April 2008 North Area Committee Meeting


Thursday, April 17th, 2008. 11:06pm

I attended the North Area Committee meeting on Thursday the 17th of April in Cambridge.

Highlights

  • Sector Inspector Jon Hutchinson assured me after the meeting that he would ask if stop and account records collected in Cambridge could be deleted/destroyed now records of stops and accounts are no-longer made.
  • Councillors removed burglary as a priority for the police in North Cambridge, despite the level of burglary in the area remaining higher than elsewhere in Cambridge. I thought this was a shocking decision, instead they decided the police’s efforts are to be spent educating school children about drugs, and educating international students arriving in the area about crime. (Cllr Blair objected to the proposed police priority of: “Preventing attacks on foreign students” on the grounds of it not being a politically correct thing to say, other councillors including Councillor James agreed it should be amended as they wanted the police to make north Cambridge safe for everyone, the result was agreement on an “education” based priority the wording of which was to be decided later.)
  • Inspector Hutchinson stated: “We want people to know CCTV cameras are there”. I support better signage for CCTV cameras in Cambridge, and more support for this is fantastic.

Setting Police Priorities

At the previous meeting I had received an assurance from Cllr Nimmo Smith that the mechanism for setting police priorities in the north area would be explained at this meeting, and he would pursue making the membership and minutes of the non-public “Neighborhood Panel meeting” public.
Disappointingly Cllr Nimmo Smith had not been able to get a response from the appropriate council officer – the Director of Community Services, suggesting that she wasn’t able to respond as she was recovering from the London Marathon.

Guided Bus

There was a presentation by Bob Menzies (Head of Delivery: Cambridgeshire County Council) on the construction of the Guided Busway and the possible impacts for the North of Cambridge.

I asked about the co-ordination of the building of Northstowe with completing the Cambridge end of the guided busway, and the potential traffic chaos on Milton/Histon roads once the busses are added to the current traffic. I asked if such traffic chaos is part of the plan; and will be used to justify the chopping down of trees to allow the widening of Milton road?

The county council officer spoke about how the Northstowe developers had worked closely with council on the guided bus and had funded much of the initial preparation work. He did not make any comment on if the development of Northstowe could be paused if there was traffic chaos in North Cambridge. He stated that there was currently no funding for a guided bus link to the proposed Chesterton station, and his presentation completely ignored Chesterton station – which I view as an essential prerequisite to fully developing Northstowe.

The county council officer denied there would be any traffic chaos on Milton or Histon Roads, suggesting the added bus traffic was negligible.

Policing

I used my opportunity to comment on North Area Policing to:

  • Welcome the fact the Inspector attended the meeting, and asked why he had not attended for a few meetings, instead sending his Sgt. I noted that many of the issues raised were in my opinion issues for the Inspector, such as staffing issues in East Chesterton. I also drew attention to the fact that as well as only sending the Sgt. To the North Area Committee, there was a trickle down effect as the Sgt. used to attend meetings at the Meadows community centre and now only a PCSO was sent there despite many people attending.
    [The Inspector indicated agreement]
  • Report that at the Meadows community centre Arbury problem solving meeting on the 29th of January the primary topic of discussion was the operation of stop and account. People were reporting being stopped for spurious reasons such as “wearing gloves”, and “wearing a hat”, they were also reporting not receiving encounter receipts having been stopped and having their names and addresses demanded. Parents present also expressed concern that their children were being stopped and asked to account for their actions by plain clothes police on their way home from school. The negative effect of this use of stop and account on people’s attitude to the police was discussed. I am suggesting that the police give due consideration of their actions on the public’s impression of the police.
    [The Inspector noted that stop and account forms had been discontinued]
  • Report that at an East Chesterton Anti-social behaviour meeting the main concern of those present was the fact that East-Chesterton used to have 2 PCs and 2 PCSOs yet at the time of the meeting it had only one PCSO.
    [Cllr Blair interjected and complained that I shouldn't have raised this, as she had just tried to (without clarity, and without gaining a response) and suggested that the chair of the East Chesterton ASB meeting would be making this point, but when the chair did speak she did not raise this issue.]
  • I have been asking about stop and account for over a year now, and at the last North Area committee meeting the police attended Sgt. Wragg stated the paper stop and account form was held for 10 years, and that all stop and account were entered on to a database. He did not tell me how long any electronic record was kept by the police, if it included the person who was stopped’s explanation for their actions and if it was just available to Cambridgeshire police or if it was shared more widely.
    [The Inspector assured me individually that the stop and account form information was not shared with other forces]
  • The police report appears to omit mention of mini-motos and scooters (other than in East Chesterton). I would ask if as PCSO Streater reported to the Meadows Community centre meeting the Road Traffic Act and Police Act powers were now being used in preference to the Antisocial behaviour act when these bikes were being driven on the roads. I would suggest this should be Police priority in advance of the summer – even if it has not been considered a major a problem in the last few months.
    [Cllr James later said he hadn't seen any Mini-motos recently and didn't want to make them a priority; so I have sent him some photos of mini-moto misuse from this week]
  • Note the police report omits the a problem on Martingale close which has resulted in two of the council’s RCCTV cameras being deployed there. What is so serious it merits this massively intrusive CCTV deployment but doesn’t warrant a bullet point in the neighbourhood profile?
    [The Inspector said this was due to burglaries, the council's CCTV manager had told me it was due to anti-social behavior so I have informed the CCTV manager of the inconsistency]
  • Comment on the fact the police report notes that burglary remains high when compared to other areas of the City, yet they are asking the committee approve them removing it as a priority.

I was, quite reasonably, stopped by the Chair following apparent prompting from the Vice Chair from speaking, had I been allowed more time I would have used it to:

  • Note at both community meetings there appeared to be no clear route for action to be taken on the suggestions being made, with the PCSOs repeatedly suggesting “complaining to the police” or “writing to Sgt Wragg”, both of which I think are inappropriate responses from the police to suggestions made in public forums. The mechanism described in today’s area profile is excellent, but the PCSOs leading the public meetings need to be aware of it, and I would suggest need to take notes at the meetings. At neither meeting the PCSO have a notebook, and while a member of the public gave PCSO Streater at the meadows centre a pen and paper and got him to commit to send his notes from the meeting out via Ecops he did not do so. I do not think the police report is accurately reflecting what is being said at the public meetings.
    [The chair of the East Chesterton ASB meeting noted that I had raised points such as these at the East Chesterton ASB meeting, and she considered them "anti-police" therefore banned me from attending any future such meetings (I have attended two at her express invitation), though she went on to make the point about the PCSO not taking notes at this meeting and the Inspector agreed that this would be a good idea. I think that if the meeting ceases to be an open meeting, it should not receive the support of the police, council, local paper etc. I don't think a meeting set up with the sole purpose of praising the police should receive such support ]
  • The police report appears to omit mention of Histon Road Cemetery, despite Ecops emails suggesting it is a priority. My suggestion here has been to allow PCSOs to visit it more than once a shift if they feel that is necessary. (PCSO Streater reported to a friends of Histon Road Cemetery meeting that he, and other PCSOs was only allowed to visit it once a shift and had no personal discretion).
  • Draw attention to a common thread I have spotted in both my own experience of the police and those of others at the public meetings I have attended – that the police tend to respond rapidly if something is currently happening – however minor. An example from East Chesterton was a report of “someone standing on a bin”, yet if someone returns home to find they have been burgled, because there is nothing happening at that time, they don’t necessarily respond. This is an area where I think priorities could usefully change in practice, they should take notice of the fact burglary was set as a priority at the North Area Committee.
  • Note that Sgt. Wragg in North Cambridge refuses to raise incidents from Ecops messages, and that this is at odds with the practice of Sgt.Cross in East Cambridge. I think North Cambridge is getting a poor deal here and am concerned this (and deterring people from photographing and videoing lawlessness) is an attempt to reduce the number of reported incidents.
    [I raised this individually with the Inspector who assured me there was no substantive difference, I told him this was contrary to the advice given by his PCSOs who advise phoning. However I note the Ecops disclaimer stating:"Contacting us on E-Cops does not raise an incident ...If you are wishing to raise and incident then we require you to phone in ..." is still present as of the 16th of April.]
  • Note deterring people from taking photographs of lawlessness is increasingly common officiousness across the country. Cambridge’s chief constable supports videoing and photographing crime and anti-social behaviour. The actions of the police are explained as inexperienced, low ranking police officers and PCSOs not knowing their powers.
  • PC Steve Hinks has made the front pages of the local press for arresting someone for cycling though a red traffic light, was that appropriate?
  • Comment on the fact the police have not advertised the North Area Committee meeting via Ecops and the council have not specifically advertised the police element of this meeting.

City Boundaries

There is progress on expanding the City boundaries in the North of the City. The review document includes a map showing taking in the areas of proposed development around the City boundaries into the City.

Update:

After the meeting I wrote to the council’s CCTV manager:

Mr Beaumont,

You wrote to me on the 13th of March to tell me that the CCTV cameras in Martingale Close were put up to deal with Anti-Social behaviour in the area. Inspector Hutchinson told the North Area Committee on the 17th of April that the cameras were put up due to burglaries, and that a suspected burglar had been caught in the area.

You may be interested to know that Inspector Hutchinson spoke at the meeting in favour of use of CCTV cameras as a deterrent – in respect to a different problem – that of littering outside Campkin Road Tesco.

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