Police and Crime Panel Submission on Drones, Officer Numbers and Fire Service Rejected

Monday, February 1st, 2016. 8:19pm

Cllr Ben Shelton

Cllr Ben Shelton (The Shelfords & Stapleford, Conservative) at a Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel Meeting.

Cllr Ben Shelton, acting chair of Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel, has rejected a submission I had made for the “community involvement” part of the Police and Crime Panel meeting scheduled for Wednesday 3rd February, 2016.

I had wanted to urge the panel to scrutinise decisions made by the Police and Crime Commissioner relating to the use of drones by the police and taking over the fire service. I also submitted a question on police constable numbers. These are matters in which there has been public interest and media coverage but which the Police and Crime Commissioner had not volunteered for scrutiny.

My rejected submission stated:

  1. I have previously expressed concern about the panel’s reliance on the Police and Crime Commissioner to voluntarily report decisions to the panel for scrutiny. I have suggested the panel take a more proactive role in identifying decisions which the Police and Crime Commissioner has taken but have not been voluntarily eported to the panel for scrutiny.

    Examples of decisions which I am surprised not to see reported to this panel meeting include:

    • A strategic policy decision appears to have been made in relation to the deployment of police drones in the force area. I would have expected the panel to scrutinise the policies and safeguards put in place by the Police and Crime Commissioner relating to police drones.
    • A recent Cambridge News headline has stated the Police and Crime Commissioner has begun “talks to take over Cambridgeshire Fire Service”. I would have expected any decision to enter such talks would have been reported to the panel for scrutiny.

    The Police and Crime Commissioner’s criteria for reporting decisions to the panel, and when the opportunity to take a decision is declined due to the Police and Crime Commissioner’s view of the boundary between an operational and a strategic policy matter should be reported to the panel.

    I hope panel members will raise these matters during the agenda item on the Police and Crime Commissioner’s decisions.

  2. Paragraph 8.1 of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Precept Report. states:

    “The number of police officer posts in the Constabulary establishment is budgeted to slightly increase from 1,343 in 2015/16 to 1,352 in 2016/17.”

    I would like to know how many of these are constables (irrespective of rank), and what role any non-constable police officers fulfil.

The panel usually publish its agenda a week before the meeting. I read the papers the week before, on Wednesday the 27th of January and made my submission on Friday the 19th. I made my submission as promptly as I could.

The panel’s rules state:

To guarantee acceptance (subject to paragraphs 7.9 and 7.10), the Questioner’s submission must be received by the Secretariat not later than 12 noon, on the third working day following the publication of the meeting agenda. Submissions received after the deadline may be accepted at the discretion of the Chairperson

There is no easy way for those reading the published agenda to know when it was published. The publication date isn’t included on the agenda itself either on the web-page or in PDF format.

It only occurred to me over the weekend that the publication date was available to expert users of the “Modern Gov” web system used by the panel via the “What’s New” link which presents papers in date order.

So as it turns out my submission despite being made promptly did miss the deadline for guaranteed acceptance.

While disappointing, these things happen, I don’t check the Peterborough City Council Modern Gov system for newly published documents on a daily basis, in fact I’ve never looked at their “What’s new” page before this weekend. I was doing lots of other things in the days following the publication of the agenda as well as reading it, an the associated papers, and it took me time to come to a view that I wanted to make a submission. I also wanted to check my questions were appropriate so researched the background, particularly of the various statements which have been made on the force workforce statistics by the Police and Crime Commissioner and Chief Constable.

The panel’s vice-chair Cllr Ben Shelton took the decision to reject my, submission, and all others made after noon on Friday the 19th of January, acting in lieu of the Police and Crime Panel chair Cllr Ablewhite who has been inexplicably deleted from the list of those expected at the next meeting and the panel’s membership list.

Cllr Ablewhite does not appear to have been replaced by Huntingdonshire District Council leaving the panel a member short. (Membership makeup).

Acting chair Cllr Ben Shelton represents The Shelfords & Stapleford on South Cambridgeshire District Council and is a Conservative.

The panel’s rules require submissions to be circulated to all panel members so hopefully one of the members may take up my suggestions and make contributions in light of what I have written.

Submissions are also, according to the rules, “entered” into a “book open to public inspection”, published on the panel’s webpages, and and added as an annex to the meeting’s minutes.

Even if I had presented the submission in person it is only by having the suggestions and questions taken up by panel members that progress can be made.

The Police and Crime Panel’s rules on using the “community involvement” are quite hard to navigate. In contrast Cambridge City Council generally allow questions on agenda items so long as they are notified of an intent to contribute before the meeting starts.

The first item of business at the 3 February 2016 meeting is to be to elect a new chairman for the panel. It is possible that a new chairman will take a different decision on the allowing public submissions which are not guaranteed acceptance.

6 comments/updates on “Police and Crime Panel Submission on Drones, Officer Numbers and Fire Service Rejected

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cambridge City Council’s representative on the Police and Crime Panel Cllr Lewis Herbert has written to me to say that he or Edward Leigh will ask the questions, and that he was already thinking of asking questions along similar lines on the expansion of the role to encompass the fire service and on the workforce statistics.

    Cllr Herbert has also said he’s keen to hear Cllr Shelton’s reasoning for his decision to reject all public submissions made after noon on Friday. I am too, I hope reasons are given, I’ve not been provided with any yet.

    This is an excellent response from Cllr Herbert.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    I’m tempted to submit an urgent question asking what’s happened to the Police and Crime Panel chair Cllr Ablewhite.

    I would have expected the resignation of the Police and Crime Panel chair (if that’s what’s happened) to have prompted a news release; it’s a major civic role in the force area.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    While I’ve been looking at the panel rules and webpages I’ve noticed:


  4. Ground based resident

    It’s got a bit lost in your other questions (that you weren’t able to ask), but I would imagine if you are still concerned Richard, that by obtaining a copy of the Privacy Impact Assessment for the use of Drones this would give you sone information on the expected use and how any any public concerns might be appeased.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I will submit a FOI request for the policies governing the use of drones by Cambridgeshire police, including any Privacy Impact Assessment. I’ll think about what I want to request, I might want to include details of the trial being run or decisions made by the Police and Crime Commissioner. My aim is transparency over what the force is doing and helping the Police and Crime Panel hold the Police and Crime Commissioner to account.

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