On the evening of the 19th of May 2011 City and County Councillors from North Cambridge will get the opportunity to vote on the area’s local policing priorities for the next three months or so. Councillors’ deliberations and decisions will follow a presentation from the police and a session where the public have an opportunity to ask questions and suggest priorities. The session on policing is part of the North Area Committee meeting, to be held at the Manor School on Arbury Road from 18.00, with the policing item to be taken at 20.30.
The council have not publicised the meeting at all, beyond placing it their online calendar. The fact the policing item has a fixed start time (which is something great that could encourage more to attend for it rather than sitting through from the official start at 18.00) is only mentioned in a downloadable PDF, not in on the webpage which contains the agenda.
In advance of the meeting the police, in conjunction with Cambridge City Council, have produced a North Area Profile document which describes the work which has been carried out in relation to priorities councillors set previously and contains ward level statistics and reports.
Some notable items I’ve pulled out of the report:
- Between January and April 2011 12 catalytic converters were stolen from the underside of vehicles in Kings Hedges
- In 13 of the 24 burglaries of homes in Kings Hedges between January and April nothing was stolen. I’d like to know what’s going on here. I discussed this with Kings Hedges Cllr Pellew and he wondered if the police were counting damage to homes which didn’t result in entry as burglaries. I wondered if drugs or other contraband was being stolen and people aren’t telling the police what’s gone.
- There were 119 burglaries of homes in the north of the city between January and April 2011. On average that’s one a day. This is up 25% from the same period last year. On the basis of this I’d like to see burglary as one of the police priorities for the next period.
- Violent crimes and thefts from shops are also up compared to the same period last year
- Overall crime levels are about the same as for the same time last year; with the statistics being significantly helped by a large drop in cycle crime.
- Eight wing mirrors were broken off cars parked on Metcalfe Road during the period.
- In nine of the thirty violent offences reported in West Chesterton the police report an offender was arrested and charged. The police don’t give such statistics in relation to other crime, or other areas, and no information is included on what happened next, if they were found guilty, if they were punished etc.
My Current Views and Concerns Related to Policing North Cambridge
Royal Wedding Precrime Arrests
One of my biggest concerns about policing in North Cambridge in the period covered by the report was the arrest on the 28th of April of freedom of speech campaigner Charlie Veitch. The reason given for his arrest was that there were “reasonable grounds to suspect [he had] conspired with others to cause public nuisance in relation to the royal wedding” and he was also “under arrest under suspicion of aggravated trespass in Fortnum and Mason”. He was told his arrest was “necessary for prompt and necessary investigation of these allegations”.
The arresting officer, Ashley Bennett (2454) said: “He’s marked as wanted by the Metropolitan Police on PNC I’d assume they’d have to have evidence.”
However this appears to have been a political arrest; part of a concerted effort to round people up prior to the Royal Wedding and to detain them for the duration.
I’m aware, from his tweets that Cambridge MP Julian Huppert has been following this up with the Home Secretary and with the Metropolitan Police. Mr Huppert has called the series of arrests “Republican Arrests”. I think it would be useful if councillors at the North Area committee also expressed their concern, particularly at the role of our local police played. I’d like councillors to urge the police to be more questioning and critical of their orders or their computers, they should ensure they know, and are able to explain to the person being arrested what the reasons for the arrest are. I’d also suggest it is stressed to our local constables that they need to exercise their own personal judgement and ought be able to justify an arrest more convincingly than saying they’re acting on the orders of a computer (acting on the orders of a court issued warrant is quite different). Each individual constable exercising his/her own personal judgement ought be a key safeguard preventing this kind of thing, which in my view is a misuse of the police force and an abuse of police power. I think the problems highlighted at all levels from the Home Secretary, through the Police Authorities, Police Forces right down to the arresting officer ought be tackled and the North Area committee should ask an elected member of the Cambridgeshire Police Authority to ensure Cambridgeshire Police’s role is looked into.
The police’s neighbourhood profile makes no mention of restorative justice, despite the Chief Constable announcing on the radio recently that his force were going to do more of it. On the 16th of May Peterborough Today reported:
Cambridgeshire police has trained 800 officers in the use of “restorative justice”, rather than punishing minor crimes and misdemeanour.
The scheme sees petty criminals doing something for the victim rather than being punished by the courts and ending up with a criminal record.
Chief constable Simon Parr said one example included a 16-year-old, who cannot be named, who stole £3 worth of goods from a shop.
He cleaned 100 shopping baskets for the shop rather than involve the courts.
I would like to know:
- Has restorative justice been used in North Cambridge? On what scale will we see its use in the next few months?
- Cambridgeshire police list common assault as one of the crimes considered suitable for restorative justice along with ” a smashed window”, theft (under £100) and criminal damage (under £300). I think these thresholds are far too high. When I had my car vandalised, causing a couple of hundred pounds I would have wanted to see that person in court. I want to see serious assaults, eg. attacks by strangers on people walking around the city kept to a minimum though the existence of an effective deterrent for those caught and convicted.
- What records are kept, is accepting restorative justice a way of avoiding a criminal record? If an individual does end up in court will magistrates / judges be made aware of their previous “restorative justice” sentences before sentencing the individual again themselves?
- Where the “victim” is the community as a whole with whom will restorative justice penalties be agreed – with councillors? Ecops subscribers? followers of @CambsCops on Twitter?
- What safeguards are their to ensure the scheme doesn’t encourage more innocent people to “plead guilty” to offences
- Is the root cause of this scheme being introduced really down to police performance statistics and the police’s need to have some kind of official conclusion to as many reported crimes as possible?
Street Drinking and Associated Violent / Intimidating Behaviour
There are many street drinkers in the North of the City, particularly between Jesus Green and 222 Victoria Road. The problem arises when they become intimidating, drunk and disorderly and aggressive. Even if the aggression is between themselves it is still disconcerting.
The police are recommending dropping this as a priority. I think it ought be continued, it is getting worse as the weather gets warmer.
What I think is needed is police patrols to do the very basic police job of keeping the peace.
The police say there’s no evidence of an issue – they should come out into the area more. I suspect it doesn’t get reported much as it is an almost constant background issue in the area and has been every summer in particular for a long time.
I live in the area affected, and I go through the area seriously affected on a daily basis, so I know that the police have not contacted local residents to ask about the problem (as they have done in other prioritised areas).
Cambridge City Council CCTV has been placed outside the Victoria Road Stores for a period of time. The report says nothing about what, if anything, this revealed or how, if at all the City Council and Police were working together on this matter.
I think North Cambridge’s roads are rather lawless. There are bikes, and sometimes even cars without lights at night. There is lots of speeding by cars and large amounts of dangerous, careless and aggressive driving which makes cycling unpleasant and sometimes when I’m cycling round the area it feels like I’m taking my life in my hands.
I’d like to see regular routine traffic policing; dealing with all road users who are breaking the law. I think there is a particular problem in parts of the North of the City with obviously unroadworthy vehicles, eg. with broken lights or belching huge amounts of black smoke.
(While I think enforcement is needed; clearly the City and County Council have a role in making roads safer too, through improving the infrastructure)
Police Surgeries and Private Police Meetings
The police report only mentions one meeting between the police and local residents.
I think reports of all such meetings ought be included in the report to the North Area Committee so councillors can see what people have been saying at these meetings before they set their priorities.
I’d like to see the North Area Committee updated on the outcomes of the surgery on Histon Road held on the 17th of May.
I also think the East Chesterton ward police consultative committee ought now be reformed, especially following the electorate booting out Cllr Clare Blair who was the only councillor prepared to defend the arrangements where a single resident controlled access to the meeting despite it being attended by the police and serviced by city council officers. (I note my comments on this in January didn’t make the meeting minutes. The minutes of the January meeting are a nonsense, they state: “Councillor Blair said that Neighbourhood Action Groups were open to all residents in a ward” This is both not true, and not what was said. The Neighbourhood Action groups are secret meetings held by the police at which they decide if to accept what councillors have set as priorities or not.).
I think all such meetings ought be public, so the press, councillors, all interested residents (including those who say work, or spend time in an area but don’t live in it) can attend.
Councillors Misled in January
At the January North Area Committee meeting when councillors last set the area’s priorities Sgt. Wragg of Cambridgeshire Police had told councillors that burglary was a divisional priority suggesting to councillors there was no need to make it local one.
I found out by asking a public question at the February 2011 Cambridge Community Safety Partnership meeting, that the police’s divisional priorities are fortnightly priorities and no public, democratically accountable body, holds the police to account for their performance against them.
I think Sgt Wragg misled councillors last time when he gave the divisional priority as a reason for not setting a local one.
I note that as of the May 2011 meeting burglary (along with cycle theft and robbery) have also been dropped as city wide priorities.
Problem Parking and associated Anti-Social Behaviour outside The Shirley School
One specific point I would have liked to have seen recorded formally following the January North Area Committee meeting was Sgt. Wragg’s statement that those committing offences on Evergreens were being given words of advice, and not tickets, because they were travellers and the police did not want to upset “community relations”. I want this minuted because I want to be able to lobby against it, I want to see everyone to be treated equally by the police. My view is that having one law for some and another for others is more, not less likely to damage community relations as it will create resentment.
I note the report to the May 2011 meeting skirts round the issue stating:
It remains proportionate for Police patrols to engage parents and educate on the current issues rather than take immediate enforcement action.
I think councillors ought push for the police to treat everyone equally.
Jan-April 2011 Priorities
- Sex working and associated Anti-Social Behaviour, Histon Road.
- Anti-Social Behaviour and Street Drinking in the area of Histon Road, Victoria Road and Gilbert Road
- Problem Parking and associated Anti-Social Behaviour outside The Shirley School
Priorities Police and Council Officers Are Proposing from April 2011
- Continuation of tackling anti-social parking outside the Shirley School.
- Kingsway Flats – Anti-social congregation by youths and drug misuse in the vicinity of residences.
- Further work to identify any patterns in the increase in anti-social behaviour in East Chesterton and to tackle any identifiable causes.
- “Wheelie bin” fires – Prevention and education.
My Views on Priorities I’d Like to See in Summary
I would like to see burglary prioritised, given the 25% increase over the same period last year, and given it is no-longer a city wide priority and there is no where else the police are being held to their account for their performance locally tackling this serious crime which has a significant affect on those who experience it.
Violent crime, including robberies, ought be a police priority for the summer months. The city, including its green spaces, ought be a safe place for individuals to walk and around at all times of the day.
Drunks on the street, in the city’s green spaces and particular, in the North Area, between the 222 Victoria Road Hostel and Jesus Green.
I would like to see some culture changes in the police; with them being required to be more open and honest.
The personal responsibilities of constables ought be stressed, which might go someway to preventing the likes of the “Pre Crime” royal wedding arrests happening again.
The outcomes of meetings held at ward levels and surgeries ought be reported to the North Area committee, and people ought be encouraged to come and make their views in relation to local policing known to councillors at the meeting (or privately in advance of it).
All residents of North Cambridge should be treated equally by the police, irrespective of factors like race, being a traveller / living on a traveller site, and age, though the police ought focus their attentions on the criminals rather than the law abiding even if the law abiding are easier to deal with and more pleasant people to spend their working days with.