On the 3rd of February 2011 I attended a meeting of the Cambridge Community Safety Partnership. The body sets and monitors the city wide police priorities for Cambridge.
I submitted two public questions. The first was:
The North Area Committee was told last week that the partnership had agreed its priorities for the Community Safety Plan 2011-14 in private, by email, instead of waiting to do so at the formal public meeting. What was the reason the decision could not be delayed a few days until the meeting? I note no report/papers for Community Safety Plan item on the agenda have been published in advance of the meeting. Will any reports on this tabled at the meeting be placed online as soon as possible and will these include a record of the secret meeting conducted by email? Why is the partnership delaying publishing the priorities chosen online even though they were verbally announced at the North Area Committee?
No good reason was given for taking the decision in secret, or for the delay in publication. City Council officer Lynda Kilkelly attempted a justification saying there was a deadline of the 31st of March for the production of the plan, which had to include details, and not just the priorities. She also claimed to have set the deadlines for the priority setting process many months previously, apparently without any consideration of committee dates.
Senior, and no doubt very highly paid, Cambridge City Council officer Liz Bisset, who is a member of the Community Safety Partnership Board showed what in my view was gross incompetence as she said she understood that the priorities were to be set in public at the meeting and had not been set before hand. Other members of the board and her colleague Lynda Kilkelly corrected her and confirmed that the sequence of events I had outlined was correct. That a key member of a board which such immense responsibility wasn’t following what was going on with this, the board’s most important function, was very worrying in my view.
Later in the meeting, when the item was discussed, I heckled and asked if the paper members of the board were considering would be made available to the public. (This was an unaddressed part of my public question). Officer Lynda Kilkelly argued against publication, on the basis that it wasn’t a finalised “plan” document. Cllr Tim Bick, a Liberal Democrat elected on a manifesto of transparency and openness usefully pointed out that it was usual practice for papers which formed part of the open agenda at public meetings to be made available with the meeting papers.
Oversight of Divisional Priorities / Misleading the North Area Committee
My second question was:
Also on the subject of CSP priorities; the North Area Committee were told that burglary would remain a “divisional priority” for the police, so when it is dropped as a partnership priority they don’t need to make it a local one. Where can the public find the divisional priorities? How can the public find out about the police’s performance against those priorities? Who holds the police to account in respect to their performance against the divisional priorities?
The response was very interesting and revealed that the North Area committee had, in my view, been significantly and materially misled by Sgt. Wragg. Inspector Kerridge stated that divisional priorities were fortnightly priorities and admitted there was no oversight; other than the general oversight of the police force as a whole by the Police Authority.
Cllr Wilkins, a member of the CSP, the North Area Committee and the Police Authority spoke to me after the meeting and agreed that I had highlighted a major problem with what Sgt. Wragg had said to the North Area Committee.
It is clear a divisional priority is in no way a substitute for either a local, or city wide priority. Sgt. Wragg particularly failed to make clear that the fact burglary is a divisional priority at the time of a specific area committee meeting does not mean it will remain so for the entire period for which that committee is setting the local priorities.
Mr Price – Park Street Residents’ Association
Mr Price actually asked his questions first, it appeared that he was first member of the public ever to formally ask a question at the Community Safety Partnership, though the minutes reveal he had not in fact submitted his questions in advance. (The CSP has only been publicised and open to the public for three meetings; I have previously contributed by invitation from the chair, and through [polite and appropriate] heckles, but had not via a formally submitted question.)
The chair of the CSP, Chief Inspector Sargent, struggled with the rules for public questions, at first only allowing Mr Price to read his questions verbatim. Cllr Bick intervened and prompted a bit of flexibility to be permitted. ie. at public question times in other meetings the subject and substance of the questions have to be tabled in advance, but the questioner is generally allowed to put there question and background in their own words. Questioners are generally allowed a brief follow-up question/comment which can be used to seek clarification.
Mr Price asked seven questions, the minutes state these, and my questions, are said to be attached to the minutes as an appendix, but this has not in practice happened.
The only one of Mr Price’s questions to be addressed was one asking why there was no representative of city centre residents on the Community Safety Partnership. He was told the partnership was between professional bodies, but that it was planning to look at how it could engage better with the community in the future. The remainder of Mr Price’s questions, relating to alcohol related crime and anti-social behaviour were read out, but Mr Price was advised it would be better to take them to the West/Central Area committee. The partnership’s statistician, Michael Soper, offered to help Mr Price with his questions relating to statistics, including under-reporting and health statistics.
Key Points from the Rest of the Meeting
Based on my live tweets
- Even though I attended the meeting in person, and there was a pack of papers available to the public, the key document on the partnership’s new priorities was not available. I made sure all members were aware of this, both through my public question and by heckling at the appropriate point when they all picked up the secret document. I got them to agree to publish it. The current, 4th draft, is now online in the papers for the meeting on the 11th of March so that appears to have prompted an on-going change.
- Inspector Kerridge told the partnership that only half of the robberies in Cambridge are against “innocent members of the public”. The rest are for example drug deals gone wrong.
- Inspector Kerridge said: “we are, and always will be, a city bilghted by cycle crime”. He’s in charge of tackling it.
- Cllr Bick asked about GPS equiped bait bikes being used in Cambridge. The police responded to say the use of bait bikes was resulting in catching low level bike theives; not the dealers and added the police have to be careful not to be agent provocateurs.
- Inspector Kerridge joked that investing in a snow machine might be good way to tackle cycle crime. (Crime statistics were down in bad weather over the winter)
- Inspector Kerridge reported the police were “far from meeting goal” of reducing serious acquisitive crime (Burglary/Robbery/Theft) in Cambridge.
- 60-80 people a month end up in Addenbrooke’s A&E saying they’ve been assaulted.
- Burglary rates in Cambridge are well above the average rates for similar places.
- The police drew a distinction between volume anti-social behavior vs ASB affecting vulnerable people.
- Problems with reoffending were discussed. Lack of support for those leaving prison was highlighted as key issue. Top tip: try not to get released from prison at or just before the weekend if you need state help with money/somewhere to sleep. People being released without any money, or anywhere to stay were left with little option but to turn to crime. The partnership was told ex.prisoners were not able to arrange benefits/accommodation until release.
- The partnership were told the County Council had been given freedom to spend the “safer stronger” government grant they’re distributing on basis of number crimes/popn so Cambridge would benefit.
- The partnership oddly resolved to try and increase its public profile by trying to piggy back on the press surrounding the police.uk crime maps, through writing to those running the site, noting problems with their statistics. Another heckle from me won the partnership agreeing to seek to get Cambridge’s area committees listed on police.uk, as that’s where the local priorities are set by elected councillors. Currently only police surgeries are listed. I was disappointed to see this didn’t make the minutes as an action point.
- After the meeting I spoke to the magistrate rep. on the partnership about the fact the courts won’t tell me when cases I want to observe are scheduled.
- Cambridge Community Safety Partnership Webpage – (according to the partnership’s secretary the City Council refuses to allow them to post their papers in a more accessible format than word documents embedded within word documents.)
- My article on the December 2010 meeting of the Community Safety Partnership
The next meeting of the partnership is at 10am, 11th March 2011 in the Guildhall