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Johnson wants ‘fluorescent-jacketed chain gangs’ to punish anti-social behaviour

The UK Prime Minister set out elements of his Government’s Beating Crime Plan, including the wider use of Stop and Search powers.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Image: PA

BORIS JOHNSON HAS promised the wider use of public “chain gangs” to tackle anti-social behaviour in Britain as he defended his approach to law and order in the face of police anger over a pay freeze.

Launching the Government’s Beating Crime Plan, Johnson 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 Stop and Search powers, effectively undoing reforms brought in by his predecessor, Theresa May.

Johnson used a visit to Surrey Police headquarters in Guildford yesterday 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 UK Government.

The British 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 Johnson said “you are going to be seeing more of that”.

Stop and Search

The wider use of Stop and Search is controversial because of concerns that it disproportionately affects black and minority ethnic communities.

But 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.”

beating-crime-plan UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel visiting Surrey Police headquarters yesterday. Source: Yui Mok/PA Images

The visit by Johnson and UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to Guildford was criticised by Surrey Police Federation, just days after most officers were hit with a pay freeze.

“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.”

She said the UK Government had “given us nothing” and added that Johnson and Patel’s visit was not welcomed by “I am sure, the majority of hard-working police officers”. 

But Johnson defended the resources being put into policing despite the spending restraint needed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“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.

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“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.”

Criticism

Campaign groups have criticised the UK 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 Britain. 

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 policy manager at the Children’s Society charity Iryna Pona said intervention should take place long before young people end up in hospital.

“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,” she added. 

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.

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.

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