City Wide Police Priorities in Cambridge


Friday, July 4th, 2008. 12:28pm

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.

2 comments/updates on “City Wide Police Priorities in Cambridge

  1. Richard Article author

    Mr Wilkins sent me a response to this article by e-mail:

    Dear Mr Taylor,

    I’ve just read your page at http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/city-wide-police-priorities-in-cambridge.html so I thought I would drop you a line to say that I agree with much of what you’ve written.

    In particular, I agree with the value of North Area Committee setting local police priorities. And I broadly agree with your main paragraph beginning:

    “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”

    I would question whether it is in the best interests of policing in the north area for a local priority to be set which is already being treated as a city-wide priority and is being dealt with effectively. That seems to advantage no-one.

    If, on the other hand, the view of the Area Committee is that the city-wide prioritisaion is not sufficient and is failing to deal with the issue effectively then I would certainly agree with what you have said.

    As this is the first time that this has happened, then it may be that the procedure for assessing this is not yet properly in place and should be reviewed.

    I will pursue the matter with other members of the north area committee, with police officers in the city and with members of the Community Safety Partnership to see if they feel that area priorities have been affected, for good or ill, by what the CSP has done. I will let you know what I find out.

    ***

    For the record, 11th March 2008 was my first meeting of the CSP, having taken over the role from my predecessor who was not an elected councillor – meaning that previously the CSP had had no elected members at all.

    I should add that I am strongly in favour of the democratisation of the police and support direct elections to the police authority, so that its members, who set the budget for the Constabulary and the precept for Council Tax payers, should be directly accountable to the public and not indirectly accountable as I am, or completely unelected as many other members of the Police Authority are.

    Also for the record, I am employed by David Howarth MP as “Office Manager”, a non-party political job, and not as “Agent” or “Campaign Director”. I am not paid by the MP to be his agent or campaign director, which is a party political role which MPs cannot fund.

    I’ll let you know what I find out about the burglary issue.

    Yours sincerely,

    Kevin Wilkins
    County Councillor for West Chesterton

  2. Richard Article author

    I replied to Mr Wilkins:

    Mr Wilkins,

    Thank you for your reply.

    I believe duplication of CSP set city wide priorities at the North Area committee would only be considered by members if one of the city wide priorities was a major concern of councillors constituents in the North Area. If an issue related to a priority was being dealt with effectively clearly councillors would have no cause to add it to their list of priorities. Conversely if they are considering adding a priority in the future relating to say ASB or Burglary I don’t think they should feel unable to do so merely because it is already covered by a CSP priority some of which are very broad, whereas priorities set at the North Area committee can be more specific both in terms of the geographic area covered as well as what they’re asking the police to deal with.

    I think this is primarily an issue of public confidence in the priorities set at the North Area committee and making them appear relevant to those who read about them when they are publicised after the meetings, otherwise I am concerned those reading the priorities are going to be asking themselves: “Where’s Antisocial Behaviour?”, “Where’s Burglary?”, “Where’s Violent Crime?”.

    I think there a few other areas you could be looking into, in preference asking questions of the police on the prioritisation of burglary (though I, and I expect others in the North Area would be interested to know if the police have solved the two recent violent burglaries in the area – the police are great at keeping victims of crime informed of progress of investigations and trials but time and again at public meetings I’m hearing requests to keep the wider public better informed. ):
    1. Stop and Account
    -The current trial period where the stop and account forms are not being used was to be run for three months and will be over soon. What will happen at the end of the trial period, will the forms be reinstated? Who will be reviewing the results of the trial, and against what criteria will it be judged? I asked this latter question at the North Area committee and was told the effect of the loss of intelligence gathered by the forms was the primary negative consequence of removing the forms the police were worried about.
    -As you know I was concerned, based on my own experience and those of others I have heard speak at around 10 local public meetings that stop and account was being poorly run in the north of Cambridge; problems included demanding of names and addresses when the police, not issuing stop receipts, stopping people for trivial reasons such as wearing hats or gloves, and plain clothes police asking children to “stop and account” on their way home from school – a practice defended by a police inspector at the North Area committee.
    -You are aware I consider the police keeping stop and account records indefinitely excessive, you saw the reply I received from Jeff Hill of the police stating that the records were kept in line with the police’s “MOPI” guidance. What that guidance says is: “The type and amount of information held on an individual must not be excessive and must be proportionate to the risk they pose to the community”
    What Jeff Hill did not do was explain what risk those who’ve been stopped in North Cambridge for looking over fences, wearing gloves or wearing hoods pose to the community, how is keeping paper records of such stop and account events for 10 years (as stated by Sgt. Wragg to the Cambridge City Council’s North Area Committee), and keeping the electronic record for an unspecified period of time justified?
    - Finally I have been asking how the new stop and account procedure, without the form, is compliant with the law which governs stop and account, namely PACE code A sections 4.12 – 4.17. As the new procedure clearly isn’t compliant with that I asked John Fuller, Community Engagement Officer, Cambridgeshire Police when I met him on Thursday * if there had been an exception to the law made in Parliament to permit, or an order made by a minister to permit the trial he said there had not been, but he would try and find the answer. I note Cambridge is not one of the three forces running the trial of the new stop and account procedure announced by the Home Secretary.

    2. You stated in your email that the CSP had no elected members before your appointment; the Neighbourhood Action Groups, I have been told this is an “officer only” group, and yet they can approve, reject, and amend the priorities set by councillors at the Area Committees. At least the membership and decisions of the CSP are public. Membership of the NAG, and the dates of its meetings are secret. I asked at the last North Area Committee if the priorities set at the previous Area Committee had been adopted by the NAG. Cllr Nimmo-Smith has told me he is pursuing opening up the activities of the NAG.

    3. The trials currently going on in 10 forces looking at the issuing of TASER weapons to non-firearms police will start to finish in September. How will Cambridgeshire react to those results. Will the people of Cambridgeshire have a chance to have their say on if our local police will be armed with these weapons? Will councillors at the north area committee get a chance to vote on if our local neighborhood police start carrying them? I oppose non-firearms police carrying TASERs on the same grounds as I want stop and account run properly – I think both of these are critical to good public-police relations, and good public-police relations are essential for the police and the country more generally to function.

    I should add that I am strongly in favour of the democratisation of the police and support direct elections to the police authority, so that its members, who set the budget for the Constabulary and the precept for Council Tax payers, should be directly accountable to the public and not indirectly accountable as I am, or completely unelected as many other members of the Police Authority are.

    We don’t have the culture in the UK of electing lots of public officials, sheriffs, dog wardens, town centre managers etc. as they do in America. I am concerned there is not enough appetite for more elections, and if individuals were elected on small mandates that would not be a step forward. I believe councillors and other elected representatives such as a local MP, or Mayor are the best conduits for exercising democratic influence over the police. In Cambridge I would like to see a city councillor on the police authority, and more generally police authority memberships being more flexible to deal with the make-up of the areas they cover.

    Is democratisation of the police a Liberal Democrat policy? I am confused by the local party’s view on this, as we appear to have Cllr Blair who doesn’t appear to want any role for policing in the North Area Committee, and Cllr Huppert [corrected - was wrong in my original email] who has stated he doesn’t think we have ANY democratic control over the police in this country at all, and is [apparantly] resigned to that. * How you can all be members of the same party baffles me. Surely your view of democratisation is best served by the Conservatives at the moment?

    Also for the record, I am employed by David Howarth MP as “Office Manager”, a non-party political job, and not as “Agent” or “Campaign Director”. I am not paid by the MP to be his agent or campaign director, which is a party political role which MPs cannot fund.

    While I have seen your name listed on the bottom of many Liberal Democrat leaflets it was only within the last week or so that I saw David Howarth start listing the names of those he employs on his website, it was though that which I became aware you were paid by David Howarth. I didn’t realise you held three (or more) roles but were only paid for one! I will correct my article.

    I am encouraged by your response to me on these matters,

    Richard Taylor.

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