After a recent spate of violent burglaries, the Asian community started a signature campaign in Leeds and the neighbouring areas by writing a letter addressed to Fabian Hamilton, the MP Leeds North East. The campaign intended to capture the stories of the community along with the impact to their daily day-to-day life.
The signature campaign aimed to highlight the irony that hard working men and women are currently living in fear of violent burglaries in their own homes while the thieves and robbers thrive and attack people in their own homes. The campaign also captured people’s views around the impact to their day to day lives because of the violent crimes. The topmost element of the impact was the Emotional factor, i.e. fear, worry, etc; second most concern was safety of their family and then was related to the valuables e.g. car, jewellery, etc. This indicated that the people are living in fear of violent burglaries and are concerned about the well-being of their family members. As a follow up to the letter, a meeting was set up with an esteemed panel including political and high-ranking police officials to discuss the community problem in an open forum.
The meeting was held on 18th May 2018 in St. Chad Parish hall and was attended by more than 150 people of the community. The comprehensive panel included, Fabian Hamilton – MP Leeds North East (Labour Party), Mark Burns-Williamson – the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire, Simon Jessup – Detective Chief Inspector Head of Reactive CID, Leeds District Senior Leadership Team, Richard Horn – Inspector Neighbourhood Police Team, North East and Cllr Peter Harrand – Councillor Alwoodley Ward (Conservative Party).
Bhavin Shukla (Community leader) introduced the panel members to the attendees. Bhavin Shukla then provided the statistics on crime which had worried the community by quoting the BBC Panorama programme that was aired on 16th May 2018 on BBC1.
The statistics highlighted in Panorama, Police Under Pressure, matched the report titled “The Crime Map of Britain” published on 22nd June 2017 by the Sun newspaper. In September 2017 BBC reported a rising trend in burglaries in South Asian homes for gold. They reported figures as high as 2 burglaries in Indian homes per week in Milton Keynes. London Metropolitan Police estimated 50 million pound worth of jewellery stolen form South Asia homes in London in the last financial year. Some of the statistics discussed alluded in Panorama were shocking e.g. recorded crime at national level has increased by 21% from 2014 to 2017, whereas 11% fewer criminals have been charged for conviction in the same period. The number of violent crimes have also increased in past 3 years e.g. 41% increase in number of rape cases and 15% increase in homicide cases at national level. It was also discussed that West Yorkshire has one of the largest police forces and also has one of the highest crime rates.
During the meeting one of the victims, a 70 year old lady based in Woodlea area of Leeds, narrated her shocking story of how her house was burgled and she was held captive with a screwdriver pointed at her neck. This first hand account of a violent burglary caused visible signs of distress within the attendees and the speakers. At this point after the attendees has absorbed the seriousness of the topic and empathized with the victim, the forum was then made open for discussion with the representatives from police force given the first opportunity to talk, followed by the elected representatives.
Whilst Mark Burns-Williamson, Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire acknowledged the increase in the overall crime rate at a national and local level, and the very real perceptions of the victims affected and the wider community, he added that he did not feel that there was a disproportionate increase in break-ins into British – Asian households according to the recorded figures. He continued that there were recent priorities and budget set aside to fund more police constables, which should help to bring the situation under control. Mark said, that the Chief Constable – Ms Dee Collins, directly reports to him and he assured that the matter will be discussed with her after the meeting. Mark also mentioned that there is funding available for the community to bid into and his office are there to assist if the community chooses to apply for a grant.
Chief Inspector Simon Jessup mentioned that he personally went through the statistics and as per his view there was no pattern to support that the British Asian families were systematically targeted. He also mentioned that in fact the crime rate has decreased from 10,000 previous year to 7,800. The figures quoted by Simon were in complete contrast with the numbers reported by BBC in the Panorama, which indicated 25% increase in domestic burglary in the last 3 years in West Yorkshire region. Simon’s view was that more incidents were being reported and this falsely puts up the statistics (for example break-ins into sheds are also being counted which are supposedly increasing the numbers). He highlighted preventative measures like role of community reporting suspicious people, neighbourhood watch, securing houses, etc. He reassured the community that with the new introduction of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), robbers could be apprehended before or after crimes are committed.
Richard Horn, Inspector Neighbourhood Police Team North East, recognized the problem and encouraged the community to get to know the Neighbourhood police team (NPT). He concentrated on preventative measures including avoiding usage of social media for posting photographs that displayed jewellery and attracting the attention of thieves. He also highlighted how the community needed to engage with the PCSO in reporting crimes as soon as possible, so that criminals could be traced quickly.
Before Fabian Hamilton started his response, he was made aware of the statistics by the chair e.g. at any point there were estimated 250-320 criminals on the run in West Yorkshire, more than 50 gangs are operative in the region, failure of police to respond to more than 20% of the actual emergency within the stipulated time due to resource limitations, etc and the question was asked, whether the public fear about increase in violent burglary is a perception or a reality.
Fabian Hamilton in his address balanced his views by stating that violent crime targeted at Asian homes is both a perception and a reality. He said that he sympathized with the community and asserted that it is not right for anyone to live in fear. He reassured the community and offered his help ensuring that he will respond to everyone that has written to him and belongs to his electoral ward. He reiterated the need of increase in funding to support police force and highlighted the point earlier raised by Mark in relation to the increase in Council Tax. He suggested the community on how more support can be provided by the authority e.g. taking up the cases with the police directly and setting up an Advisory Surgery, involving district burglary team, applying for the grant, etc. He also agreed and emphasized on key performance indicators to be given to understand improvement of the situation and linking it to increase in funds e.g. increase in council tax.
Councillor Peter Harrand, in his response, mentioned that in the last 20 years he had not heard about robberies in Asian houses being an issue and encouraged the community to bring this forward and “make a noise” to ensure that the concerns are appropriately addressed. He also enlightened the community about police clinics set up on the first Monday of the month in TreeTops Community Centre on Shadwell Lane and urged people of the community to meet up and get to know the local PCSO’s.
Finally, the forum was set open for the community to ask questions to the panel, where pertinent questions were raised e.g. Who should be living in fear, the victims or the criminals and why the laws seem to be protecting the perpetrators? There was a consensus among the attendees that more force should be used to protect the people. There were questions in relation to the austerity measures, mostly seeking answers around the long term political strategy and why were these accepted in first place. Questions were asked for the lack of responsibility and accountability in relation to the increase in crime and victims, and why a model like NHS cannot be used where patient safety is at the heart of the operational procedure. The absence of performance measures and information available in the public domain around how the tax payer’s money is used to protect them for better living, was also raised in the forum.
There was an acceptance of the fact from the panelists that one burglary is one too many and that the police officers will take measures to ensure community safety e.g. increased patrolling, provision of community support officers, automatic number plate recognition, monitoring of known gangs. Cynics would argue that thefts, robberies and burglaries would not attract attention in comparison to other violent crimes like rape or murder. However, the risk to vulnerable children and elderly in their family homes, invasion of privacy and psychological impact cannot be underestimated. Law abiding citizens deserve protection in a society which asks for a significant contribution of their hard-earned income towards national insurance, council tax, personal and home insurance, safety deposit lockers, CCTV’s and police approved locks etc in the house. These measures promote locking ourselves in our homes to protect ourselves rather than expect a reasonable level of security, which is a deterrent to the burglary menace. Low success rates of 16% is unacceptable in any other field, and whilst we can sympathize with the financial pressures the police force is working, it is important to recognize and address the magnitude of the problem. Administrative measures are required from authorities that are goal directed, transparent and delivered within set time frames.
BBC look north covered the event. Police and Crime Commissioner did not think there was any evidence to indicate that there is an increase over the expected in burglaries in Asian households and the community were left void in relation to the safety issue. Poorly thought out, money saving and cost-effective policing can never be the best answer for austerity and has the potential to shatter public confidence. Dr Shashi Yelluri mentioned,” Burglars are prepared to intimidate and use violence & aggression to get what they want. They obviously have no fear of being caught or apprehended.” In general, there was a feeling that the community would like to work to increase awareness and tackle this important issue before it further gets out of control. Dr Gayatri Rao said,” Our first meeting provided the much-needed interface with authorities and we look forward to better dialogue with the police in monitoring and reporting of crime so that we can understand the magnitude of the problem”; One of the attendees, Paresh Bhurke observed, “the session was very helpful and gave us insights on how policing works in terms of these cases. It is too early to say that the things would be sorted very soon but it is important to keep meeting often”. Mr Kishore Dabhi said as an observation, “Mr. Fabian Hamilton MP was reassuring with the promises of support for the community of Leeds with further support in helping to deal with any future incidents of robbery, by taking up incidents with the police directly”, however he had a mixed response and noted that more needs to be done, “I am not left with a feeling of safety after the meeting. Let us give officers and government an opportunity to prove their willingness to help our community to regain the feeling of safety once again.”
Whether it is real or perceived, the community hopes that better communications and active contacts will be made so that the feeling of safety is once again regained. The community is upbeat to raise the issue until it is resolved by rearranging meetings at regular intervals.
About the Authors:
Dr Olivia Pereira is a consultant Physician and Endocrinologist at Mid Yorkshire NHS trust.
Bhavin Shukla is working as an IT Consultant in the data space for last 20 Years. He has worked extensively for years on complex IT Transformation Programmes on NHS IT projects and financial organisations. You can reach the author on firstname.lastname@example.org
Many thanks to Dinesh Kaulgud for proof reading the article.
My special thanks to All Friends Group, an Indian / Asian community group based in Leeds, UK, which helped to organize the program and supported throughout the campaign. Most of the people who volunteered for this event were part of this group.