I attended a public meeting with members of Cambridge City Council’s Antisocial Behaviour team and a PCSO in the St. Andrews Centre, Chesterton, Cambridge this evening.
The event was kicked off with an older couple raising concerns about inappropriate police priorities; they had had windows broken and had been burgled but not had a visit from a police officer; they contrasted this with the fact that the police appear to respond to other much less important calls – the example they gave was someone “standing on a bin”. Clearly this is a problem with police priorities; councillors at the North Area Committee have attempted to prioritise burglary – this does not appear to have got though to the police at the sharp end.
The PCSO present (who members of the public mistook for a Police Officer, and he allowed them to continue under the misapprehension) shrugged his shoulders and said he had not idea about the prioritising of police responses, saying he was new and only been doing the job for two months.
The PCSO did not take any notes at any point during the hour and a half meeting. I questioned the fact the PCSO wasn’t taking any notes. The PCSO claimed to be able to remember everything he was hearing, and even for it to be potentially used for making decisions on siting CCTV cameras – councillor Blair said that my question was inappropriate and anti-police. I have written an article suggesting police in Cambridgeshire should use their notebooks.
Local resident Tom Conway was present and read excerpts from a letter he wrote to the Cambridge Evening News:
At 5.30pm on March 25, on East Road, a plastic bottle thrown from a passing car missed my face by a couple of centimetres. As it was half-full and thrown cap-first, from a vehicle speeding in the opposite direction to me, it could quite easily have blinded or permanently disfigured me.
In the seven years that I have lived here, I have also had lit cigarettes and beer-cans thrown at me from passing vehicles. Cars have swerved at me. Another heavy object was once thrown at me from a bedroom window, while I was cycling.
When I dared to complain, the family physically threatened me. I was once struck on the head by three youths on the Mill Road rail bridge. Again, when I reacted angrily I was physically threatened. A girl on the Queen Elizabeth bridge once spat in my face as I cycled past. When I turned back to confront her she was gone, but not before pushing another girl off her bike and stamping on it.
I could go on, but the countless cases of verbal abuse, jostling, intimidation and vandalism to my belongings might give your readers the false impression that all of this is untrue. It is not.
Mr Conway complained that there had been no police response, and asked if the definition of “anti-social behavior” would cover what he has experienced. The PCSO asked if there were any witnesses, and said if there weren’t there was nothing the police could do, he said he was sorry but just being honest. Mr Conway noted that CCTV could have been looked at as part of an investigation and that he was able to identify the house from which he had something thrown at him and was threatened.
A discussion on CCTV followed. The PCSO said he had no idea which areas of Cambridge, or even his patch were covered by CCTV and which were not. I support better signing of cameras, in line with the Council’s CCTV policy. Councillor Blair said she thought the “text the CCTV operator” service had ceased, but this was denied by the PCSO who said this system was working well.
East Chesterton used, within the last year or so, to have two PCSOs and two police officers, currently it has one PCSO. The PCSO said there were problems with recruitment, but that a new member of staff was expected soon. I suggested the problem could be solved more quickly by redistributing personnel from elsewhere in the city and noted that on this and other areas North Cambridge appeared to be getting a poor deal from the police compared to other areas such as East Cambridge. The group discussed ways of lobbying for getting these police and PCSO vacancies filled. The north area committee was suggested and I pointed out that the Neighborhood Policing Inspector no longer attended and he was the person who needed to be made aware of resourcing issues like this; others suggested writing to the north area police sergeant.
A member of the public noted that he was regularly using Ecops to tell the police about youths drinking in the children’s play area on Stourbridge Common. I pointed out that in North Cambridge incidents are not raised, and statistics not collected on things reported via Ecops, but that they are in the East of Cambridge, I said the people of North Cambridge are getting a poor deal from the police. The PCSO confirmed this and said that it was necessary to call the police on their non-emergency number to make a difference. The status quo was supported by Councillor Blair who didn’t appear to grasp why statistics were important – I gave the example from earlier in the meeting of putting together a case for deployment of the re-deployable CCTV. I think most of the members of the public present supported raising incidents and thereby generating statistics on which action can be taken from Ecops reports is desirable.
Minor issues of littering and dog mess in various areas were mentioned, and the council officers appeared to take these on board and would pass them on to the appropriate council department – “Streetscene”.
Another shocking incident was recounted by a member of the public, a neighbour had gone out to challenge individuals throwing items at his house saying he would call the police – and allowing himself to be seen calling them on his mobile. Later his car was literally turned over on to its side by youths. It was noted that the police did not turn up for many hours whereas the person recounting the events felt a faster police response was called for and would have resulted in individuals being caught.
The lack of youth workers, and activities for youngsters was discussed, a member of the public noted he had been making efforts in this area but receiving no support.
The group’s chair person asked those attending if they wanted these meetings to continue; the majority of those present indicated their support for their continuation. I took this opportunity to outline my suggestion for how these types of meeting could work more effectively: that suggestions arising from the meeting could be taken by councillors to the area committees where councillors vote on police priorities. I proposed that councillors should take a greater role in these meetings; at the moment they sit in the audience with the public and don’t identify themselves. I suggested they should sit with the Chair, PCSO and Council Officers at the front and should tell the meeting what, if anything they were prepared to take forward to the area committee. City Councillor Clare Blair, and County Councillor Julian Huppert very strongly and passionately spoke against my suggestion. County Councillor Julian Huppert stated : “We have no democratic control over the police in the UK”, he used this the reason for opposing my suggestion, when I explained the role have seen the North Area committee fulfilling, he told me I had got it wrong. Other councillors including Clare Blair agreed, apparently trying to distance themselves from the setting of police priorities, despite being responsible for setting them with respect to “neighborhood policing” in Cambridge City. There is clearly great inconsistency in what councillors, the police and others including council officers believe is the role of councillors with respect to setting police priorities. I received an assurance from the Council Leader Ian Nimmo-Smith at the March 2008 North Area Committee Meeting that clarifying the manner in which Police priorities are set will be placed on the agenda of the next north area committee meeting as at that meeting at least three different versions were put forward by councillors and it was agreed confusion reigned.
The meeting had no agenda, and no effective chair. I believe a councillor could solve these problems. There appeared to be confusion about the other similar meetings which were being held – some of which cover the whole of North Cambridge, and others smaller areas. There was disagreement over what area this meeting should /did cover.
Update: Cambridgeshire police appear to be reading this page from IP: 22.214.171.124 they visited at 12:12, 12.21 & 15:19 on the 3rd of April and at 08:04 on 4th April. They were back on the 9th of April between 14:18 and 14:50.
Update 18th June 2008: After two months of trying, and after resorting to copying the council’s Freedom of Information Officer I have received a copy of the minutes of this meeting. Despite the councillors sitting with the public at the meeting, and not introducing themselves as they arrived they are listed at the top of the meeting with the chair, council officers and other named attendees. The experience of the elderly couple who had been burgled and had no police response which I have discussed above was minuted as:
A resident raised a question concerning Police priorities in terms of 999 calls. PCSO Woolmer explained how calls for service are managed.
The PCSO was certainly not able to explain how calls for service were managed.
The discussion on the role of councillors in taking the opinions of the meeting forward and acting on them was not minuted at all.
It is interesting that in these minutes the police under staffing in East Chesterton was treated as fact:
There was a discussion concerning the Chesterton Policing team in Chesterton as the team are currently short of 2 officers.
The PCSO’s responses show he confirmed this was the situation, and there were two vacant positions, here as the minutes of the North Area Committee two weeks show Cllr Blair saying:
There is a perceived drop in Police presence in the East Chesterton area.
Following from this weak language the Police Inspector was able to deny there had ever been a problem.
County Councillor Julian Huppert’s comment : “We have no democratic control over the police in the UK” was not minuted.
I also wasn’t able to find any evidence of my supposed ant-police comments in the minutes which resulted in the chair asking me (at the North Area Committee in April) not to attend the future meetings.