It appears something extraordinary is due to happen in Wisbech on the 25th of June 2012.
From what I can gather Fenland District Council are to hold their Wisbech and District Neighbourhood Forum meeting in the council chamber, however Cambridgeshire Police are not going to attend the meeting, but instead plan to hold a rival, informal, meeting which they are also, cheekily, confusingly and misleadingly, describing as a Neighbourhood Forum, in a bus which they are going to park outside the council building.
It appears that Cambridgeshire Police want to by-pass the elected representatives and the democratically elected local government in the area. Instead of being held to account for their recent performance by elected councillors inside the council chamber, and having the priorities for the next period set by democratically elected councillors, the police plan to hand out a questionnaire to those who board their bus and then, in private, hold themselves to account and set their own priorities, with some reference one might hope to the questionnaire responses.
Neither event is listed on the
Wisbech & District Neighbourhood Policing Team “get involved” page on the popular Police.UK website; the Police.UK page is the one users of the County Council run Wisbech.ShapeYourPlace.org website are sent to from that site’s Neighbourhood Forums page. The events area also omitted from Cambridgeshire Police’s Wisbech policing team webpage.
Fenland District Council has One webpage with a heading “Wisbech and District Neighbourhood Forum” stating “No further meetings are currently scheduled” and another listing: Wisbech and District Neighbourhood Forum – 25 June 2012 at Wisbech Town Council Chamber, however a time is not given.
My attention was drawn to the bizarre and farcical state of affairs by a Cambridgeshire Police News Article / Press Release issued on the 20th of June 2012.
I tweeted to draw attention to the state of affairs, the area’s County Councillor, Steve Tierney responded to say:
I’ll give them a call and get to the bottom of it. This is quite different to what I heard last time this was discussed.
he later added:
Interestingly, they seem to have replaced “three priorities” with “a questionaire which will be used to set priorities.” : (
When I wrote to Cllr Tierney
@stevetierney Sounds like you need to get your local @CambsCops back under democratic control. Coup d’état in Wisbech ?
Cllr Tierney replied:
I could not possibly comment.
I think Cllr Tierney’s response probably means : “Yes, absolutely”.
I’m a strong supporter of representative democracy. I think setting local police priorities, and regularly holding the police to account in an area ought be the responsibility of local district and county councillors.
District and county councillors in an area should hear from the public, and have all the statistical information they require and want available to them, to make well informed decisions.
Councillors need to know what kinds of information, for example on reported crime, speeding, accident and injury data, police performance, sentencing, re-offending, police use of force etc. etc. they could request and have provided in advance of a priority setting meeting. Some information ought be provided as a matter of course, and other information provided depending on if there is a reason to – for example a significant change is being observed, or the public in an area are raising a particular matter.
Ideally the relevant information would be available via the Police.UK, council, and NHS websites and perhaps brought together and if necessary analysed by statistical officers to assist councillors’ in understanding the position from which they are setting priorities. The public attending meetings might also want access to good quality information so they can find out if their experiences are shared by others, and if the data available supports any call for action they might want to make.
How and to what degree the public and parish/town councillors are involved in the priority setting process should I think vary locally and the responsible district and county councillors ought determine how best to run sessions.
I think that a committee of councillors are a much stronger, more credible and more powerful body to hold the police to account for their performance than a group of self selecting individuals who turn up to a meeting or decide to board a police bus and fill in a questionnaire. I suspect the police find it less challenging to deal with a self selecting small group of individuals, than representatives of the population at large and so go try and find the easy option whenever possible.
The police do need to regularly hear from representatives of those they are policing, so that the police force is aware of, and responds to, what people expect it to be doing. I don’t think the police ought set their priorities based on the views of a small self selecting group of people who are prepared to either turn to a meeting, board a police bus, or complete a questionnaire; that way anyone who can get a small mob together could unduly influence the local priorities, much better to use, and by using it strengthen, the robust democratic system we have and have elected local councillors hold the local police to account and voting on the local priorities.
No reports from the police on what they’ve been doing recently, or statistics, appear to have been made available for those considering attending the police bus and filling in a questionnaire.
In Cambridge councillors hold the police to account locally and set police priorities based after having heard from the public, the police and having reviewed various relevant data. I think those living elsewhere in the Cambridgeshire Police force area should demand a similar quality of locally accountable policing, and not settle for less.
I have tweeted my comments on the upcoming events in Wisbech to Cambridgeshire Police and Fenland District Council, but neither has responded.
This is where the Wisbech ShapeYourPlace website could come in useful.
At a recent TeaCambs event I learnt the county council run site has a service level agreement with the police, under which the police have agreed to respond to issues raised on it. As Mark Thomas might say, this is something “we must play with“.
While the promised response time is 10 days there might well be time for some explanation or clarification before the 25th of June. What I suspect I need is a short precis of this article to submit to ShapeYourPlace to see if they’ll accept it.