Council Scrutiny of Dispersal Zones

Dear Councillor Ward,

In response to the Police priorities section of Wednesday’s North Area Committee Meeting, I asked the councillors if they were happy with the process for introducing dispersal zones in the City.

I noted that the council leader appeared to be authorising these police powers without routinely seeking input from other councillors at the Strategy Scrutiny Committee. I said that I felt that the creation of dispersal zones is an important enough action for them to be reviewed at every scrutiny committee.

You then responded to tell to the meeting you were the vice-chair of the relevant committee and that all dispersal zone orders were brought to the meeting.

I have been told by Rhodri James while he was canvassing that committee members have a large number of leader’s actions available to scrutinize, and only those councillors put on the agenda are actually discussed at the meeting. I have no doubt that committee members could choose to review a decision to effect a dispersal zone if they chose to, however my point is that they do not appear to be making use of the opportunity to comment on and advise the leader and police on their use of dispersal zones.

Previously the Strategy Scrutiny Committee has had Agenda Items such as the 9 November 2005: “Application for extension of a dispersal order in parts of Petersfield and Romsey wards – Section 30, Anti-social Behaviour Act, 2003 (dispersal of groups and removal of persons under 16).”

I was drawing attention to the fact that we do not see such agenda items every time a dispersal order is brought in; I understand why this is and I was trying to encourage the councillors present to start using their opportunity to question the use of these orders.

As an example of an order which does not appear to have been discussed by the scrutiny committee is that currently covering Mill Road, Parker’s Piece, Christ’s Pieces, Midsummer Common, Brunswick Gardens and Riverside a designated area under Section 30 Subsections (3) to (5) of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 from the 3rd of January 2007 for six months.

I can’t see it on the agenda of the 10th January 2007 meeting, or the 21 March meeting.

My reasons for wanting these orders properly reviewed include:

  • I believe there is a need, particularly in the City of Cambridge, for better democratic oversight/control of the police.
  • I’d like the maps of the zones and the reasons for having the zones published as widely as possible; bringing them to the scrutiny helps this as they become available online, and perhaps in more detail than is available on posted notices.
  • I find the dispersal zones draconian and intrusive, I don’t like the idea of giving the police such extreme powers. They give police the power to compel people to disperse or leave an area essentially if the police don’t like the look of them. We’ve got to rely on the police having the ability to exercise good judgement as to when they use these extreme draconian powers; and I don’t think Cambridgeshire police have the ability to that. Just recently we’ve had them ridiculed in the national media fining a student for making a phallic snowman, and responding to reports of a “stolen” shuttlecock. I’ve personally experienced the police’s poor judgement on a number of occasions.
  • I’d like to have had the chance to find out the reasons behind the order when the text of the notice itself doesn’t appear to make sense; for example the zone on midsummer common is there to prevent drug use/dealing in the public toilets (Surely this is illegal even without the dispersal zone?) yet the zone boundary has been drawn such that the toilets are outside it.
  • An area of midsummer common which had three redeployable CCTV cameras covering it for much of the period of the order was left just outside the zone; without explanation this appeared incongruous. `
  • I think the zones push drug and alcohol misuse out of the city centre and into more residential areas where it causes more nuisance. If councillors discuss the orders residents of Cambridge can see if the police and council leader are taking the potential effects of this displacement into account.
  • I think the dispersal zones were intended as temporary measures to cover specific areas, in Cambridge they are becoming almost permanent features covering vast swathes of the City.

I am aware of the annual review of dispersal zone usage, and think this is excellent.

Also while I am writing to you I’d like to note that I was disappointed that even though you said that you supported the lady from French’s Road/Histon Road Cemetery who along with me spoke about drug and alcohol derived problems in that area you didn’t see fit to add this to the police’s priorities and passed them unamended.

I note that I wrote to the chair of the Strategy Scrutiny Committee in February asking about the way dispersal zone applications are dealt with but have not yet received a reply.

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