how are they achieving it when Hampshire police themselves have faced back and budgets have been slashed to help cut costs.
There is not one simple answer according to Chief Supt Thomas, but more a collaboration of things that are helping to drive down crime in this part of Hampshire.
Throughout the past year a number of new initiatives and campaigns have been launched across the area to target specific problems.
Among the most high profile is Operation Fortress, a Daily Echo backed drive to make Southampton a hostile place for drug dealers and kerb related serious violence that was starting to emerge.
But the launch of the campaign has actually pushed crime figures up in that field, from 868 to 982 this year, because a dedicated team of police are disrupting the problem with relentless high-profile raids and arrests like never before. It’s the only area, apart from fraud and forgery cases which have seen a slight increase from 774 to 799 reported incidents.
The ongoing Operation Nemesis, a force-wide initiative to cut burglary rates, has also had its successes while smaller campaigns in the city itself have targeted nuisance moped riders in Lordshill and Lordswood and car crime has been a central focus in Shirley.
In the New Forest the once-significant problem of thefts from cars at beauty spots and car parks has also dramatically reduced thanks to initiatives involving local partners like the Forestry Commission and council.
Indeed it’s partnership work which Chief Supt Thomas says has played a vital role in curbing crime in the area, with organisations from councils to social services, probation to education, who are all facing tough financial times, coming together to try and solve problems as a united front.
Chief Supt Thomas said; “We have longed talked about partnerships but now people in all quarters, facing the budget constraints we do and a drop in numbers of staff, are coming together round a table to find a solution. Our primary focus is that a safer community delivers less victims.”
He points to one such initiative in Southampton where police and probation are working alongside the charity, Society of St James, to target prolific offenders who come out of prison. They are now focussed on finding ways to stop their offending habits such as burglary.
Work is also under way surrounding families who might need more support or intervention, through a joint approach by police and education chiefs – with 50 families engaged in a family matters scheme so far.
Added to that is a notable rise in communication from people living in the area who are getting more involved in their neighbourhoods and working with the police to eradicate problems.
But while no amount of special campaigns or joint working will ever stop crime completely, Chief Supt Thomas is delighted they are pushing in the right direction.
He said: “It’s fantastic. The staff within the police service set out to make communities a safer place and we have achieved that. I think we have genuinely done that in partnership and it’s also really good to see the communities themselves becoming involved in that success.
“It has taken a real effort by all of those people, and I have watched people working exceptionally hard both in my own organisation and in others and it is to their credit that we find ourselves where we are now.
“If you had said to me at the start of the year we would be here now, with almost 6,000 less victims of crime in the past 18 months, then I would have happily taken that.”