I attended an Arbury ward police consultative meeting which was held at the Meadows Community Centre on the 16th of October 2008.
The police were represented by PC Rachel Ball and a new PCSO, Luke Upcott who had recently joined the force. Two Labour party representatives were present: County Councillor Elizabeth Hughes of Kings Hedges and someone describing himself as the ward organiser. There were also about ten members of the public from around the ward. No city council staff, for example housing officers or community development officers attended. No Liberal democrat councillors or candidates were present either.
Hazlewood and Molewood
Residents reported one of the barriers on the road opposite 134 Hazlewood close had been damaged and was causing an obstruction. They had reported it to the council without effect and asked the police to follow it up too. (I visited the area and could not find anything wrong)
An abandoned car on a council run car park which hadn’t been dealt with for months was drawn to the police’s attention, again because resident’s own approaches to the council had not been fruitful.
Ongoing, and current as of that evening, problems with motorbikes / scooters going round in circles were reported.
Cllr Hughes stated that all these three matters had been discussed at a recent housing meeting.
Overall compared to the situation in the recent past the Hazelwood / Molewood area was considered much improved.
Residents reported that youths congregating in stairwells, scrawling graffiti in stairwells, letting off fireworks and taking drugs were causing residents problems, making some scared to leave their homes at times.
A resident reported that youths congregated in spots which the council’s CCTV cameras did not cover; he suggested that if the cameras could be panned around this problem would be reduced. It was suggested this behaviour towards the cameras amounted to “sticking two fingers up” to authority, and further these youths did make gestures towards the cameras when they knew they could not be seen by them.
Residents commented that the police didn’t always respond to their calls, and the regular discussion which always occurs at meetings like this about how the police decide which calls to respond to ensued. Cllr Hughes drew an analogy to an accident and emergency department’s triage system. All agreed that the situation at Kingsway was rarely deserving of a highly prioritised response, but residents continued the analogy suggesting what they were living with was like a constant, albeit minor, pain – something which did need attention.
PC Ball reported that it was often frustrating for her to return to Parkside after a shift and find out that there had been calls from residents, including at Kingsway which had come in while she was out on duty but had not been passed onto her. Members of the public pushed her to ask why this was and she said it was due to a lack of local knowledge in the control room in Hinchingbrooke. One resident suggested control room operators should be taken on a “hotspot tour of Cambridge” to familiarise themselves with areas such as Kingsway. All present strongly urged PC Ball to use any routes available to her to make the appropriate people within the police aware of the problems.
Residents observed that Kingsway flats had become a dumping ground for those with nowhere else to go and that these generally poor people were living in relatively unpleasant conditions.
Cllr Hughes said that problem areas tended to move around the North of the City as there was a turn over of people in properties.
A resident, who acted as a host family to foreign students during the summer reported that her visitors had been targeted by burglars. She thought her house was targeted as her guests had been identified by the burglars as likely to have easy to sell electrical equipment such as cameras, laptops. She also reported passports had been stolen. The resident was concerned about the impression given to these visitors of our country. She referred to other thefts which had occurred on the road.
The same resident talked about a specific family on Frenchs Road, one member of whom had been particularly unpleasant towards her, and noted an intimidating attitude from a number of local youths who had even been annoying her by coming into her own garden.
The resident complained the police did not come out in response to her calls, and failed to meet appointments when they made them – she went to police station herself rather than waiting for the police to come to her. She has received an apology from another local PC.
PC Ball was aware of the individuals involved, one of whom had been subject to an “Acceptable Behavior Contract”, which both the police and resident agreed had worked for the period of the contract. She also noted there had been weekly meetings between council officers and the family.
Prostitution on Histon Road was briefly discussed. Some residents present had observed prostitutes working even on a Sunday lunchtime, and had gained the impression business was not brisk for them. Residents said it wasn’t really a problem for them, and expressed sympathy for the plight of the women. PC Ball thought it worth tackling because of associated potential problems and people who could be drawn into the area.
PC Ball stated that decent looking bikes were being left around the city with tracking devices in them which the police were able to follow, in addition bait bikes which were left then watched by police officers were also being used.
I asked if this had led to any uncovering of an organised element to the cycle crime in the area: were large numbers of bikes ending up in the same place and being taken out of the city? PC Ball replied that the police did not think this was the case, and most thefts were opportunistic.
One resident was concerned that taxpayers money was being used to provide lights for cyclists stopped without them. It was pointed out that they had to pay a fine to receive the lights, and PC Ball confirmed there had been a previous scheme whereby a fine was cancelled if someone brought evidence they had bought lights to the police following receipt of a fixed penalty notice.
I asked if the cycle crackdown had penetrated into the North Area or if it was focused on the city centre. I and others pointed out those cycling without lights on roads in the area was potentially more dangerous than committing the same offence in the City Centre. PC Ball stated she had spent time standing on Histon Road stopping everyone who approached her without lights on their bikes.
Police posts were discussed PC Ball said that there were offices within the county hall and in the Cambridge Regional College which the police could use to do paperwork without leaving the area.
The North Area committee has not prioritised Frenchs Road or Kingsway currently, I was surprised to learn that some of those present even those living in Kingsway agreed with councillors that Arbury Court (Which is in King’s Hedges) was worse and deserved the prioritisation it had received.
PC Ball confirmed that PCSOs are available from 8 am to Midnight everyday and the numbers on duty were evenly spread throughout this time. A number of members of the public including me noted that they rarely see PCSOs after dark. The police also confirmed that PCSOs now had a considerable degree of personal freedom to decide where they patrolled on a shift, and were now free to visit the same area multiple times – something not previously permitted in the area.
At the suggestion of two members of the public, and in line with what had previously been promised but not acted upon, PC Ball agreed to share what had been discussed at the meeting with a wider audience using the Ecops email system.