Burglary and Robbery to be Dropped as Police Priorities for Cambridge

Cambridge Community Safety Partnership logo

Last week I observed councillors, including Cllr Geoff Heathcock, the Liberal Democrat who has announced his intent to stand for the position of Cambridgeshire’s elected police commissioner in 2012, give their approval to a process which is set to see burglary and robbery dropped as city wide priorities for the police in Cambridge.

Cambridge’s city wide policing priorities are currently:

  • Alcohol-related violent crime and antisocial behaviour
  • Burglary of homes
  • Cycle theft
  • Domestic violence
  • Personal robbery
  • Reducing offending and re-offending


The process of setting new priorities, to come into effect from next year is underway. A new shortlist, from which just three priorities are to be chosen, was presented to Cambridge’s South Area committee on the 11th of November 2010 (Committee Report).

  • Reduce alcohol related violent crime in the city centre
  • Reduce repeat victims of domestic violence
  • Reduce cycle theft
  • Reducing re-offending
  • Reduce repeat incidents of Anti-social Behaviour

I spoke at the meeting; the first thing I did was note that the new priorities were the only thing being presented to councillors. The police officer presenting the report, Chief Inspector Sargent failed to inform councillors clearly about what was being dropped. I tried to fill in the gap and noted what was being removed.

Specifically I expressed my surprise that burglary was being removed as a priority. Chief Inspector Sargent said he agreed with me and told me he was as surprised as I was at the removal of burglary as a priority; he said that it went against all of his long experience in policing crime.

Chief Inspector Sargent blamed the use of an “evidence based” approach for the counterintuitive suggestion to drop burglary as a priority. He told the meeting that the shortlist of priorities had been created. He told the meeting that the priorities were based on the results of a survey, which 415 people had responded to, only 2 of whom had mentioned burglary.

I believe I probably completed the survey Chief Inspector Sargent was referring to; if it was one promoted via the E-cops email system recently. My recollection is that in order to request a prioritisation of burglary and violent crimes including robbery I had to reject the premise of almost every question and make copious use of the “any other comment” fields.

Despite the clear flaws in the process Chief Inspector Sargent said that there was, according to the way the police view the world, a “clear evidence base” saying burglary should not be prioritised.

My view is that the police, and councillors who supported the process, have not grasped what evidence based policy making ought involve. I think Chief Inspector Sargent’s defence of the decision to remove burglary on the basis of a survey of perceptions of crime completed by a small, largely self selecting, group of people was an example of how attempts to make decision making evidenced based can go wrong.

I think that people’s perceptions, and people’s ideas of what the police ought be doing ought only form part, a small part, of the evidence which goes into deciding what ought be prioritised. Much more important are hard sources of evidence such as rates of reported crime and statistics on what kinds of crimes are resulting in people ending up injured in hospital. I have particularly been lobbying for Cambridgeshire Police to record the costs of crime, something they don’t do as well as other forces.

Councillors at the South Area Committee voiced no objections to the massive weight the police were putting on their survey, and no objections to dropping burglary and robbery from the priorities. They didn’t challenge the premise on which they were being asked to choose three priorities; they didn’t even ask why the number of priorities to be taken on had been arbitrarily capped at three for next year. The South Area committee unanimously voted in favour of the following as priorities:

  • Reduce alcohol related violent crime in the city centre
  • Reducing re-offending
  • Reduce repeat incidents of Anti-social Behaviour

Councillors did comment that they hoped by targeting those re-offending that ought have an effect on “high end crime” such as burglary.

I would urge councillors at future area committees (it appears this charade will do the rounds of all of them) to abstain from voting on this item; rejecting the police’s idea of evidence based priority setting if this is what it amounts to.

Cambridge Community Safety Partnership

The Cambridge Community Safety Partnership is the body which sets the city wide policing priorities. During the city council’s reshuffle following the elections in May, the city council leader’s responsibilities for policing were handed to Cllr Bick. Cllr Bick is the sole democratically elected and accountable individual on the partnership. It is only since Cllr Bick has joined that the meeting dates have been publicised, fulfilling a promise he made at a West/Central Area Committee.

There is a public speaking slot on the partnership’s agenda. This has not yet been used according to the published minutes available for February, March and May 2010, the minutes also reveal that the only one member of the public has ever attended a meeting – this is known to be Cllr Bick who reported to the West/Central area committee that he had attended a meeting as a member of the public prior to becoming a member.

The date, but not the location, of the next meeting has been announced as 10am-12pm on Tuesday 14 December 2010. It appears the meetings are typically held at the Guildhall in Cambridge.

There is a full ban on audio and visual recording at meetings of the partnership; and using a laptop requires special permission from the chair.

5 responses to “Burglary and Robbery to be Dropped as Police Priorities for Cambridge”

  1. At the North Area Committee councillors were told by council officer Liz Bissett the short-list was not fixed and new priority suggestions were still being sought. She asked “what could we do?”.

    The officer at the North also failed to remind Cllrs what the current priorities were and what they would be scrapping. As at the South Area I filled this gap.

    The Chief Inspector didn’t venture to Kings Hedges for the north area meeting.

    Cllr Boyce and Blair spoke in favour of tackling anti-social behaviour ( rather than crime.)

    Cllr Pit said those he met were concerned about violent crime and burglary.

    Cllr Brierley suggested a priority of increasing the incidence of good manners. Cllr Blair supported this.

    Councillors suggested the CSP consider where they can have greatest effect and follow that.

    A member of the public asked if reducing burglary and violent crime – robbery would be expected to reduce if reoffending was a priority. The answer given was yes.

    Cllr Pitt asked if school heads were represented on the partnership. The answer was no, but the county was there and work with schools was through the county.

    The north area committee refused to come to a view as a whole, they said they would individually as members of the public complete the online survey.

    A rejection of the process along these lines was what I was seeking. Success.

    Posted live from the meeting.

  2. So will this have any effect on what the police actually prioritise?

    If I phone up to report a robbery in progress at my house, am I likely to be told, “It’ll be a while before we can get someone there, we’re all busy booking drunks into custody.”

    Sadly, I think I know the answer to that.

  3. I think it was interesting that when councillors were asked by a police chief to pick three priorities they did so; but when the question was posed by a council officer they were prepared to reject the process. Of course other things had changed between the area committees, the councillors involved were different and this article had been published.

    In response to Brian – yes the police priorities do affect what the police do. If something is a priority it is easier for officers to bid for resources to tackle it when than it would be when it is not.

    Unfortunately sometimes the police decide to do silly things; like update those who’ve been burgled regularly on “progress” with their investigation; which means a board detective calling through a long list of numbers once a week to say no further progress has been made. I think the police should tell people when those who’ve committed crimes against them have been caught or end up in court (its important they do so people can ensure the court is fully aware of the effect of the crime in emotional terms, practical effects and costs inured).

    In terms of burglary the best thing we’ve seen is a local priority set, which meant firearms and police dog officers patrolled the north of the city when they weren’t needed elsewhere. This resulted, for a short period, in the North Area being patrolled through the night by high visibility police. Councillors at the north area committee have refused to set a local priority of burglary since on the grounds a city wide one was in-places (despite the local sergeant telling councillors a local priority would help him tackle burglary). In the South of Cambridge councillors have set burglary as local priority while it has been a city wide priority; councillors in the South tolerate a lower level of burglary than councillors in the North.

  4. The East Area committee is to consider the city wide police priorities next week.

    Cllr George Owers has written an article in advance of the debate indicating he is considering abstaining on the grounds of discontent with the process:

    I would like to see the East Area committee, as the North Area Committee did, reject the process. I hope Cllr Owers will abstain and will persuade all his fellow committee members to do the same.

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