At the April 2008 North Area Committee meeting councillors removed burglary as a police priority, a decision which baffled me given the fact the Police reported to that meeting that burglary in the North Area: “remains high when compared to other areas of the City”. Councillors Nimmo-Smith and Pitt justified the committee’s decision when when I questioned them on it at the June North Area Committee by saying that burglary had become a city wide priority and therefore they did not feel the need to include it in their priorities.
I decided to investigate what these city wide priorities are and who sets them. What they are referring to are three yearly, city wide priorities set by the: “Cambridge Community Safety Partnership”
The priorities for 2008 – 2011 are:
- Alcohol related violent crime
- Anti-social behaviour, focusing on:
- Alcohol related anti-social behaviour
- Vehicle and Pedal Cycle related anti-social behaviour
- Burglary of homes
- Domestic violence
- Reducing re-offending
They were set on the 11th of March 2008 by a group of five individuals:
- Nicola Clemo – (Chair) Office of Children and Young People’s Service
- Michael Harding – National Probation Service
- Ruth McCallum – Cambridge Council for Voluntary Services
- Jon Neish – Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service
- Kevin Wilkins – Police Authority
Only Mr Wilkins, a County Councillor, is an elected democratically accountable individual.
While a draft of priorities had been before the City council, this small group amended them at their March meeting. It appears possible for these priorities to be changed by this group at any time. There is no city councillor as a member of this group setting the city wide police priorities.
My view is that councillors at Area Committees should be free to set policing priorities based on the needs of their constituents, I do not think they should be prevented from including priorities which overlap with those set by the community safety partnership; if there is overlap then that simply emphasises to the Police that there is a public demand for them to take more action in a particular area. Priorities set at the area committees could overlap with and reinforce the city wide priorities, they could also be more specific, identifying individual streets or times where and when problems are occurring for example. I can’t imagine councillors are going to refrain from setting priorities overlapping with the Alcohol related, or Anti-Social behavior city wide priorities, so why have they been so ready to strike burglary off the list of local priorities? I think Cambridge’s area committees provide a fantastic opportunity for our councillors to democratically set police priorities and hold the police to account for the work they do in response to public demands, councillors should have the confidence to use this opportunity.
As Mr Wilkins has such a crucial role in setting local police priorities I thought it would be interesting to review his attendance at the North Area Committee, which he is a member of when it has set the police priorities for the North Area, in the last year or so Mr Wilkins has missed three meetings at which the police priorities for the North Area are set:
- Wednesday 30 May 2007 – Kevin Wilkins was absent
- Thursday 20 September 2007 Kevin Wilkins was absent
- Thursday 17 April 2008 – Kevin Wilkins was absent
Mr Wilkins is not your typical volunteer councillor, he probably makes a living out of his “political” appointments – he has a paid job with the local MP David Howarth, as his “Office Manager” [corrected following an email from Mr Wilkins - see comments] though he also fulfils various other roles for Mr Howarth including “Agent” and “Campaign Director”, on top of that he collects £6840/Year as a County Councillor and £7631/Year as a Member of the Police Authority.