On the evening of the 4th of July 2011 I observed a police priority setting meeting in Sawston. The area covered by the “panel meeting” appears to align with the South Cambridgeshire District Council wards of Sawston, The Shelfords and Stapleford, Whittlesford and Duxford. This area is also covered by the Cambridgeshire County Council wards of Duxford and Sawston (though those two wards also extend slightly further West). The district and county councillors covering the area are:
- Cambridgeshire County Councillor Tim Stone (Duxford, Liberal Democrat)
- Cambridgeshire County Councillor Gail Kenney (Sawston, Conservative)
- Cambridgeshire County Councillor Tony Orgee (Sawston, Conservative)
- South Cambridgeshire District Councillor David Bard (Sawston, Conservative)
- South Cambridgeshire District Councillor Sally Hatton (Sawston, Independent)
- South Cambridgeshire District Councillor Raymond Matthews (Sawston, Conservative)
- South Cambridgeshire District Councillor David Whiteman-Downes (The Shelfords & Stapleford, Conservative)
- South Cambridgeshire District Councillor Charles Nightingale (The Shelfords & Stapleford, Conservative)
- South Cambridgeshire District Councillor Mick Martin (Duxford, Conservative)
- South Cambridgeshire District Councillor Peter Topping (Whittlesford, Conservative)
- South Cambridgeshire District Councillor Ben Shelton (The Shelfords & Stapleford, Conservative)
If this was a police priority setting meeting in Cambridge City those district and county councillors would consider representations from the police, public, representatives from groups such as residents associations and others and then democratically set the priorities, voting to approve them. The meeting would be chaired by a councillor, councillors would be clearly identified. Councillors would also take the lead in holding the police to account for their performance against the priorities set for the previous period.
It is surprising to me that given the conservative’s national desire for more democratic influence over the police, in this part of South Cambridgeshire, where the majority of the councillors are conservatives they are not democratically setting their local policing priorities.
At the Sawston meeting a member of police staff chaired the meeting; officers (not members!) from South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridgeshire Council sat alongside police officers at a table at front of the room. Only Cllr Stone clearly identified himself (from the public seating) as a county or district councillor, though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn if one or two of the South Cambs councillors were there.
I think the democratic setting of police priorities, as seen in Cambridge city, is much more preferable. Though there was a positive aspect of the Sawston meeting, that it was dedicated to policing, and so those attending to discuss only policing did not have to sit through any other material. (Where meetings do have other items on the agenda, the problem can be mitigated by publishing a start time for the policing item).
About 25 people were present, the chair, police staff member Mr Fuller commented this was a high-turnout. The event, but not its location, had not been publicised on the Cambridgeshire Police, South Cambridgeshire District Council, and Police.uk websites. I found out about the location by pestering @CambsCops on Twitter to tell me. The majority of those present appeared to be parish councillors. As I arrived one of these jumped up interfering busybody types complained about the way I’d parked my car (on the white lines of a space as the adjacent cars were parked imperfectly!); that set the tone for the rest of the meeting and gives a reasonable picture of the mindset of those attending.
Councillors were given equal standing to anyone else who turned up; hence my reference to “mob rule” in the title of this article. I asked Cllr Stone if he wanted to see a more democratic system; but said he did but he gestured to those present, the mob, and resignedly shrugged saying “they don’t want to change”. I noted this wasn’t really surprising as they weren’t the right people to be asking.
- Summing up the discussion the chair noted that there had been no concerns about crime raised; he asked if anyone present disagreed with this, and no one did. Given those present were not really representing the population of the area I don’t think too much should be read into this; but it’s a great positive sign.
- The priorities set, by Mr Fuller, (with no-one raising an objection) were:
- Policing public open space; particularly with a view to preventing damage to the “furniture” (eg. play equipment)
- Traffic policing; parking, speeding etc.
Neither priority was focused on a specific geographical area; something which I think will make it hard for the police to act on, and hard to hold them to account for acting on.
- The meeting was told about a “Getting Closer” project being led by a PC. This involves going to a village, spending a shift there, doing some speed checking and walking around and talking to people. I think the idea of police going into a village, walking around and talking to people is clearly a good idea; it’s a shocking inditement on the state of policing that this basic activity is considered a special project, with a name and lead officer.
Sector Inspector Chris Savage and Sgt. Sandra Davidson were present on behalf of the police. They were standing outside a door to Sawston village college when I arrived, they were explaining that they usually brought an “A-board” to point the way to the meeting but had forgotten so were doing the job of pointing people to the room in-person. They said they’d been chastised for not turning up in a marked police car (I don’t know if by an attendee, or by Mr Fuller).
With the exemption of a councillor, me and one other, all the other attendees looked to be over sixty.
A neighbourhood profile document, with a report on each area, was distributed.
The meeting started with the chair asking if each of the villages in the area was “represented”; he went through a list – by “represented” I presume he meant if there was someone from the village present. Many places were covered, some were not, Cllr Stone; whose constituency covers the majority of the area said he’d “represent” the majority of the locations – which he of course does. Hinxton was one of the larger places from which there was no-one at the meeting.
Items raised at the previous meeting were followed up; including an area of the A1307 (verge?) being use to sell cars, in relation to which an attendee said the individual concerned was fighting an enforcement notice at great public (legal aid) cost and he was intent on pursuing it to the “highest court in the land”.
The police agreed to do a speeding survey in Great Shelford; having discovered following the last meeting that it is a long time since one was done (but hadn’t yet put it on the list for doing one!)
Another individual complained he’d been promised that someone from the police would contact him after the meeting, but they did not. Sgt. Davidson replied: “I remember now, sorry”. Neither police officer was taking notes.
Work on the previous priorities was then discussed; the priorities for the previous period had been:
- Rogue Traders
The police reported that 20 Fixed Penalty notices had been issued for speeding and one individual had been reported to court. (No details of the outcome of the court case, or any sentence were provided). The police noted that where PCSOs had caught people speeding they could only send letters, as only constables were able to issue FPNs. (I think those PCSOs who are up to it should become real police officers; I don’t think we’re getting value for money from these people who we’re not giving the powers we need those policing Cambridgeshire to have).
Someone who introduced himself as a “newly elected councillor” (I don’t know if it was a district or parish councillor) asked about thresholds for taking action on speeding. Inspector said the basic rule was not taking action until 10% + 2 of the speed limit had been exceeded. He noted the actions were “graduated” beyond that, with first an option of a driver improvement course leading up to court. The questioner asked about those repeatedly clocked at say just over the speed limit; the Inspector said prosecutions under other laws could be considered, if say for example the driver was causing a nuisance. Until that point I was impressed the police in South Cambridgeshire were not, as they are in Cambridge and elsewhere, using ASB laws (wrongly in my view) to tackle speeding, this comment led me to wonder if they were in fact just as bad there – the problem with the ASB route is it side-steps the courts and due-process.
The new councillor asked about the process for reducing a speed limit. Cllr Stone told him of the letter from Cambridgeshire County Council which has gone to all parishes saying parishes can lower speed limits themselves if they wanted as long as they pay for the costs of, and take full responsibility for, the scheme and the County Council don’t think it’s going to make the situation more dangerous.
Rogue traders were briefly discussed; those people the police had stopped had all turned out to be legitimate. Sgt Davidson said that those selling goods house to house needed a Pedlars Certificate. A general theme of the meeting in relation to door-to-door traders was that those present didn’t like them, but the police were saying they weren’t doing anything wrong. One individual asked if there was anything that could be done about the vastly over inflated prices of the household goods which were being sold door-to-door. Clearly the problem is people being intimidated or conned into buying things they don’t want or at a ridiculous price.
Those present were invited to raise comments; they included:
- A request for the police to look after tools and equipment left in Duxford by contractors working on trees.
- Suspicious flat bed trucks in Ickleton; carrying scrap metal. Inspector Savage asked for these to be reported and his officers would do the “usual policing stuff”; checking Tax, MoT etc. and if carrying waste asking for documentation about that. He encouraged calls about suspicious vehicles even if it wasn’t clear a crime was in progress.
- Questions about proposals to move parking regulation from the police to South Cambs District Council were raised. Inspector Savage did not know if the police had responded to a current consultation and didn’t know what the police’s view on the proposed transfer of responsibility was. Cllr Stone noted SCDC got no income from parking, so might not have funding for enforcement. Cllr Stone said that he wanted to get the County Council’s enforcement officers out of Cambridge and into the villages. He said Cambridge had 20 officers, East Cambridgeshire 6 and South Cambridgeshire only 1 and described this situation as “silly”. Mr Fuller said the parking transfer of responsibility had been raised at other panel meetings elsewhere. More information was promised when it was available.
- An attende asked for the violent crime statistics to be separated into domestic, and other, violent crime. Inspector Savage tried to dismiss the question as being unsuitable for the panel, saying discussing “domestic violence” was outside the scope of the meetings. Mr Fuller indicated that in fact the police could do has had been asked. It’s shocking that each panel meeting has to ask for, and push for keeping, this clearly needed improvement to the standard statistics provided by the police. There followed a discussion about if domestic violence was currently a police priority at any level, no one appeared to know. The inspector said he thought it might be a “theme” and the SCDC officer said she was unsure if it was an SCDC priority. Clarification was promised for the next meeting.
- Concerns about door-to-door and “rogue traders” offering to do unnecessary work on homes, were raised. The police response was that while they welcomed calls, generally people turned out not to be doing anything wrong when challenged. Someone asked the police to use E-cops emails to alert them when dodgy traders etc. were in an area, the inspector said he didn’t want to raise expectations above a level which could be met by promising this; though said that there had been a precedent for the police issuing such an alert – they had done so before in Milton.
- In response to a question on speeding the meeting was told that neighbourhood officers can only deal with speeding in 30mph zones; and for higher speeds traffic officers were needed. It wasn’t clear if this meant if the meeting prioritising speeding in a 40mph zone if the police would act on it; the police appeared to be deterring the meeting from setting such a priority.
- A pub with an A board on Cambridgeshire County Council owned land was irritating a parish council who had thought it was a traffic hazard but Cambridgeshire County Council had disagreed.
- A “complaint” about no action from SCDC relating to a scrapyard in Whittlesford was mentioned. Cllr Stone reported SCDC gave the scrapyard the licence but Cambridgeshire County Council now regulates scrapyards so this was causing a problem.
- A parish councillor explained how his parish council was spending money replacing vandalised play equipment; this was the concern which ended up influencing the area wide priority that was set and shows how the type of people who turn up can influence the priorities.
- The future of the panel meetings was discussed. It was reported SCDC was happy to continue “clerking” them for another year. The Cambridgeshire County Council officer sent along said she was from the children and young people’s service and had no expertise in the areas which had been discussed such as parking and speeding. Cllr Stone spoke against making the meetings larger (which he clarified to me afterwards he meant including non-policing items rather than expression an aversion to more people turning up.
The meeting closed with Mr Fuller setting the priorities for the next period as:
- Traffic / Road Safety
- Misuse of open public spaces, particularly respect for furniture
Those are the, rather odd and woolly, wordings set.
The next Sawston area police priority setting meeting is to be held, again in Sawston Village College, on the 3rd of October 2011 at 19.30.