On the evening of the 10th of July 2012 I observed the police priority setting meeting for the area which includes Histon, Impington, Cottenham, Milton, Oakington and Waterbeach.
- People are asking the police to tackle things which aren’t generally or primarily a policing problem such as loose dogs, litter, and parking. The underlying problems are council failures to provide a dog warden service, get roads promptly adopted, and carry out parking enforcement.
- Two of the more significant problems raised related to offenders being moved into an area. These were resolved in one case following an eviction from council run housing and in the other a custodial sentence. Both cases showing failures of the probation service and the concept of “offender management”.
- The police priority setting meeting was poorly publicised. A police report and statistical information was available at the meeting and some apparently had it in advance, but it was not made public on the local policing team’s webpages or anywhere else I can find.
- There was “mob rule” at the meeting, not representative democracy. All those turning up were given an equal say. Those few councillors present did not identify themselves and lurked in the public seating.
- There was no effective holding of the police to account by elected representatives and the police themselves proposed the vague priorities which were nodded through, priorities which won’t challenge them and will be hard to assess performance against.
- The priorities set were:
- Road Safety
- Green Spaces
Opening The Meeting
Inspector Savage of the Police chaired the meeting. He was joined on the top table by Sgt Rogerson (@sgtrogerson) and an officer from South Cambridgeshire District Council. When opening the meeting Inspector Savage described himself as the: “Inspector for South Cambridgeshire”.
In addition to the three on the top table, there were eighteen people in the public seating area at the meeting.
The first items supposedly related to things raised at the last meeting, though the first wasn’t mentioned in the previous meeting notes circulated. It related to one individual’s reports to the police about dangerous cycling on the footpath. The police said that the individual who had made the reports was no longer prepared to talk to the police, apparently as he is unhappy with their lack of a response. The police said that without the co-operation of the public it is hard to take action.
The only action point for South Cambridgeshire District Council from the notes/minutes of the April 2012 meeting related to parking in Homefield and Heraward Close in Histon. The district council failed to bring send update on this to the meeting despite sending their officer along to sit on the top table.
Graffiti under guided busway bridges was mentioned, no one present knew if it was there any more.
Police and Crime Commissioners
Cllr John Reynolds, member of Cambridgeshire Police Authority gave a presentation on the forthcoming elections for police and crime commissioners. He offered to answer questions “as long as they are not too complex”.
Cllr Reynolds said the main difference between a Police Authority and a Commissioner is the Commissioner will be able to fire a chief constable, whereas a Police Authority cannot. I think this is nonsense, the Association of Police Authorities webpages state:
Your police authority hires and, if necessary, fires chief constables and senior police officers.
Mr Reynolds said little else of note, though he created confusion by saying Commissioners will not replace Police Authorities. Cllr Gymer (Liberal Democrat, Cottenham, Histon and Impington) prompted him to clarify that what he meant was there was some difference in their roles and responsibilities and they were not a direct replacement. Mr Reynolds stated during his presentation that the police authority staff would be staying on after the election of the commissioner. I asked Mr Renyolds why the decision to do this had been taken, and if it was due to an assumption that the incoming commissioner will want to spend ~£1m/year on their office (the sum Mr Reynolds and his committee currently spent on the authority secretariat). Mr Reynolds defended his decision to keep all the expensive staff on as: “supporting transition”.
A representative of the Oakington Neighbourhood Watch asked about the role of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel, he asked if the panel would support the commissioner and help them in their role as well as hold them to account, he asked if the relationship would be like one between a company’s board and CEO. Mr Reynolds said this would be up to the panel.
The previous priorities were reported to have been :
- Parking issues
- ASB in Coolridge Gardens Cottenham
On parking Clare Blair spoke about Orchard Park, where a key problem is the roads are not adopted so enforcement cannot take place based on yellow lines and associated parking restrictions. Blair suggested it might take four years before roads are adopted. (The estate still has the feel of an unfinished building site, with many roads and pavements in a poor state clearly requiring more work). The police can only give out tickets for things like obstruction and parking too close to junctions on the unadopted roads.
The Neighbourhood Watch representative from Oakington spoke about a playground, users of which are parking inconsiderately and blocking neighbouring residents driveways. Police Inspector Savage suggested the parish council be asked to consider the matter. (That sounds like a good idea, it wasn’t made clear if the cars were actually blocking drive ways or if resident were just complaining about people parking on “their” street making it harder for them to exit their properties).
Speeding in Histon and Cottenham was also a previous priority according to the papers available. A community speedwatch volunteer asked what the police did with the data they collected. Sgt Rogerson said they did nothing with it other than give it a cursory look to get an impression of the degree of a problem. Inspector Savage intervened and said it was reviewed by the officers who run the speed camera vans and they use it to decide where to visit. He said the camera van did two types of visit, one to areas where people have been killed or injured, and others to those where people have requested a presence, for example via speedwatch schemes. He noted that vists to locations by the van team were rare. The speedwatch volunteer said she didn’t think she was seeing any impact from the hours that had been put in, the inspector said that was something for her to weigh up.
Someone said there was now more speeding and more traffic on the High Street in Landbeach.
Cllr Gymer made the excellent suggestion that speedwatch data, including historical data so changes can be seen, be presented to future priority setting meetings. Inspector Savage said he didn’t really have the resources to analyse and present the data. The volunteer asked if this was something the volunteers themselves could help with, the inspector didn’t appear to like that idea so said he would see what he can do.
My view is I doubt the speedwatch derived data is the most useful for priority setting, and the police’s “invisible” RADAR speed survey equipment ought be installed in speedwatch locations from time to time (noting when speedwatch is in operation) and data from that, 24/7 survey ought be presented to the panel. The police and councils all employ statistical staff, they should be tasked with producing information which elected representatives find useful for decision making as a high priority.
Coolridge Gardens Cottenham
What was meant by “Anti-Social Behaviour” here wasn’t really defined, but the underlying issue was made clear – someone had been released from prison to a council house and that property had become a hotbed of crime, including stolen vehicles being brought to the house and a number criminals moving into / regularly staying over at, the house. The police noted that the way this property was being used had significantly increased neighbouring residents fear of crime; they also noted that people had not been reporting matters to the police due to intimidation from the premises.
The meeting was told that South Cambridgeshire District Council had evicted the problem causing individual and expected the problems to now have been solved as a result. They said they would be conducting a “door to door surgery” (the police just love confusing terms!) to confirm that all was now calm in the area and everyone was happy the problem had been dealt with.
Inspector Savage carried out a “register” by calling out the names of the villages in the area. I think the only unrepresented area was Chittering, but of course the presence of County Cllr Gymer meant she represents much of the area covered. Surprisingly I don’t think there was any mention of Milton at all during the meeting.
Cottenham was first up, with broken glass on the recreation ground being raised. The individual raising this didn’t really make clear if they were reporting a policing issue or a litter one, presumably its a bit of both.
A Cottenham resident spoke about packs of under-fed dogs, on Twentypence Road, by the church. She said she often reported these to the police but was met by an “inquisition” every time from the police phone operators. She pleaded with Inspector Savage to “put a marker” on her number so she could be exempted from this and just have her reports taken. Impressively Inspector Savage said this might actually be possible, although the police’s procedures for putting notes against callers was usually used in quite different circumstances. Inspector Savage explained that the police operator would be asking detailed questions as they’d be trying to assess if an urgent police response was required due to the dogs causing a hazard to traffic; the member of the public said that often they were and this was generally her reason for calling the police – she said she didn’t think the dogs appeared particularly dangerous to people, but they weren’t getting fed and were roaming looking for food.
Inspector Savage noted the district council were really primarily responsible for dogs, the member of the public said the police often advised her to call “the dog warden” however South Cambridgeshire District Council told her they don’t employ anyone in such a role. Inspector Savage stated the council were still responsible, even if they didn’t have a dog warden.
The member of the public raising the problem with the dogs said they were owned by “itinerants from Smithy Fen”, she suggested that this might be the reason the police and other bodies found them hard to deal with.
Inspector Savage said there had recently been two prosecutions of individuals living at Smithy Fen, relating to controlling and looking after animals, one by Cambridgeshire County Council in relation to horses, and another by South Cambridgeshire District Council in relation to dogs, so the councils can and do take action.
Cottenham – Histon
Cllr Gymer raised the problem of mud on the road, mainly relating to the skip site, but also on occasions from farmers.
She said she had asked council officers to speak to the operator of the skip site.
The police officer said this was mainly a planning issue and the council should consider if the skip operation was being run in line with its planning permission and if not councillors should take action.
The potential for traffic offences being committed by very muddy vehicles was raised; but with PCSOs mainly patrolling the area, there appeared to be little chance of action which could result in a deterrent and an encouragement to clean up vehicles when necessary to avoid creating a hazard on the road.
Damage to a new play park was raised; as was its use by older people than intended.
The Neighbourhood Watch representative said an elderly resident near the park was very worried by older people using the area. Again there was little sense given of if this is a problem with the elderly resident complaining worrying about something which isn’t a problem, or if the play-park is being abused in a criminal or nuisance causing manner.
Building work at a primary school in Oakington during the summer was mentioned, and a request made for the police to keep an eye on the site as building materials would be present.
Illegal parking outside Tesco was raised.
The police are doing some enforcement. The police said it would take a long time before everyone in the village has had a ticket.
Clare Blair spoke about Orchard Park, with the chair of the community council, who was sitting next to her but not speaking, regularly nodding in agreement. She said young people, drinking from bottles, leaving broken glass and damaging play equipment and other infrastructure were a problem; she said rangers were regularly spending 3-4 hours picking up litter. The problems were weekend and weekday evenings (9-10pm interjected the chair of the community council). Blair stated that the community council had purposefully left the grass to grow long in some places, so that the youths’ activities were not too obvious and visible to residents; she appeared to be suggesting the council had made efforts to make an environment conducive to outdoor sex. The police said they would not approach stealthily and would ensure they were wearing high visibility jackets when policing the area.
The main issue raised was the “one man crime wave” due to a known offender being placed in the village. The police noted the individual responsible had been handed a custodial sentence the day before, so that issue would be resolved. Sgt Robertson said there would be an article in the Cambridge News with more details.
The police were commended for responding to a call about misuse of mini-motos and dirt bikes on Long Drove, they attended and spoke to the people on the bikes.
Mobile Average Speed Cameras
A member of the public said they had read about police in Bedford using mobile average speed cameras and asked if they could be investigated for this area. This request had been made to the County Council and an email had been sent to the Inspector from the relevant council officer saying the technology was indeed very interesting and the council would be looking at them following their successful use in Bedford.
Cllr Gymer praised the policing of the last day of school and school “proms” this year. The police said that they had intentionally shown some presence patrolling early in the day / evening and thought this had warded off problems. One member of the public noted that while an officer had not quite been “on the door” of one of the events, they were in a visible position just outside. The police noted that in the past young people celebrating the end of school had become the victims of crime and a key part of what they were doing was seeking to keep them safe.
“Polly”, Polly Wilderspin (@pollywilderspin) was present, she said she was from Neighbourhood Watch and was interested in speaking to anyone who wanted to know more about it. A few people, including Cllr Reynolds, who impressively stayed for the whole meeting, did talk to her.
Polly’s twitter feed makes for engaging reading. She raises something I’ve been campaigning on strongly over the last year or so, the police not answering their phones, she notes there was a problem in April 2012, and again in June
I don’t know if her Twitter feed is intentionally intended to send up the idea Neighbourhood Watch or if any humour is accidental, but it reads to me like something which could form the basis for a sitcom, with tweets like:
Two caravans plus trailers parked roadside verge Trinity Foot. Will keep watching brief no problem at present
which invoke images of this woman hiding in the hedgerow with binoculars… and her tweet:
Dugs equipment found in premises, access unlawfully gained. Gave up on 101 emailed SNT/ Lee
suggesting this local, Cambridgeshire version of Batman or Sherlock Holmes is getting involved in some pretty serious stuff.
At the time of writing @pollywilderspin has just four followers, which feels to me like a waste given the content, if she keeps her tweets up she’s got the making of an internet sensation.
The “Neighbourhood Profile Update” Statistical Report
This was not really discussed during the meeting the below are my comments on it made after I took it home to read:
- Cambridgeshire County Council plan to paint yellow lines on Circus Drive in Orchard Park before the road is adopted even though they will be unenforceable.
- Three men have been arrested and charged with attempted burglary of the Cottenham Co-Op. No names, or court dates are given, perhaps as Sgt Rogerson [wrongly] says he can’t release names before a conviction, this policy means we don’t have open, transparent, public, justice.
- Ten crimes of possession of cannabis within Histon and Impington since April are reported, these were detected following stop-searches. It would be interesting to know what the outcomes here were, given the current inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee and ongoing debate about changing the approach to those only caught in possession of cannabis and not involved in other criminality.
- Milton’s only mention comes in the written report, and there it is very brief. Shoplifting from Tesco is the only item, and the police are urging the security staff to seek to prevent crime, not merely report it after it has taken place.
- Overall recorded crime and recorded anti-social behaviour in the area is down significantly on this time last year. Total crimes down from 357 in April-June 2011 to 258 in April-June 2012, a 28% decrease. Burglary levels are unchanged, but violent crime, vehicle crime are substantially reduced. We are looking at crime levels which over the whole Histon, Milton, Cottenham etc. area are of a similar level to that experienced in the Arbury ward alone in Cambridge.
The lack of elected representatives taking a lead and democratically setting the priorities appears to be the biggest problem, and better publicising the meeting, and the meeting papers, before hand, is clearly necessary.
It was a pity Cllr David Jenkins and Cllr Gymer didn’t present their ideas for reducing speeding in Cottenham without requiring police enforcement action, which in my view makes those ideas potentially sustainable as they will have an impact if the police are present or not.
Overall I thought this was one of the better police priority setting meetings I’ve been to, though there are massive opportunities to improve things. It was efficiently run, well chaired, and the police officers present appeared to be taking sensible positions.
I found out about the meeting via a tweet from @sgtrogerson however there was nothing on either of the Orchard Park community centre notice boards, nothing on the on the local policing team’s webpages, nothing on the Police.UK website, and nothing on any of the various local websites and council calendars I checked to try and find any mention of the meeting.
Minister Nick Herbert
Policing Minister Nick Herbert was in Cambridge on the day of the meeting, however he only spoke at an exclusive event, tickets for which cost £300 each, he did not take the opportunity to drop into the Histon policing panel meeting.
Tuesday 9th of October 2912 at Impington Village College, time not given.