Setting Local Police Priorities in Cambridge City

Thursday, May 29th, 2008. 9:51pm

I spoke at on the subject of setting police priorities at Cambridge City Council’s North Area Committee Meeting on the 6th of March 2008, Councillor Nimmo-Smith committed to respond. Prior to the next North Area Committee meeting on the 17th April 2008 I reminded Councillor Nimmo-Smith of his commitment but he was not able to reply at that meeting. Today Councillor Nimmo-Smith replied to me by letter:

I enclose the response which I have received regarding the process by which neighborhood policing priorities are identified and agreed. I think that it clarifies many of the issues raised by the discussion which was initiated by you at the North Area Committee earlier this year. I will be pursuing further the matter of ways in which the role of the Neighbourhood Action Groups can be conducted in a more open manner,

Yours sincerely,
Ian Nimmo-Smith.

Response from Paul Griffin, Strategy Officer, Community Safety – Cambridge City Council
Subject: Safer Neighbourhoods Processes

Councillor Nimmo-Smith,

Following the question asked at the recent North Area Committee I have detailed below the current processes that exist for identifying and tackling neighbourhood priorities though the Safer Neighborhoods processes.

Neighbourhood Profile

In advance of each Area Committee where ‘Safer Neighbourhoods’ is an agenda idem a Neighbourhood Profile document is prepared. This document is prepared principally by the police analysts and details current crime and disorder information, details on the work undertaken against the previous priorities (including a recommendation on whether the issue should remain a priority or not) and concludes with around three recommended issues that should form the neighbourhood priorities for the coming three-month period. The draft profile is shared with the city council so additional information can be added and the content of the document agreed.

There is also a section in the Neighbourhood Profile covering information obtained from the community over the last three months. This information is a result of the community engagement work carried out. This helps to form the recommendations and ensures the document is not based just on reported incidents, but also takes into account the issues residents perceive to be priorities.

Area Committee

Safer Neighbourhoods is rolled out across the city and so features at all four Area Committes. Safer Neighbourhods is on agenda for ‘every other’ Area Committee meeting. The agenda item is currently presented by the police, with support available from the Safer Communities Section at the City Council. The profile is presented and then questions can be asked or other issues raised by the public or by the councillors on the committee. This is an opportunity for the public to have an influence over the community safety priorities in their neighbourhood.

The information in the profile and the information raised and discussed on the evening is then used to recommend (normally up to three) priorities for the neighbourhood area to be tackled in partnership.

Neighbourhood Action Group

Following the Area Committee meeting the recommended priorities identified are taken to a multi-agency meeting called a Neighbourhood Action Group (NAG). At this meeting the priorities are adopted and lead officers for producing action plans assigned. It can be the case that the priorities are slightly amended at this meeting to either fall in line with resources or if an issue raised at an Area Committee can be tackled without the need for it becoming a priority this will be done. All issues raised at Area Committees are considered, even if they are not recommended as one of the neighbourhood priorities.

NAGs are closed officer meetings attended by a variety of agencies including Police, City Council (a variety of different sections), Officer of Children and Young People, and Fire and Rescue. There are two NAG’s, one that looks at the issues coming out of the North and South Area committees the other [...] looks at the East and West/Central Area Committees. The NAGs are responsible for action planning the neighbourhood priorities identified at each of the Area Committees and agreeing owners for each of the neighbourhood priorities.

The NAG meetings are not open to the public currently, although work is being undertaken to review the membership to see whether a representartive from the community can attend, the terms of reference will be altered to reflect this if agreed. There has previously been attendance at NAG meetings from Neighbourhood Watch and from the Federation of REsidents Associations, although this is not currently the case. the information discussed at the NAG meetings is not confidential, there is no personal information discussed or exchanged.

Two points of note:

*The term ‘Neighbourhood Policing Panel’ is not one that is used in Cambridge, it is used by other local authority areas in Cambridgeshire so this may cause confusion. The Area Committees fulfill the role of the Neighbourhood Policing Panels by having Safer Neighbourhoods included as an agenda item.

*Safer Neighbourhoods is the new name for the Area Committee agenda item and the profile document, the change has been made to better reflect the partnership work that takes place to tackle neighbourhood issues.

For further information on any of the above please do not hesitate to contact me.

I replied, copying the officer,

Ian Nimmo-Smith,

Thank you for replying to me with information on how Council officers believe the mechanism for setting police priorities at the Area Committees works. I think it would be useful if the memo produced could be approved / accepted as correct by the Police and then reported to the next North Area Committee meeting.

The officer producing the memo noted; “The term ‘Neighbourhood Policing Panel’ is not one that is used in Cambridge”. This is wrong, the term is widely used with respect to setting police priorities in Cambridge. It, and similar terms, are used three times on the North Neighbourhood profile page on the police website which has been updated today – Even the latest Neighbourhood profile update – April 2008 uses the term “neighbourhood panel meetings” in its introduction. The term has also been used in relation to setting North Area policing priorities in eCops messages (for example on the 23rd January 2008), and by the police at the meadows community centre meetings. On page 7 of Cambridge Crier of 25th January under an article headlined: “Police list priorities in crime fight”, even Inspector Jon Hutchinson is quoted as using the term with respect to police priories in Cambridge. There is a problem as the term is used widely but the meetings according to this latest document do not exist. Denying this problem exists as this memo does is not a good start towards solving it.

A note on how the quarterly priorities actually take effect, via shorter term priorities might also be appropriate, though the detail that was given was good.

At the end of the last North Area committee meeting on the 17th of April the Inspector Jon Hutchinson told the meeting of the proposed name change to “safer communities”, though no formal vote was taken from my point of view it appeared to be met with unanimous disapproval by the councillors. I am disappointed to see officers ploughing on with the new name despite this, I don’t think the new name contributes to making it clearer that this is an opportunity for people to influence their local policing priorities.

At the next North Area Committee:

  1. I would like to suggest a specific time is set for the Policing agenda item which will be due at the next but one meeting. Attendance at the area committees is much poorer than at neighbourhood pannel meetings outside the city, a set time might well give the police more faith in the meeting and encourage them to advertise it – as they do for neighbourhood pannels elsewhere in Cambridgeshire. Even small “Anti-Social Behaviour Meetings”, and “Problem Solving Meetings” within the North Area get more publicity via the police than the North Area Committee currently. Local residents, councillors and council officers might also be more prepared to promote the opportunity to get involved in setting police priorities with a fixed time, as it is I have three times now seen the committee manager asked to specifically promote the policing element of the meeting, yet this has never made the posters, or the council’s webpages (other than at the level of the agenda itsself).
  2. I would like to suggest the minutes from the last meeting the police attended are brought to the next meeting the police attend – this would help councillors hold the police to account.
  3. I welcome the input from police community engagement meetings being included in the neighbourhood profile as happened explicitly for the first time in April 2008. I think it needs to be clear how these other meetings can have an influence on the police priorities via the area committees.
    1. These other meetings are not all open to the public, and are not democratic, essentially the police choose who they consult and how.
    2. I don’t think the police are the best placed people to pass on the suggestions arising from these meetings; where the minutes of these meetings are taken by City Council officers the suggestions could be passed to the committee via them. Alternatively councillors present at these meetings could take the suggestions raised forward – though when i have suggested this at an East Chesterton ASB meeting two councillors aggressively refused to taken on this role.
  4. I would like to suggest that the police tell the meeting when the NAG meeting to which the priorities agreed by the councillors are to be put has been arranged for. I am concerned that if both meetings are held quarterly and slightly out of sync we will get the situation where a September North Area Committee meeting’s priorities will be taken to a January NAG – which may be what happened earlier this year. It would also be useful if NAG’s decisions were made public and therefore available to the committee – the memo appears to be a good step towards that stating there is no need for the NAG’s operation to remain secret.
  5. As for what I will be suggesting to my local councillors as priorities; I will be drawing attention the fact that removing burglary as a priority appears, according to Ecops messages to have been a mistake, and suggesting as I have been for over a year now that the police prioritise maintaining good public-police relations, by ensuring they know and obey the law with respect to stop and search / stop and account. In my opinion they are keeping excessive records in breach of both their own “Management of Police Information” guidelines, and the data protection act, and I am concerned that the new stop and account procedure is not compliant with the relevant PACE codes. I am still very concerned about stop and account of school children by plain clothes police and view this as massive overkill an excessively heavy handed policing, I am shocked that headteachers and governors aren’t up in arms – perhaps they would be if they knew the area committees were a forum where they could raise their concerns? I also note that the police in Cambridgeshire are planning to dispense with proper uniforms and wear black t-shirts, I don’t see why the Police in Arbury or the rest of North Cambridge should be dressed any differently to those in the town centre who wear proper uniforms and will put the case again for a better deal for North Cambridge from the police.

If there was to be a “community representative” on the NAG, I would suggest councillors are the best “community representatives”.

I was surprised to receive a reply in the form of a physical letter, complete with colour printed headed stationery which I see as unnecessary opulence paid for with my money. [If the idea of sending me a printed memo was to deter me from posting it on my Blog... well it didn't deter me]

Many thanks for taking this up – I think if the public and councillors do start to really engage with setting local police priorities the potential to make Cambridge a better place to live is immense.

Richard Taylor

3 comments/updates on “Setting Local Police Priorities in Cambridge City

  1. Richard Article author

    I followed this up today (26th August 2008) with Mr Nimmo-Smith:

    At the April 2008 North Area Committee Meeting you said you would: “pursue making the membership and minutes of the NAGs public”. You wrote to me at the end of May confirming you were still working on this saying: “I will be pursuing further the matter of ways in which the role of the Neighbourhood Action Groups (NAGs) can be conducted in a more open manner”

    You know that I have been lobbying over the past year for the dates of the NAG meetings to be publicised so councillors setting priorities at the area committees know when they will be considered and enacted by the NAGs. I have also suggested that the NAGs report back to the area committees noting if they have accepted or amended the priorities.

    I find it hard to get information out of the police, they appear to be institutionally secretive. I am wondering if you have had any more success?

  2. John Lawton

    This is interesting in the light of my comments here:

    I had assumed that the confusion as to whether a policing priority for ‘speeding and anti-social use of vehicles’ was set or not set in the August 2010 West/Central Area Committee has resulted in the council minutes listing this priority and the police website not. However I am going to contact Inspector Kerridge to ask for his explanation of this situation. I might ask about the role of the NAG too.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    At a recent meeting of the North Area Committee Cllr Nimmo-Smith replied to my chasing to say he had abandoned his commitment to seeking more openness in the way the NAG is run. (In doing so he was turning his back on the Lib Dem policy of openness and transparency).

    At the August 2011 West/Central Area Committee councillors were facing many problems arising from the fact they didn’t know what the Neighbourhood Action Group was doing with the priorities they had set; a number of members of the public questioned why the councillor set priorities were being altered by the secretive group.

    I suggested the committee should ask the (unelected) member of the Police Authority present, Ruth Joyce, to look into the problems the committee was having in relation to the secrecy, and lack of feedback from, the Neighbourhood Action Group. In response Ruth Joyce made a commitment to the committee to look into the problem and get back to them.

    My view is councillors should hold the police to account for their action on the priorities councillors set; if the police have changed or ignored what councillors set they need to be able to explain what they’ve done to the councillors. I think the Police Authority (or in the future perhaps the Police and Crime Commissioner should have a role in solving problems if councillors are unhappy with the police’s performance in relation to the priorities set.)

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