I went to observe a meeting of Cambridgeshire Police Authority on Wednesday the 18th of February 2009. The agenda for the meeting had only been made publicly available on Monday the 15th, after the suggested deadline for members of the public submitting questions. When I questioned the late publication of the agenda by email in advance of the meeting, the Chief Executive of the Authority replied:
Regarding publication of the 14th January and 18th February Police Authority agenda, all business within these meeting fell or will fall within the closed session in accordance with clauses 3 and 4 of Part 1 of the revised schedule 12A to the Local Government Act.
The Chief Executive is wrong to say that all business was to be dealt with in secret as there is an opportunity for members of the authority to raise urgent items and there is supposedly an opportunity for members of the public to ask questions and make statements; both of these elements of the meeting are public. In addition to that, the fact that substantive items of business are to be discussed behind closed doors is no excuse for not publicising the meeting; as happened at the meeting on the 18th of February members of the public might want to comment or raise questions on such items even though they will not be able to observe the whole discussion. This is exactly what happened on the 18th of February where three members of the public asked questions on pensions for police officers injured on duty – an agenda item to be discussed in closed session. Quite how those people were made aware of what was on the agenda I do not know, as ex-police officers perhaps they have inside contacts; what is clear is that there is a two tier system – those in the know have access to be able to question the Police Authority on items on their agenda others do not.
No members of the police authority queried the late online publication of the meeting’s papers either at the February 2008, or at the December 2009 meetings.
Injury Awards Review
There was an item on the agenda entitled: “Injury Awards Review”. Despite the agenda not being publicised prior to the suggested deadline for submission of public questions three members of the public had somehow managed to find out this was going to be discussed and had apparently submitted questions. One was there to ask his question in person, and the chairman of the Police Authority read out a prepared response, another question was read out by the Authority’s Chief Executive and a response read out. The third questioner was not present, his question was not read out nor any response given.
Eddie Hopkin was the individual present to put his question in person. He was apparently a retired police officer, he said he wasn’t in receipt of an “injured on duty” pension, but his wife is. He asked when the authority began their review process.
He was told that the answer was “late 2008″ and it was explained that this was due to consultation, which had delayed legislation. The chairman of the police authority assured the questioner that if individuals’ circumstances change they are able to have their claims reassessed if their disablement has changed. This is a change from a previous force policy in Cambridgeshire which saw individuals “banded” at the age of 65, ie. their payments depended on their state of health at age 65. What the chairman appeared to be doing with this comment, which I don’t think he was reading from a written statement, was pre-judging the outcome of the discussions the Authority were about to have in private. He was also referring to people’s health getting worse, whereas the main concern appears to be people will be assessed as being fitter and having their payments cut at the age of 65. (See this petition)
The chairman stated the Authority’s motivations for its actions did not include saving money, and in direct response to one of the points raised by a public questioner said Authority did not intend to employ inappropriate people. (I believe there were complaints about the attitude and approach of those dealing with and assessing ex. police officers in receipt of “Injured on Duty” pensions). The chairman of the Police Authority said that the authority recognised its legal and moral duties, while saying this he said the legal duty arose from Home Office Circular 46/2004. David Copeland of the Cambridgeshire Branch of the National Association of Retired Police Officers asked to speak at this point, and apparently despite not having submitted a question, the chairman allowed him to speak. He said that the Home Office circular merely pointed to legislation, no legal duty arose from it, and he expressed his disappointment in relation to the situation in Cambridgeshire over the last four years. He said that he was deeply concerned and upset by this.
Prior to the publication of the “Home Office circular” in 2004 Cambridgeshire police used to continue to pay benefits at the same rate until the death of the Officer concerned. (1) .
The written question was submitted by Gordon Smith, he was suggesting that the Police Authority ought set up a sub-committee to carry out the Injury Awards Review, and said that there had been sharp practice and dishonesty in the process he did not think that injured officers were being well treated.
The response given was that the existing arrangements, of the Authority’s Human Resources panel dealing with the review, were considered sufficient. Mr Smith’s suggestion was rejected, not by a vote of the Authority but apparently by the chairman personally. A major flaw in the Authority’s standing orders is that no debate on is permitted in relation to items raised by members of the public.
Despite a member public present, a representative of the Retired Police Officer’s association, being given permission to speak by the chair despite apparently not having submitted a question in advance. I however was not allowed to ask a question or make a statement.
Had I been permitted to make a statement I would have said:
I would like to comment on the lack of a response by Cambridge Police Authority to the Home Secretary’s 24th November 2008 announcement that TASERs will be made available for all front line response police.
Within hours of the ministerial announcement the Metropolitan Police Authority announced their decision not to extend TASER use to all front line response officers in London on the grounds that they may cause fear and damage public confidence.
Cambridgeshire Police Authority have still not considered the proposed expanded TASER deployment. I was surprised it was not mentioned at all during the December 2008 full Police Authority meeting and that it is not on the Agenda for today’s meeting. I was particularly disappointed it was not discussed in December as I had an assurance from Mr Wilkins that he would try and ensure it was. This commitment was made at a public meeting at which he received the support of a number of Cambridge city councillors to come here and oppose the routine arming of response police with TASERs.
I am aware that some of you, and certainly the Chief Constable, will consider the TASER deployment an operational matter and not one you have a role in. I disagree, this is clearly a strategic matter; it will be a huge change to policing, arming every response officer with a TASER is not a routine operational decision. The decision to expand TASER deployment is in my view firmly within the remit of the Police Authority.
I would like to point to two items of evidence making it clear Police Authorities have a role:
- The first is the The Metropolitan Police Authority’s stance and statement.
- The second is a speech by Vernon Coaker the Home Office Minister of State for Policing, Crime & Security who, on the subject of the expanded deployment of TASER said: ” the number of Tasers that a force has is not dictated centrally. It is a matter for individual chief constables, with their authorities, to determine what they should have”
I would like to suggest caution with respect to the phrase “Specially Trained Units”. The Chief Constable had assured members of the Authority that TASERs would be for the use of specially-trained officers only. I suggest you ask questions about the substantive nature of that training and if regular refresher training would be required. However well trained these officers are, it is unlikely their skills in judging how to respond to a situation will be as refined as those of dedicated firearms officers who face the sorts of extremely dangerous situations where a TASER discharge might be considered on a more regular basis.
I would like to urge to you make any decision based on the real world experience of TASER use by police in other countries and during the UK trial deployment to non-firearms officers. I think this is provides better more relevant evidence than animal tests and computational modelling presented by the Home Office when they are making their case for the safety of these weapons. .
I support police firearms units having access to TASER weapons which they can elect to use as an alternative to firearms in circumstances where they would otherwise use firearms. I said I would prefer to be shot with a TASER than with a gun. However I do not want to live in a country where more police officers than necessary are routinely armed with TASERs. I believe any expansion of TASER use would be damaging to the relationship between the public and the police.
When I and the other members of the public arrived the Police Authority were having a secret “Pre-meeting” from which we were excluded.
The Chief Constable did not attend, and attendance by members of the Authority was poor, with three or four including County Cllr Shona Johnston sending apologies and more just not turning up.
The police appear to make a permanent record of your car registration number if you take it onto the police headquarters site; I think that is unnecessary and symptomatic of the police’s culture of collecting excessive amounts of information – for example the DNA database – containing records of everyone arrested nationally, and in Cambridgeshire the apparent policy of keeping stop and account records indefinitely. To attend a Police Authority meeting you have to take your passport, and its number is stored by the police along with a photograph they take of you.
If there was a Full Police Authority meeting on the 14th of January then that has been run entirely in secret, even the date wasn’t announced on the Authority’s website never mind an agenda. It was omitted from the meetings list. There was a publicised Finance & Resources Committee on that date but it appears there might have been a Full Authority meeting too, as the Finance Committee’s business was not secret, and minutes of a meeting held on the 14th were taken to a meeting of the Full Authority.
While writing to me, the Chief Executive of the Police Authority decided to let me know (rather irrelevantly) that the Authority had within the last six weeks sent the : “Local Policing Summary (a statutory duty) to every household in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough – around 320,000 households.” I believe this is sent to those who receive council tax bills, disenfranchising many including students, and those in rented accommodation where the landlord not the tenant is deemed liable for council tax. I believe she also wrongly directly linked the responses to the recent Authority “Anti-Social Behaviour” survey to the distribution of the local policing summary whereas the survey has been far more widely publicised, on the force and authority websites and via ecops emails.