I observed the Cambridge Community Safety Partnership meeting on the 14th of December 2011.
On of the key roles of the Community Safety Partnership is set the city wide crime and policing priorities for the City of Cambridge. The group came under criticism last year for carrying out this key role in secret, via “email meetings” rather than at its formal public meetings.
Things have not got off to a great start this year as it new proposed priorities have emerged from a secret, private, “away day” attended by a select group of board members, not including Cambridge City Council’s Executive Councillor for Policing who is one of just two elected representatives on the board.
The current city wide priorities are:
- Reducing alcohol-related violent crime in the city centre
- Reducing repeat incidents of anti-social behaviour
- Reducing repeat victims of domestic violence
- Reducing re-offending
The proposal which emerged from the officers’ junket was to tweak these to:
- Reducing alcohol-related violent crime
- Reducing anti-social behaviour
- Reducing repeat victims of domestic violence
- Reducing re-offending.
Source: p74 of the meeting papers.
One change is to no longer restrict the alcohol related violent crime priority to the city centre. I think this is a good thing not least because it’s not always clear what counts as the city centre in Cambridge, for example should the “Cambridge Leisure” site be included? The meeting also saw evidence of where assaults requiring ambulance attendance occurred in the city have been occurring outside the city centre eg. on Victoria Road and Histon Road.
The other change is make the anti-social behaviour priority more vague. Previously the focus was primarily on repeat victims, particularly vulnerable people, but the police are now better organised to spot and deal with such cases. No definition of anti-social behaviour is offered by the partnership which I think will render it hard to work on as a priority. It appears the partnership is to focus on what gets raised by the public and councillors at area committee meetings, while this in itself is good, what it will do is add to the current problem of people describing all manner of criminal behaviour including burglary, violent robbery, criminal damage and more as “anti-social behaviour” in an effort to prompt an appropriate police response.
If the intent of the priority is to place more resources on matters raised at area committees, and to improve the way area committees are able to influence local police and crime related priorities I would strongly support it. I think requiring comments to be accompanied by the magic phrase “anti-social behaviour” in order to prompt action is not in my view appropriate. I think it is much more useful to simply be clear about the types of crimes which are taking place and what is expected from the police to deal with them.
The partnership did not consider adding any new and different priorities; for example any relating to cycling and making the roads safer – which is a really common theme emerging from area committees.
The December meeting of the CSP was the first time the priorities had been raised. They will be considered, along with action plans and eventually targets at Cambridge City Council scrutiny committees in the new year, and eventually taken to the full council for approval.
Police and Crime Commissioners
An oral presentation on Police and Crime Commissioners was given by a member of the Police Authority Secretariat.
I liked the overall theme of the presentation which was that a lot would be up to the elected individual.
The CSP was told that Cambridgeshire County Council was in the process of setting up the Police and Crime Panel.
Cllr Bick complained he and the city council had not been involved in determining the make up of the panel and how it should run. He said he didn’t want the city council to be simply handed down the final decision on the make-up by the county council. Cllr Bick asked for the county council to work with the city council and reminded them the city council was not a wholly owned subsidiary of the county council.
I have written a separate article on the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel.
Inspector Human the Cambridgeshire Police force lead officer on restorative justice disposals gave a presentation to the committee.
He described how someone who had not previously come into contact with the police had been drinking in the city centre and had defecated in the Market Square outside the Guildhall. He was arrested and taken to the police station to sober up and the next morning taken back down to the Market Square and as a restorative justice disposal allowed to clean up the mess.
This was an interesting choice of example as it was not (for good reason) “instant reparation”. It was a post-custody disposal. If there are many cases like these the statistics on how much restorative justice disposals are saving in terms of custody use and savings in officer time will not be accurate as they assume the cases are dealt with in an hour.
Another interesting element is that core to the force’s restorative justice disposal policy is a requirement to seek approval from the victim of the crime for the use of a restorative justice disposals. Inspector Human didn’t say who had approved the restorative justice disposal on behalf of residents of Cambridge. Perhaps it was Cllr Bick, as he has responsibility for policing related matters?
The CSP were told that restorative justice disposals had been used 149 times in Cambridge since the first one, in April 2011. This equates to 1.8% of crimes where a “disposal” took place.
I was surprised, given the force’s aspirations to reduce the use of custody by a quarter that this was so low. I asked if we could expect it to continue at this rate or if it was expected to rise. Inspector Human said he did not expect a significant step up.
Inspector Human said that other forms of restorative justice were also being considered by the force. He said training officers on these was being put-off until current re-shaping of the force and moving people between jobs had occurred, so that the training went to the right people. In 2012 we will be seeing Cambridgeshire Police start using a new form of restorative justice: “Neighbourhood Resolution”, no details of what this is was given.
The Ministry of Justice has a webpage on Neighbourhood Resolution Panels which says:
The Panels bring local victims, offenders and criminal justice professionals together to agree what action should be taken to deal with certain types of low level crime and disorder.
It will be interesting to see how these are implemented in Cambridge. I would be interested in knowing if local councillors are to act as representatives of the community on them and if their proceedings will take place in public.
My preference would be to fix the courts. Magistrates courts should be local, speedy, and public. The courts are too remote and slow, I’d rather see the change there than to create another tier of the justice system.
These panels are not the type of post-court restorative justice which has been shown to work in the past. They are yet another new experiment. They appear to be targeted at the most minor of crimes, and could be on-top of a more formal out of court disposal.
The MoJ specification for Neighbourhood Resolution Panels states:
The Community Safety Partnership, the CPS, victims’ interest groups and local equalities groups should be involved in overseeing the work of the Panel, and this could be extended to cover all out-of-court responses to crime.
While I can’t see why so many different groups need to oversee what’s going on, I think it would be good to see more transparency over how out of court disposals are being used, especially as their use is increasing. A chart on p13 of the recently published Ministry of Justice review of the use of out-of-court disposals shows 41% of offences in Cambridgeshire are “brought to justice” by an out of court disposal. The report states that nationwide out of court disposals have gone from being used in 23% of offences in 2003 to 40% in 2008.
After the presentation Cllr Bick raised concerns about public awareness of the police’s restorative justice policies. He said that there needed to be awareness so that victims had some idea this kind of thing was going on so that if they were asked by the police to if they wanted to see a restorative course of action. He said he was aware of people who were not aware of what the police were doing. I had covered such points in public questions I submitted to the meeting and when I wrote to Cllr Bick on this subject in September.
I had been referred to the CSP by Mr Fuller of Cambridgeshire police who told me they were the right body to lobby for improvements to the neighbourhood profile documents provided to councillors setting police priorities at area committees. The CSPs chair said they were not the body responsible.
Openness and Transparency
I urged the CSP to focus on improving the openness and transparency of various criminal justice bodies, including the courts. I have made my full question available.
The response from the partnership was that they don’t have very much influence.
They pointed out they themselves were more open than the other CSPs in Cambridgeshire which meet entirely in secret.
In respect to the magistrates courts, the magistrate’s representative said it was impossible to open up the court lists and make them available online.
Overall it was a very dismissive and unimpressive response, with one exception, the probation service promised to publish their board papers. They have now published meeting notes for their recent meetings which is progress.
The CSP denied resolving to write to Police.UK with a series of suggestions for improving their site.
The key notable statistic from the updates given to the CSP was the rate of mobile phone thefts from licensed premises in central Cambridge.
[There may be additional points I can extract later from my live tweets of the meeting later].