I observed some of the Cambridgeshire Police Authority Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday the 13th of December 2011.
I have written a number of separate articles on key aspects:
- Restorative Justice Disposals – Confusion and inconsistency continues.
- Phone Answering Performance – The police are getting even worse at answering non-emergency calls.
- Expelled for Querying Absent Papers – I was thrown out of the meeting for asking why papers were omitted from the public document pack.
I attended the meeting, held in a meeting room off the reception of police headquarters. I was asked to provide photo-ID by the receptionist on arrival; a note of my car registration number was also made. I feel these are intrusive steps. I’d rather the authority met in public buildings around the force area and did not require ID from members of the public attending.
I had submitted a number of public questions. I was given three minutes, in which to attempt to precis them.
The first, in full, reads:
I note the police authority does not publish draft minutes (for committees, or the authority itself) in advance of a meeting at which the minutes are to be considered for approval. This introduces a delay in publication which makes it difficult to for members of the public follow what is going on, and is out of line with the practices at for example the County Council or Cambridge City Council. It makes it impossible for me, as someone who used the public speaking slot at the previous meeting, to see how my contribution has been minuted before the minutes are presented to the committee for formal approval.
The response was quite positive. I was told by the chair that this was the first time the matter had been raised and the authority’s position would be reviewed.
I was also able to raise points on phone answering and restorative justice; as noted in the specific articles.
Additional questions I did not reach in the three minutes were:
Monitoring of Authorisations under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000
I would like to suggest the committee ought monitor the types of situation when RIPA authorisations are sought and authorised; so that there is oversight of when intrusive and directed police surveillance moves into new areas.
One specific question in this area I have is: “Is a RIPA authorisation obtained when a car number is entered into the ANPR system, enabling the tracking and monitoring of a vehicle (potentially in retrospect based on recorded information)?”.
I note the Metropolitan Police Authority appear to have failed to keep up with, and adequately scrutinise, their forces’ acquisition and use of technology for mass surveillance of, and interference with, mobile phones.
Public Question/Statement Slot Operation
I was disappointed with two aspects of the way my public questions were handled at the last meeting. I was offered a follow-up discussion with a police officer, and not an officer of the authority. Surely the reference to a follow up meeting with an officer in the authority’s standing orders can’t reasonably be interpreted to mean a police officer?
I received a brief response to this from the chair, who suggested he didn’t see any difference between a police officer and an authority officer.
This perhaps shows one of the very many serious problems with the authority, they are far too cosy with the force when they ought be overseeing and scrutinising them, and setting their strategic direction. If I don’t have confidence in the force, or have a strategic question or suggestion, I ought be able to approach the authority, they’re no use if they just constantly bat people back to the force.
Stop and Search Recording
What steps have been taken to follow up the suggestion made by the committee at the previous meeting that the ethnicity groups recorded on the force’s stop and search forms ought be reviewed, and further breakdown of the categories to provide statistics on the proportion of, for example white Eastern Europeans, being stopped and searched?
I received no response on this; and no committee member said anything about the stop and search statistics when the report containing them came before the committee.
Notable Points from the Meeting
(Largely extracted from my live tweets)
- A member suggested the abbreviation PCC was confusing for him and would be for the public. It was suggested P&CC be used instead to refer to the Police and Crime Commissioner.
- The effectiveness of the authority’s consultation with the public was discussed as only 37 people had responded to a consultation on the police precipt (the police element of council tax). A member asked if the authority was doing any more than scratching the surface; the marketing professionals responded with lots of jargon, saying they were using more channels than before. Asked if they were on Facebook, they said no.
- The police authority clerk told members the local policing summary is sent to every household. This is not true, it only goes to those who get council tax bills. (So students, and many housesharers are not included).
- The papers indicated the member responsible for Cambridge, Ruth Joyce (unelected), had been dropped from committee. It isn’t clear though if she was accidentally listed as a member (rather than someone attending) on the previous minutes.
- Authority members repeatedly congratulated the force for their positive performance figures.
- Increasingly detained mentally ill ppl are being taken to places they can get help rather than police stations. This is something the police were asked to look at as a result of a recent HMIC inspection of their custody facilities. The inspection was much better than the previous one, which had picked up lots of problems.
- The Deputy Chief Constable said he was happy that, should there be another death in custody, he wouldn’t be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as all the force’s policies and practices were in good shape.
- The force is focusing, with Peterborough City Council, on ~120 prolific offenders to try and reduce their reoffending.
- Integrated Offender Management was described as getting offenders help from where-ever they needed it be it the NHS, social services, education or elsewhere. A concern was expressed that for these offenders the focus might be too much on “help” and they’d be “getting away with crime” (I have recently raised this issue via letters to the local press).
- As always at recent police related meetings the “conundrum” of “Antisocial Behaviour” was discussed. The police and authority members agreed with the description of ASB as a “conundrum”. Surveys had shown that only 2% or so of people had when raised it as a problem when surveyed, but it makes up about a third of calls to the police. (These are not incompatible bits of information, they provide an interesting insight). The questions are what is defined as ASB – there’s no one definition, and what do members of the public using the term mean by it. The Deputy Chief suggested the force just responded to calls for help and if something was classed as ASB or not wasn’t important. Authority members expressed puzzlement as to how “ASB” had become their “people’s priority” if few people when surveyed cared about it.