On the 13th of June 2012 I attended the meeting which set the local policing priorities for the “Peterborough South Team – West Neighbourhood” area. The Police.UK website describes the area as covering the Ortons area of Peterborough including Ferry Meadows Country Park and the East of England Showground.
The meeting was not advertised on the area’s policing team’s webpage on the Cambridgeshire Police website, and no report from the police, or any statistical information, was available in advance of the meeting. The meeting was also not listed on the Peterborough City Council meeting calendar, or indeed anywhere else I can find online other than where I found the meeting listed, without an agenda or papers, on the Police.UK website (it is no longer shown). The meeting was not promoted by the PboroCops twitter account. I noticed some of those present at the meeting had copies of an agenda – just a few short points outlining what was to be covered – but these were not generally available.
The meeting’s advertising was raised at one point, an ex-councillor, stated it had been promoted via a local paper. The chair claimed it was on the police website, though he retracted this claim as he saw me shaking my head. A PCSO present stated the police had directly emailed invites to individuals they had selected to attend.
Only three or four the nine Peterborough City Councillors who represent the area appeared to be present, just two of them were even vaguely introduced and sat at the front of the room facing the public, next to the meeting’s chair they were:
- Councillor Janet Goodwin (Conservative)
- Councillor Sue Allen (Conservative) – left after ~ an hour, well before priorities were set.
Others may have been lurking in the public seating area but were not introduced, and never addressed by their full names, one certainly was:
Another individual was addressed as “councillor” but I can’t match him with any of the photos on the Peterborough City Council website, the closest in terms of appearance is Cllr Darren Fowler but he serves a ward in the north of the city so I’m wondering if the person present might have been a community/parish councillor. Another individual actually introduced as a parish councillor was present.
The meeting was chaired by a local “independent” businessman, non-councillor, Martin Goodlife/Goodrough/Goodrilfe (sp?) who while describing himself as “independent” later told me he had been appointed by the police.
In total there were around 18 people in the room during the two hours or so of the meeting. The 3-5 councillors, 2-3 police, the chair, and the remaining seven or so members of the public. For those wondering if I can add up, people came and went so the numbers fluctuated.
The areas covered by the three wards of Orton Waterville, Orton with Hampton and Orton Longueville might not be exactly correspond to the police area shown on the meeting, my recollection of a map shown by the police at the meeting was that a slightly larger area south of the A1139 than that shown on Police.UK. The question of exactly what area was being covered was questioned but the chair and police sergeant appeared to consider it too tedious of an issue to address with clarity, despite it being of rather fundamental importance to the meeting’s task.
Cambridgeshire Police Authority
Unelected member of Cambridgeshire Police Authority, Olive Main, kicked the meeting off with a presentation on about Elected Police and Crime Commissioners.
Despite speaking on behalf of the authority she expressed a view that it was a shame all those who have indicated they may stand as Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner to-date have been backed by political parties. Olive Main commented on John Prescott’s expected candidature as a Police and Crime Commissioner. Olive Main described Prescott as “an old party hack” and said he was not the type of person she wanted to see as police commissioner. Olive Main however refrained from explicitly relating her comments to any of those who could be described as “old party hacks” currently in the running for the Cambridgeshire role.
Olive Main then told the meeting that while she was present supposedly to inform people about the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections she had forgotten how the electoral system was going to work. My view is that this is the problem with any system that isn’t straightforward “first past the post” – one person one vote and the person with the most votes wins, almost inevitably in the case of any other system many people will not fully understand what’s going on.
What Olive Main was unable to recall was that if there are two candidates, there will be a simple one person one vote first past the post election. However if there are three or more candidates in an area then the “supplementary vote” system will be used. This means voters will get a second preference vote and if no candidate gets over 50% of the vote in the first place, all but the top two candidates will be eliminated and the second preference votes from the eliminated candidates distributed to the candidates for whom they were cast. (S.57 Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, with the “supplementary vote” system defined in Schedule 9 of the act)
Olive Main reported that the make-up of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel was still undecided. She rather oddly said the role of the panel could include holding “Leveson like” public inquiries into the performance of the Police and Crime Commissioner, she also listed the statutory roles of the body and suggested it would veto a commissioner who wished to increase the police share of council tax in excess of any guide level set by central government.
Olive Main stated the Police Authority would “bow out” on the 22nd of November 2012.
I questioned what was meant by “bow out”, and asked how long the Police Authority staff were expecting to continue in employment. Olive Main stated the staff would continue working until April 2013, she explained this by saying this was the date on which the commissioners would really take control as that was the date their first budgets would take effect. My own view having the ex Police Authority staff hanging around in this way may prevent the new commissioner from being able to hire their own officers, including the statutory Chief of Staff and finance officer, and be lumbered with the expensive, and potentially set in its ways, Police Authority secretariat, at least for a few months. I disagree with the view expressed on behalf of the Police Authority that commissioners will not really take the reigns until April 2013, they will be in office in November 2012.
Olive Main stated that the Police Authority was cheap.
I noted the Police Authority costs £1m/year to run with the clerk on ~£100K/year and that was one reason I raised the question about the staff, having them hanging round is an expensive option.
Olive Main, still speaking on behalf the Police Authority remember, stated that Police and Crime Commissioner’s Offices would cost £1m/year to run too. My view is I would be astonished if anyone stands for Police and Crime Commissioner in Cambridge on a manifesto saying they’re going to spend £1m/year running their office, my view this is an area where there is potential for huge savings as the Police Authority is replaced with something much leaner.
A member of the public raised an easier question and asked if voting would take place in the usual polling stations used for local council elections. Olive Main replied: yes.
Policing South West Peterborough
Cambridgeshire Police’s Inspector Andy Bartlett addressed the meeting.
He started off with a report on how the division between response and neighbourhood police has gone, and they are now one and the same, and local officers would generally be responding to local emergency calls, subject to officers needing to be moved around the city in response to demands on the service.
I think this is a positive thing, as it means officers responding to emergency calls will have better local knowledge, of people as well as places. I think the previous disconnect was unhelpful, and actually undermined local policing.
One of those present, apparently an ex-cllr, expressed a concern about being able to contact a specific local officer as she had done in the past as a councillor, especially now she was no longer in office and “merely a civilian”. She was reassured that identified local sergeants were still in place.
The meeting was told constables were now working from more local bases, as PCSOs had already been doing, rather than all being based centrally in Thorpe Wood. Again I think this is a positive step.
The Inspector then talked through the previously set priorities, starting with tackling drug dealing. He reported that in the last quarter in the area there had been 23 search warrants issued and 30 people had been stop-searched on suspicion of carrying drugs. No information on outcomes of those actions was reported (eg. if they found anything) and no information on the impact the police action was having on the health and wellbeing of local residents was shared. A stock photo of a house in which cannabis was being grown was displayed.
The second priority had been “Antisocial behaviour”, this was not defined, and much of the discussion was in the abstract, without it really being clear if what was being referred to was crime, or youths behaving in a perfectly reasonable way but people complaining to the police anyway. The police described how they sent letters to the parents/guardians of children and often recipients were surprised to hear what their children had been up to. The meeting was told four individuals in the area were on “anti-social behaviour contracts”, one of whom had breached his three times.
The meeting was told that the police were running a Friday night football session which was attracting ~200 youths. The police inspector said that if the youths were at the session they were not out on the streets getting into trouble.
The meeting was given example of antisocial behaviour, including youths playing football during the day and disturbing a shift worker who complained he couldn’t sleep. While details given were scant, my view is the police should be focusing on the criminal, and in many cases, potentially like this one, they need to be prepared to tell complainants that what’s going on isn’t illegal and isn’t a matter for the police. Too often targeting “anti-social behaviour” appears to result in young people being dealt with by the police for perfectly legal and reasonable behaviour. It sounded to me as if perhaps the complainant, and it did sound like just one, ought get some ear plugs.
Other examples of “ASB” were slightly more serious, people having things thrown at their houses. I have no idea why youths do this, but they do it where I live too, I think sometimes they just want to try and provoke a reaction. As someone who’s had my bins thrown against my front door I know it can be pretty scary to be inside when it happens.
The police inspector stated burglary and vehicle crime levels needed to have an eye kept on them, but provided no data to enable the councillors, or others present, to do this.
Figures for “total crime” and “ASB” were presented.
The Inspector reported that the local policing team (branded with the new jargon / buzzword the micro beat team) had made 78 arrests in the last quarter.
Cllr Gavin Elsey asked the excellent question – what happened to those individuals when they reached court. Inspector Andy Bartlett admitted he had not got a clue. This is worrying, he has apparently got no idea if he and his team are arresting the wrong people! I exaggerate slightly, but it is a shocking and regular omission from reports by the police, who appear to be big fans of the rather crude “arrest rate” statistic.
Inspector Bartlett stated that two people had accepted restorative justice. I asked how many had been offered it and not taken it, and was told: none. The Inspector appeared unsure of his statistics, but stated the two people dealt with via restorative justice in the area had been offered it post-arrest, he said they were 2 of his 78. His PSCO then claimed restorative justice was used “a lot”, I queried the discrepancy between “a lot” and the number “2″ on the inspector’s power-point and the PCSO denied saying “a lot” despite having done so maybe 10 seconds previously. Every time the police lie in that kind of way my opinion of them drops.
The police presented a slide titled: “Justice seen justice done” listing local named individuals and how they had been dealt with by the courts and other parts of the criminal justice system in the last quarter. I thought this was excellent, and something we should see more of, not just presented to handfuls of people in panel meetings, but posted online and distributed to the press.
Following the police presentation of their update on the priorities there was some discussion. A member of the public said she had seen girls aged about 12 smoking what looked like drugs from a lemonade bottle and when the girls were seen later they appeared high. Cllr Goodwin queried if this was the same house the individual had spoken to her about before, this was confirmed and Cllr Goodwin raised her eyebrows.
Cllr Goodwin said she was aware of an injury caused to a motorcyclist in an accident and described how some bikers were riding around local roundabouts in an irresponsible manner with their bikes at a sharp angle, low to the ground. She suggested a priority.
I suggested asking for injury statistics to be brought to the meeting so they could be considered when setting priorities, I said traffic accident injury data, and that related to violent crime could be useful to councilors. Cllr Goodwin opposed this suggestion, she stated that there was no need for such data as: “if someone is killed I’m sure I’ll know about it”. The meeting’s chair also stated that he did not want to see evidence of that nature being used to help determine priorities, saying instead the priories ought be based only on what those attending the meeting raised.
I disagree strongly with this. I think injury data is really useful for those setting police priorities, and it allows quantitative targets to be set and associated with priorities, and if those are achieved you know something really substantive has been achieved. Making where we live safer, be it from road accidents, or crime, is surely a core aim of policing, and which these priority setting meetings should be seeking to achieve. My view is the availability of such data also helps members of the public wishing to raise suggestions for priorities as they can see if their own experiences, and things people are reporting to them, are reflected in the recorded data, enabling a stronger case for action to be put forward.
As the meeting moved towards setting its new priorities I asked how those present were going to decide if burglary, speeding and other traffic offenses, violent crime, or other areas needed prioritising given they had no data on them in front of them.
The meeting’s chair decided to make a case against having detailed of reported crime data available to those setting priorities, he dismissed such information as “meaningless percentages”, and said all that mattered was people’s experiences and perceptions (presumably just the experiences and perceptions of those 18 in the room!).
A member of the public made an argument that details of action taken in relation to traffic offenses would be useful, and the chair and police agreed this would be provided to the next panel meeting in three months time.
Graffiti was discussed. The council was having some problem with its contractor which it uses to remove graffiti. The police showed pictures of “tags” which they described as juvenile. They said they were publishing them in the hope parents and schools might recognise them if those responsible drew them elsewhere such as in their school books.
A member of the public noted that tags had recently been printed in the local press, and cautioned that the “artists” might be proud of the greater exposure their work was getting, and it could encourage them.
The police stated graffiti could make an area unattractive and even intimidating, and put people off using an area.
A previous priority of arson was being dropped after no cases were reported in six months. It was noted that the National Policing Improvement Agency had helped deal with that issue by producing profiles of the offenders.
- Drug dealing in Orton
- Antisocial behavior in a specific area
At one point during the meeting Councillor Gavin Elsey rudely interrupted proceedings to complain that I was tweeting the meeting live and asked me to explain why I was doing it. I explained I was reporting what was being said. Cllr Elsey stated there was no need to tell the outside world what was going on as the meeting had been adequately advertised, and anyone wanting to know what was being said could have attended in person. After the meeting I asked Cllr Elsey what his objection to tweeting was, but he didn’t have an answer. He said: “you have an agenda” to me. I asked him what he thought that agenda was, but again didn’t have an answer.
I asked Cllr Elsey why he was lurking at the back of the room, he stated he had arrived late. This was not true, and he contradicted this himself by referring to the chair’s opening remarks (which he was present for), as he complained about me.
I spoke to the chairman after the meeting and discussed how similar meetings are run elsewhere. The chairman stated had been appointed by the police for his skill in controlling meetings, I noted he had been having trouble keeping Cllr Elsey in check, his response was to blame me for being: “unusual”!
More Olive Main
After the meeting I also spoke to Olive Main.
She confirmed for me that the the full Police Authority will be taking a decision on TASER deployment to non-firearms officers and said that all TASER scrutiny will be handled by the full authority in public following the disbandment of the police authority’s scrutiny committee.
Olive Main also assured me the full authority would take on the scrutiny committee’s work relating to monitoring the force’s phone answering performance.
Olive Main also discussed the position of the Police Authority’s treasurer, who is a contractor, she expressed concern about his employment status, especially as he is now acting as deputy chief executive of the authority. I asked if he had, or could obtain a line management role, and Olive Main agreed this was an important point and a contractor should not find themselves line managing a public body’s staff.
Lastly Olive Main stated she was asleep when I used the public speaking slot at the Police Authority to push for more openness – I’d asked her about the publication of the minutes of the meeting of the scrutiny committee when it decided to abolish itsself, so we can all see where it decided its roles are to be redistributed.
I am happy to make any corrections as required. This report is accurate to the best of my ability but it is hard to accurately report on a meeting where councillors and the public are mixed up and people use first names, or no names at all, and there are no meeting papers to refer to to assist in working out who is who.