I observed Cambridge’s Community Safety Partnership meet on Tuesday the 31st of July 2012. The group sets, and monitors performance against, city wide police and crime priorities. It is designed to bring together the police, health service, elected representatives, council officers, magistrates and others including the business and voluntary sectors. It has a fund of around £43,000/year to spend on projects although its main currency is influence.
The group has a very low profile as neither the County Council, City Council, Police, Police Authority or as far as I know any of the bodies which make up the partnership list its meetings on their meeting calendars. City Council leader Tim Bick was absent from the July meeting, the second in a row which both he and the magistrate’s representative had failed to attend. Without an elected member from the city council or a magistrate present (neither sent substitutes) the meeting was less useful than it could have been had all the intended participants turned up.
I would like to see city councillors challenge Cllr Bick over his repeated absence.
Don’t Give to Beggars Posters
The one contentious issue discussed at the meeting, the only item to go to a vote, was on the partnership contributing £1,000 of the taxpayers money it distributes to be spent on posters:
to encourage people to give to charities rather than directly to people begging
The money from the partnership is to be added to a further £3,000 of taxpayers money distributed by the City Council.
The meeting’s chair, City Council officer Liz Bissett refused to allow any debate on the item, saying it had been discussed at length at the partnership’s away day. She said she knew it was controversial, and would if necessary hold a vote. A vote was held. Mark Freeman of the Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service voted against the posters, Cllr Wilkins representing the Police Authority, Inspector Sloan representing the Police, and Bissett representing the City Council voted in favour.
The posters, to be put up “in key city centre locations and transport hubs”, are to point people to council, and student union, websites and social media which will direct people to charities seeking donations.
My view is £4,000 is a huge amount to spend on posters. This is the public sector spending the money, so we’ll might end up with only a handful of posters, but if this kind of budget was given to some of those who advertise events on the city’s notice boards I expect it would go a very long way. If the money is spent well this could be a very high profile campaign.
Presumably these posters are intended to try and make Cambridge a less attractive place for homeless people to come and beg on the street. There isn’t really any connection between trying to stop people giving money to individuals and promoting the charities, the idea isn’t I don’t think that money is more effectively spent if given to charities, just that the city wants to tackle one of the reasons homeless people come to Cambridge.
I wonder if the message given out by the poster campaign will be sufficiently nuanced so as not to put people off buying the Big Issue or FLACK magazine, the latter being supported through the partnership’s other activities.
Personally I think a better message to send out might be: take an interest in how your taxes are being spent. Those considering giving money to those begging on the street should think about how elected representatives are using the powers they hold on our behalf to help those who are begging and who are homeless and scrutinise and challenge them on how they are dealing with the underlying problems with wider society, including in relation to health, housing, rehabilitation and employment.
Pilot-itius and Evidence Based Approaches
One of the members of the partnership suggested that the group suffered from “pilot-itius”; in that it kept supporting or running small scale experimental new schemes; but without robustly assessing their impact and having no routes to make them permanent should they be successful.
The kind of ways the partnership assesses if it has been successful in a project include things like numbers of leaflets distributed, posters put up or sessions run.
This prompted another member of the panel to say taking an evidenced based approach was difficult as the evidence available on which to assess results of interventions is typically only easily obtainable and recordable information such as numbers of presentations at a hospital casualty department, which misses out personal and individual stories of success.
There appeared to be some agreement that good individual success stories were more important than improvements affecting many people which would show up in recorded statistics.
This attitude is really common; one of: “these numbers are meaningless statistics; I know what works and what doesn’t based on what I see”. This is particularly worrying for what should be a strategic meeting. The group should be trying to ensure that they fully understand the statistics in front of them, why they might not reflect the true position, and they should be seeking good quality statistics which enable them to fulfil their role.
A number of the projects the partnership funds, including those relating to restorative justice and domestic violence, are relatively small scale when compared to the number of people who could take part in them. Had the partnership had the will to conduct robust, randomised, trials it could have done so, perhaps working with some of the academics in Cambridge who are paid by the taxpayer to conduct research in the police and crime field so that the taxpayer could have got better value out of what we spend on them too.
Cambridge University Police Video
A video, described as a “draft”, aimed at new Cambridge University students starting in Autumn 2012 was reported to the partnership. It suggests students should not wear gowns and “tux”s in the city and mark themselves out as targets for crime.
My view is the video is rather patronising and silly; and it is also defeatist, the city ought be a safe place for everyone regardless of how they decide to dress; or how they happen to be dressed. If we have a situation where members of the university have to, or are encouraged to, carry their dressing up gear to events and get changed on arrival due to criminality then policing Cambridge will have dramatically failed.
- The partnership is continuing to prepare in case there is a domestic violence related murder in Cambridge; if there is it appears to want to have a role in reviewing the circumstances leading up to the death.
- Sustainability was often raised as an abstract aspiration during the meeting.
- I was the only member of the public present, and the only person in the public seating. None of the prospective Police and Crime Commissioner candidates were present. Four full colour LASER printed copies of the full meeting documentation were available for the public at the meeting.
- The lack of a police and crime representative on the county’s Shadow Health and Wellbeing Board was mentioned. The partnership complained about a lack of direct routes for them to get items on the Health and Wellbeing Board’s agenda.
- The CBBID, Cambridge Tax, proposals were only raised during any other business, and then not substantively, but simply to offer their leaflet to those present. I thought this was a significant omission as the new Cambridge Tax organisation appears to want to take over some of the areas previously covered by the partnership and take them completely out of democratic control, for example city centre rangers and taxi-rank “marshalls”.
- It was noted that in future the Police and Crime Commissioners will hold the funds for projects such as those the partnership had been supporting. My view is that the awarding of grants was not the important part of the partnership’s work, and was largely a distraction from the much more important aspects of priority setting, and holding to account. Typically they were supporting projects primarily funded and run by other parts of the public sector, and just being used to give projects a trendy “multi-agency” tag.
- Police statistics were presented by Inspector Sloan. He urged members of the partnership not to take too much notice of the personal robbery statistics saying some of the reported robberies were “fictitious”. This is one of many things which makes it very difficult to work with police crime figures. Inspector Sloan said his burglary figures shouldn’t be trusted either due to “moving between crime systems”.
- A summary of an anonymised case study was presented orally by one of the council’s “anti-social behaviour officers”. It was introduced as neighbour dispute in Cambridge. The “offender” had mental health problems, he was sometimes OK but at other times sectionable. The partnership was told he was getting eight hours of contact from the state each week; from around fifteen different people from various bodies. The neighbours had put in a formal complaint to the council, complaining that the offender was getting too much help and support apparently rewarding his offending. It was revealed that council’s Director of Community Services had become personally involved in trying to resolve the case, and that the council officer presenting the case had both “senior” and “junior” officers as well as her as a manager working with on it. While presenting the case the council’s anti-social behaviour officer described “Fulbourn Hospital” as one entity. One member of the partnership said treating the hospital as one entity was probably a mistake, describing it as comprising of disorganised uncommunicative teams. The outcome of the case was an eviction from council property; the intent had been to move the offender into supported accommodation but despite the huge public resources being devoted to the case officers failed to ensure the new accommodation was available at the time the eviction took place. Cllr Wilkins suggested the case study be written down and presented to the county’s Shadow Health and Wellbeing Board. The board agreed to lobby a senior county council officer to seek to put it on the agenda.
- From October 2012 Cambridgeshire Police are going to focus on “teen dating violence”, domestic violence between 13-19 year olds. While I think serious crime ought be investigated and perpetrators brought to justice, I am concerned with the proposal to have increased police and state involvement in children’s lives.
- Detective Inspector Mick Birchall of the police read out his report without using microphone and while mumbling into papers. In addition he reported there was mental health nurse based at Parkside Police Station. There was also some discussion about the availability of housing for offenders, and those leaving prison. Cllr Wilkins noted that in Cambridge the issue was not just availability of accommodation, but price, and this was different to the problems elsewhere in the county. DI Birchall noted the issue of accommodation for offenders was controversial. (He wrote it was a continuous issue, but context suggests he meant contentious). Again as in the previous case study, there is a problem with rewarding offenders for their behaviour, verses serving the wider public interest by trying to address the problems with the offenders’ lives.
- The partnership heard there are 593 Cambridge city adults in treatment for drug misuse and an additional 431 in treatment for alcohol misuse. I noted via Twitter that these figures appeared high, and it was suggested perhaps they are not if smoking treatment is included. I’ve looked at the Cambridgeshire Drug and Alcohol Action Team website and it appears to me they deal with illegal drugs, though that isn’t clear.
- It was suggested that those buying six or more bottles of wine in one go in Cambridge could be given a leaflet warning them of the risks of alcohol abuse. This idea was simply raised, and not developed or agreed.
- The partnership’s 2012 annual review was presented to the meeting as an “any other business” item. The partnership ordered it be published on their webpage, the clerk agreed to do this straight after the meeting but at the time of writing, 48 hours later, that has not happened.