I have just returned from a police consultative meeting at the Meadows Community Centre, the meeting was publicised as being to discuss Anti-Social Behaviour in the ward of Arbury. No council officers attended, apparently due to them being on strike, although the national council worker’s strike doesn’t start until tomorrow. About 14 members of the public attended, including ex. councillor Rhodri James, who explained he was attending on behalf of councillors who could not attend, two teenagers who had been stopped by the police riding motorbikes/minimotos were also present . The police were represented by Sgt. Wragg who was accompanied by two young women – one PCSO and one PC I believe.
At the start of the meeting I distributed a document I had written noting various items which had been discussed at previous meetings and I felt warranted an update, along with some questions I felt it would be appropriate to ask this evening. Sgt. Wragg appeared irked by this saying: “Who’s meeting is this?”, I pointed out that we had been repeatedly promised by the police at meetings such as this that they would produce an agenda to bring to the meeting, and they would send an eCops email afterwards outlining what had been discussed, as they had failed to do this I had decided to do something myself. An eCops email sent the following day stated:
Firstly thankyou[sic] to everyone that was able to attend the Arbury Anti-social behaviour meeting at the Meadows Centre last night, we were able to discuss issues bought up by members of the community, we will provide minutes for this meeting at a later date.
While I was happy to see this meeting again described as an “Arbury” meeting, I was concerned that it had reverted to an “Anti-Social Behaviour” meeting, rather than the broader “Problem Solving Meeting”. There is real crime in north Cambridge and a need for an inclusive meeting, limiting discussions at meetings such as these to “Anti-social behaviour” and ignoring things like burglary, violent crime and car crime is not in my view a good use of this opportunity to consult with the police, and council officers.
At a previous meeting we have had an assurance from PCSO Streeter that mini-moto and scooter abuse on the roads will be dealt with not under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act but under the same laws as would apply to the rest of us if we took untaxed, uninsured, unsafe vehicles out on the roads without being licensed to drive them. I support this and believe that the prospect of points on a driving licence would be more effective than current deterrents; again the problem I see is an excessive focusing on ASB.
Stop and Account
We briefly discussed the “Stop and Account” trial where police in Cambridge have decided to scrap the stop and account / encounter form. I asked the police officers present why they were happy to ignore the requirements of PACE code A while running the trial. Sgt. Wragg stated that he saw the PACE codes as a guideline, which could be breached if necessary. I explained that I disagreed with that and thought the PACE codes were an important set of procedures which safeguard the public when they are stopped, searched, detained and questioned by the police and ought be followed, and it was a worrying situation when they were ignored.
Sgt. Wragg stated that the initial three month period of the trial had been completed; and the practice of not using the encounter form had continued beyond the end of the trial. We are now in the crazy situation of the “trial” of abolishing the stop and account form having ended, but the stop and encounter form not returning to use in Cambridge.
Police Sergeants have an important role in ensuring that those who work under them are exercising their powers in areas such as stop and account properly, they are the first line of supervision and ought to spot rapidly if their officers are misusing their powers or are not following the law.
I believe that good police-public relations are essential to consensual policing in the UK, an easy way for the police to loose the trust of the public is to start not following the procedures under which they should operate or for them to misrepresent their powers.
I have more articles on this subject:
- Stop and Account – Compliance with PACE codes in Cambridge
- Stop and Account – Cambridge Police Confirm They Ignore PACE Code A
Molewood Close and Hazelwood Close
The police acknowledged the priority set by local councillors at the April North Area Committee meeting prioritising:
Anti Social Behaviour caused by youths in the areas of Molewood Close and Hazelwood Close, to include environmental issues such as fly-tipping.
The police stated there had been great improvements, this was confirmed by members of the public who agreed the area was: “very quiet”. Sgt. Wragg stated that he had arrested a number of individuals from Hazelwood/Molewood a number of times, I asked if this indicated a problem with the courts. Sgt. Wragg’s response on behalf of the police was to say that Cambridge magistrates are: “notoriously lenient with juveniles”.
At previous meetings the idea of a neighborhood watch for Kingsway flats / Rutland Close had been discussed, while an initial meeting with neighbourhood watch advisers had been arranged the commitment required by a coordinator was very great and no-one felt able to take that on.
Improving the security of the flats by limiting access to staircases and walkways had also been discussed. One member of the public who had met with council officers to discuss this had been told the council had considered various options including entry systems, and even a permanent security guard but had been told the costs were too high.
I questioned the effectiveness of the existing gates and fences, and asked when, if ever they were closed. The answer was they were never closed, but previously when they had been closed they acted as a deterrent to non residents entering the area, even if they weren’t locked. One reason they were now left open was the noise created by opening the gates and them clanging shut.
Perhaps a silent, self closing mechanism for the gates could be the way forward?
The bus stop outside Kingsway flats was discussed, particularly with respect to cars parking in the bus stop, and buses not using the lay-by due to the location of the burger van. I was surprised to hear the police claim that parking in the bus stop was not in itsself something they could act on, although they did say there was a generic traffic offence of “obstruction” which could be used. As for why this is a problem, one reason is the ease of getting on the buses for people with limited mobility – it is easier to get on from a raised kerb than from the road level; another I suspect is the general appearance of lawlessness, and appearance of a lack of community spirit, that arises from cars parked in the bus stop.
Reporting Outcomes to the Public
At the last meeting we discussed how the police were generally excellent at keeping victims of crime updated on the progress of investigations and on bringing perpetrators to justice. Those present felt that more could be done to inform the wider public of outcomes of investigations / incidents. Currently for example I would point to the two widely publicised horrific burglaries, just outside the ward as events were an update on police action would be appreciated. The police were unable to provide us with an update on those burglaries at the meeting; though did state that if progress is made in well publicised cases such as those it would be usual procedure to let the press know. I also gave the example of last year’s armed robberies, again the Police were not able to provide an updated – even though the first day of the court case – expected to last three weeks in the Crown Court was, as I learnt from the TV news on arriving home, the day before the meeting.
The police reported mini-motos and similar vehicles were still a problem in the area.
One member of the public reported he had had a near miss in his car with an individual driving a petrol go-cart.
The police appeared to believe the problem was mainly one of nuisance, particularly noise nuisance, I hope following the meeting they might realise there’s genuine concern for the safety of those riding these vehicles on the road, and concern for the consequences of a crash with a car, both in terms of injuries as well as consequences for the car driver.
The teenagers said they were particularly annoyed about being stopped with their mini-motos when they were only pushing them down the road. They asked the police if there was any truth to the urban myth (which they claimed they’d been told by another police officer) that they would be OK if they put a skateboard under the back wheel of their bike and then wheeled that; the police were unable to answer this question. Rhodri James and the Sgt, then discussed a similar issue with bikes, which apparantly shouldn’t really be pushed though red lights or accross zebra crossings – you should carry them instead apparantly!
The teenagers requested a place to ride mini-motos and motorbikes legally. It might be worth the council properly considering this, and providing a reasoned decision. Could an area such as the Cambridge Regional College car park at a weekend or evening be made available?
Another problem noted by the teenagers was that of the green areas and other facilities being monopolised by one age group, rendering them inaccessible to another. If younger kids tried to use the field they might be bullied by older ones; I have written before about a related problem of when mini-motos are used on the playing fields or on play areas the use of these areas is then denied to others.
Sgt. Wragg said the police had been making good use of their new off road police bikes; and jokingly suggested to the teenagers present that if they wanted to ride their motor bikes around the Cambridge they should join the police.
As has been the case at previous meetings much discussion was held on the underlying problems. Sgt. Wragg told the meeting that most of those he deals with are children who have been expelled from school, and are now not doing anything. We have previously heard from such teenagers themselves that even those who are on training schemes only have to attend college or where-ever for a couple of hours a week, and sometimes being on a training scheme means they can’t get work.
I think it would be useful, given the Area Committees are now considering “Safer Neighborhoods” rather than just policing priorities we could use that meeting to try and reduce the number of individuals not in full time education, employment or training (NEETs) in the North Area. Could we:
- put more responsibility back onto the schools which expelled these people in the first place.
- ensure that whatever alternative option to school is offered to those expelled is full time.
- work to reduce the number of expulsions, with earlier intervention
- find out from the relevant county and city council officers, by inviting them to the North Area committee what the problems are in North Cambridge with respect to NEETs and why the services which are in place are not functioning as effectively as the need to be
The police claimed that the perceived reduction in police officer presence in East Chesterton was due to a change in style of policing with new officers. I asked if there had been any actual change in the the way the police are working resulting in the impression of PCs being based in the police station and only PCSOs patrolling. Sgt. Wragg said no, there had not been any recent change, and claimed PCs and even himself as a Sergeant regularly walked around the area.
PS Wragg told the meeting that one of the new PC – PC Carol Lewis had made three times as many arrests in 12 months as his predecessor had. Without any further information on quality it is hard to judge if that is necessarily a good thing, though I was impressed by Sgt. Wragg’s defence of the changes in personnel and approach which have taken place in East Chesterton. I hope the police are able to make an even better defence of their changes at the Area Committee and stand up to those criticising change. Sgt. Wragg noted that those from some streets where there had been significant improvements were not attending the consultative meetings held in East Chesterton (I believe making them police led, genuinely public meetings as we this Arbury meeting was would be a step towards that).
The Sgt. specifically refereed to the case of the individual who had smashed the windows of Tesco in Chesterton High Street just a couple of weeks ago, who had been an individual moved into the area to a children’s home on Fen Road, and the police had intervened and the individual had been moved out of the area.
North Area Committee
I advertised the fact the next meeting is on the 14th of August at 19.30 in Manor Community College, Arbury Road. And noted that it is at this meeting that local City and County Councillors set the quarterly local police priorities. Sgt. Wragg supported my statement, so I asked him to publicise the meeting via eCops. A few members of the public claimed that the previous such meetings had been advertised via eCops, I have certainly never received such an email. I have asked the police, City Council, and police authority to advertise the meetings, and specifically the policing agenda item, on their websites.
I expressed my belief that the opportunity to democratically influence the police at this meeting is a fantastic opportunity and great responsibility which our councillors have; I stated that I think they should be encouraged to use it and held to account for how what they do with it. At the last meeting they removed burglary as a priority and discussed but did not add thefts from cars as a priorities. I said I would suggest prioritising burglary and violent crime, along with a priority asking the police to consider police-public relations in all their activities, particularly stop and account / stop and search. I would also suggest a priority aimed at reducing the number of teenagers in the area with no full time education, training or employment opportunities.
City Boundary – clearly causing problems with non-policing items such as nursing, and also with policing in respect the lack of representation available to those living in Arbury Park, despite Sgt. Wragg noting that they were getting a lot of “calls for service” to Arbury Park. Perhaps Arbury Park residents could be invited to the Area Committee meeting, perhaps with their County Councillor representing them – for the policing agenda item?