On the 12th of September 2011 I attended a meeting of the scrutiny committee of Cambridgeshire’s Police Authority at Cambridgeshire Police Headquarters in Huntington.
I have written separate articles on two aspects of the meeting:
- Restorative Justice Update – My use of the public speaking slot to ask for more information about the way the force is using restorative justice and to complain about the failure of the police authority to be kept informed and given the opportunity to approve, or reject, the scheme.
- Call Handling Performance – Article on shocking revelations of a “fragile” phone system and 20,000 unanswered calls to the non-emergency number in two months.
I arrived at Police HQ and had to show my passport at reception despite the meeting being held in a room directly off the main entrance foyer. I was told that the committee members were in a closed pre-meeting session. It appears one of these is held before every charade of an open public police authority meeting.
Cllr Victor Lucas came into the reception area to great me, he introduced himself as the chair of the committee. This was despite the agenda indicating the meeting’s first task was to appoint a chair, it being the first meeting of a new cycle. It appeared this was at least one of the items where the decision had been cooked up in advance, in secret.
On entering the committee room I noticed that there were police authority members present who were not listed on the agenda as committee members. The agenda listed:
- Mr A. Ali (Appointee)
- Mr J. Batchelor (Elected County Councillor)
- Mr M Lee (Elected Peterborough City Councillor)
- Mr V. Lucas (Elected County Councillor)
- Mr J. Pye (Appointee)
- Ms N. Williams (Appointee)
- Mrs J. Wright (Appointee)
I have added the information in brackets based on information on members published by the authority.
That’s three elected members, in a minority given the presence of four appointees.
Unelected appointee Ruth Joyce was present at the meeting itself and played as full a role as the other members despite not being listed on the agenda as a committee member. The chair of the authority, unelected appointee Ruth Rogers was also present.
I would check the list of committee memberships as approved at the last full authority meeting to find out who was actually on the committee, but the link to the report (item 19) from the meeting’s webpage is broken.
The addition of the two extra appointees meant in total there were three elected members and six appointees.
Two key reports were originally omitted from the meeting papers for the scrutiny committee which were published online. Both the “performance pack” – a set of graphs on performance, including the phone handling data, and a report on the police authority joining Twitter were omitted, and were only published following lobbying from the press and public. Given the fact the authority’s administration costs a million pounds a year or so and the clerk herself gets paid ~£100,000 to be secretary to the authority I find this performance appalling.
One of the first things the meeting did was to election Cllr Lucas chair. This election gives Cllr Lucas an allowance of £13,059/year, this is in addition to the allowances gets for being a councillor. (Some members have very poor attendance records but still trouser hefty allowances).
I was directed to sit at the side of the room. The members of the committee, along with Ruth Joyce and Ruth Rogers, were joined round the squareish set of tables by the clerk (who takes the grand title of Chief Executive), a couple of police authority administrators, and three members of the police force. One in a suit, two in uniform, with Deputy Chief Constable John Feavyour, in uniform, in the middle. The Chief Constable himself was absent without apologies or explanation despite a number of reports to the committee being presented in his name. There were no other members of the public, or any members of the press, present.
The room was very warm, with no windows to the outside and a very poor mobile phone signal.
After hour and a half or so of the meeting authority members started drifting out, three or four had gone by the time the meeting concluded.
The Meeting Itsself
The chair’s election was followed by the approval of the minutes of the last meeting and my contribution as a public speaker.
Stop and Search Statistics
The first report was a “Review of All Stops Proportionality“.
Mr Feavyour noted that the 115% year on year increase in stop and search had been reported on in the press; he said this showed the increase was “of come concern to the local community”. (It doesn’t, it just means a journalist has read the meeting papers).
Mr Feavyour claimed there was a direct link between the increase in stop and search and reductions in burglary, cycle theft, and robbery.
The committee were told that the force was no considering both complaints and “concerns” raised about stop and search. Only 4 complaints about stop and search had been received following the 8,000 or so people stopped and searched in the period. There had though been 32 concerns raised, generally parents calling up and asking for an explanation as to why their children had been stopped and searched. Mr Feavyour told the committee that generally the parents had been happy with the reasons given.
Then the meeting got a bit odd.
Mr Feavyour pointed out that the proportion of stops and searches which led to “no further action” were about the same for people of different “self defined ethnicities”.
Despite this fact, many authority members expressed concern that those calling themselves “Black or Black British” were twice as likely to be stopped as those calling themselves “White”.
A large number of members of the authority appeared to think there was a problem with the rate of stop and search being different for different self defined ethnic groups. Appointee Nic Williams appeared even concerned about the fact women were not getting stopped anything like as often as men. Mr Feavyour responded to say the vast majority of those the police stopped and searched were young men.
The thing which would be concerning to me is if within certain groups it was much more likely for a search which didn’t find anything to prompt further action to take place. This isn’t happening. I think those authority members who want equal of rates of stop and search across racial, sex, and age, groups are bonkers and it’s a good job the committee never took a vote on the subject. If the police were to remain arresting the same number of young men following stops and searches they’d have to be stopping lots of innocent women and older people; a bizzare and impossible target to set given presumably if they had reason to stop and search such people they already would be doing so.
Mr Feavyour said the census data was flawed, and reality, especially the population “on the street” might actually more closely correspond with the police’s stop and search data.
Ruth Joyce asked for the “White” group to be split into White British, White European, and White Other. Nic Williams said she was Welsh and wouldn’t classify her self in the “White British” category.
Ruth Rodgers said she was aware there were lots of aspergic people, particularly in the Cambridge part of the force area who did things, like photograph buildings, which while innocent sometimes brought them to the attention of the police. She asked if there was any way of capturing data on how often the police were stopping and searching such people.
Cllr John Batchelor argued for the reinstatement of recording of ethnicity of those stopped and asked to account for their actions. He argued that without this data the police authority could not assure itsself that the police were treating people of different ethnicities fairly. He said the stop and search data was insufficient as it didn’t cover as many interactions with the police, and was limited to the more serious ones.
Mr Feavyour argued strongly against this, on the grounds of it being a waste of police time and annoying people who were stopped. One of the younger members of the committee, Matthew Lee (30) agreed, he said he was often stopped by the police while going to work in the early hours and he didn’t want to be giving details each time.
Mr Feavyour said he’d like to see officers asked what racial group they thought someone was from before they stopped them; rather than relying on self defined ethnicity. He noted that if someone’s race was being taken into account by officers stopping people that would be a problem. The committee were also told that the force was working with Dr Ariel of Cambridge University to research their stop and search performance.
Committee members asked if certain ethnic groups were more likely to be responsible for particular types of crime. Mr Feavyour said he didn’t have the statistics with him, but generally the answer was no, but with some exceptions eg. people trafficking.
Cllr Lucas, from the chair, summed up the discussion saying that the committee was “not OK” with the variation in stop and search rates between ethnic groups. The committee asked the force to do more to try and find out the reasons for the differences.
The committee paper stated:
A draft report has been received from HMIC to allow matters of accuracy to be checked. The final report is due in the week commencing 19th September 2011.
The chief executive of the authority stated the report had not yet been received. (The draft report was not shared with committee members, or included in the meeting papers)
Local Policing Plan
The main point discussed was anti-social behaviour, and its definition.
Cllr Batchelor said people still raised “ASB” as an issue they were concerned about even when recorded levels of things the police count as “ASB” were very low. He said people were concerned about a recurrance of problems and wanted to know the police would be primed to act if there were problems and that was their motive for raising it at consultation events.
Police Authority officers complained that they hadn’t had a very good response from local councillors when they had tried to engage with them.
Cllr Lucas, the chairman, said that joining Twitter could help the authority get more people to take an interest in its work. He said:
“I doubt that members of the public other than Mr Taylor read the papers we post on our website”.
The authority was given a table showing how many followers other police authority twitter accounts had. Ranging from a reported 40 for the Metropolitan Police Authority to 694 for Surrey. (I note the @MPADirect account is hard to find as they’ve not used the words “Metropolitan Police Authority” in their description!)
Members of the authority said they aspired to be as popular as Surrey and tasked their staff to investigate what Surrey was doing well.
Unlelected appointee John Pye said the number of followers wasn’t that important as messages could be “bounced on to others”.
Ruth Rogers said this was right, and described how she knew of someone who’d written a tweet about a toy that had been lost which had been sent to 1.2 million people and resulted in a number of offers from people offering to send a replacement toy.
Committee member Nic Williams revealed she tweeted, and followed @CambsCops, (she did not reveal her Twitter name). She said Twitter was useful for contacting the media and that was useful even if few members of the public actively followed the authority.
The chief executive proposed a “slow build up” of the rate of tweeting and “not starting at 10/day” she didn’t explain her rationale for this. She said the lesson from other authorities was they had “not been overwhelmed” with responses to their tweets. On the subject of responding to items raised via Twitter the chief executive said “the authority has a telephone and we cope with answering that”.
Unelected appointee Jayne Wright said she would not support members tweeting as individuals as this could “cause confusion” and there might be differences between what members said after a meeting and the official version from the police authority office. This view was strongly supported by other members of the committee, and by the chair in his summary.
The meeting agreed to note the proposals and approve the authority starting to tweet.
Mr Feavyour told the committee “no over skilled officers would be used for mutual-aid”, he said “we will send people with less skills, some of our least trained officers to police the venues as they will be mainly involved in giving directions”. He said there was no anticipation of any disorder or crown problems at the Olympics while they were prepared for it.
A member of the authority asked if it was true that there were Met Police Officers in training to run alongside the torch wearing running shorts. Mr Feavyour confirmed this was true. Mr Feavyour did not comment when asked if there were “punt trained police” ready to be used to escort the torch down the river in Cambridge.
Asked about funding the olympic policing, the committee were told the torch procession itsself was to be policed by the Met Police; but with the local forces doing the crowd control along the route and paying for that. Asked about the policing of the Mozambique team training base in Comberton Village College Mr Feavyour said that overseas olympic teams would be charged by the police for services in line with the force’s policy.
The committee asked for reports on the way the force are working on the “ASB” “People’s Priority” and noted they’d be looking at the Custody Inspection Report when it was released to them.
They also commented their committee was going to keep going for a bit longer than expected due to the delay in bringing in Police and Crime Commissioners; the Chief Executive said this wasn’t a problem as the authority wasn’t winding down towards the May 2012 date anyway and had always taken a view of continuing with business as usual.