I spoke on the setting of local policing priorities at Cambridge City Council’s North Area Committee on the 6th of March 2008.
I said that I had attended these meetings a number of times, particularly when the police were present to make suggestions on improving policing in the area. I believed that I was participating in a process whereby some democratic influence/control was being exerted by our elected representatives over the police. I watched the councillors at the last meeting on the 20th of January vote to approve a set of policing priorities, however just a few days later I received an Ecops email stating that a different set of police priorities had been decided at a “Neighbourhood Panel Meeting”, this was also reported in the local press. I went to a local meeting with the police, in the Meadows community centre, Arbury, at which I was able to ask PCSO Rob Streater about the discrepancy. PCSO Streater told me that the “Neighbourhood Panel Meeting” was a closed meeting, held within Parkside police station, and that was where the police priorities were set. I noted that as elsewhere in Cambridgeshire a “Neighbourhood Panel Meeting” is an open public meeting I felt this was a misleading description. I stated that I believed that Sgt. Wragg, who had attended the 20th January North Area meeting and given councillors the impression that they had been responsible for voting on the police priorities had misled the meeting.
The most constructive response to my statement was from the Council Leader, Ian Nimmo-Smith:
- He undertook to get the police to explain their system for setting police priorities at the next North Area Committee meeting, he asked for this to be added to the agenda (presumably so the police can prepare).
- He undertook to seek the publication of the agenda, minutes and membership of the “Neighbourhood Panel Meeting” for the North of Cambridge.
Councillor Ward responded in what I consider an incredible way, saying he didn’t think we could expect our PCSOs to understand the mechanism by which the public, via their elected representatives in Cambridge influence the police. I disagree, I believe public engagement and public consultation is a big part of what our PCSOs do, they are relatively highly paid professionals and I expect them to understand how this basic element of “neighbourhood policing” operates.
Councillor Levy stated that he had met a senior police Inspector and discussed this problem with them.
Councillor Rhodri James had a go at explaining how he thought the process of setting police priorities worked, other councillors particularly councillor Downham said that they had been told that it worked in a different way. This clearly demonstrated the problem arising due to the lack of clarity surrounding the nature of the routes for influencing the police in Cambridge, even among those who think they’re setting the police priorities. Councillor James suggested that the North Area committee acts as the public consultation element of the Neighbourhood Panel Meeting; if it was I interjected saying that as meetings have been held on the same day so the opportunity for interaction between them appears limited to me, this timing could be another underlying problem.
Councillor Mike Pitt noted that the fact the police areas North and South Cambridge don’t correspond exactly with the City Council areas and this could be a source of confusion. A more important source of confusion in my view is the difference between three monthly priorities over the whole north area, and more targeted fortnightly priorities for more specific areas.