The policing minister, Kit Malthouse, has disputed the suggestion of the chief inspector of constabulary, Andy Cooke, that the cost of living crisis will trigger an increase in crime, branding it “old-fashioned” thinking.
As inflation hit a 40-year high of 9%, Cooke said on Wednesday that officers should use their “discretion” when deciding whether to prosecute people who steal in order to eat.
Appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Thursday, Malthouse, a longtime ally of Boris Johnson, said Cooke’s thinking was “old-fashioned”, adding: “Because people are challenged financially … that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to turn to crime.”
The chief inspector of constabulary is the head of the independent assessor of police forces in England and Wales. Cooke, a former chief constable of Merseyside police, took over from Sir Tom Winsor in the role last month.
Malthouse has told officers not to let shoplifters off if they are stealing food out of desperation during the cost of living crisis.
He later told LBC, ministers would ensure police do not turn a blind eye to shoplifters stealing food.
“In fact I wrote to chief constables just a year or so ago saying they should not be ignoring those seemingly small crimes,” he said.
Earlier, the minister told Times Radio: “The broad rule is that justice should be blind and I hope and believe that is the principle that sits behind not just the police but the operation of the courts as well.
“I have to challenge this connection between poverty and crime. What we’ve found in the past, and where there is now growing evidence, is that actually crime is a contributor to poverty. That if you remove the violence and the crime from people’s lives they generally prosper more than they otherwise would.”
Cooke had earlier said: “The impact of poverty, and the impact of lack of opportunity for people, does lead to an increase in crime. There’s no two ways about that.”
When asked how policing could avoid being seen as the arm of an uncaring state, he said forces across England and Wales were skilled in dealing with the tensions and dynamics of their communities.
“What they’ve got to bear in mind is what is the best thing for the community, and that individual, in the way they deal with those issues. And I certainly fully support police officers using their discretion – and they need to use discretion more often.”