I attended Cambridge City Council’s North Area Committee on the 11th of December 2008. One of the things councillors had on their agenda for this meeting was the setting of the police priorities for North Cambridge for the forthcoming quarter. The policing section of the meeting is run as an open meeting to which members of the public can contribute, councillors then vote on the priorities after the discussion. i had sent my suggestions relating to policing north Cambridge to my local councillors, and Cllr Wilkins in advance of the meeting.
Sgt. Jason Wragg kicked off the item by explaining Inspector Kerridge was now in charge of North Area Policing. Sgt. Wragg passed on Inspector Kerridge’s apologies to the meeting, explaining he could not attend the North Area Committee as he was out of the country. He did not given any details such as letting us know if he was on police business, or on holiday. I wondered if the Inspector might be another Costa Copper, following in the path of the Cambridgeshire Police Inspector who it was reported in November 2008 commuted to work from Spain. The meeting was told that Inspector Hutchinson had become a Chief Detective Inspector (I don’t know if that is subtly different from a Detective Chief Inspector?).
Sgt. Wragg went on to introduce the Neighborhood Profile. One of the first things he said was that crime generally, and dwelling burglary specifically had “increased slightly”. I made an note of this as the statistics within the report indicated that burglary levels had more than doubled compared with the same period last year. Sgt. Wragg warned that factors such as one individual being released from prison, or even the weather could significantly affect the statistics in the profile.
As usual for the police report to an area committee the Sgt. talked about multi-agency approaches, and drew attention to the force’s work with youth clubs. He also talked about the police making joint visits to homes which were the causes of complaints about anti-social behaviour.
Sgt. Wragg talked about the Police’s efforts to tackle drug dealing, he referred to this as “Operation Formidable”. He said this was ongoing.
The Sgt. talked about his success in policing Halloween, he said he had his officers patrolling in high visibility jackets, whereas he himself had not donned a high-vis jacket so he could creep up on the youths (it sounds as if he was getting in to the Halloween spirit himself!). He then spoke about how it was useful for him and his officers to spend some time out of uniform, and said he had recently spend a night in the area in plain clothes “putting the frighteners on people” stopping them and asking them to account for their actions. He reported this had encouraged people to stay at home on subsequent evenings. I was left wondering how many perfectly innocent people he had frightened off the streets of North Cambridge. His report on his night time antics had quite a strong tone of “I am the law” about it.
Neither the police, nor the council had specifically promoted the policing element of this meeting so there was little contribution from the public, with only myself and one other contributing.
Cllr Pitt was the first councillor to question the Sgt., he asked about violent crime levels in Kings Hedges. The response was that crime against foreign students had dropped, Sgt. Wragg said that level that remained can be largely “explained away”, he did not support think it was necessary for councillors to make this a specific local priority.
Cllr Pitt also asked for police with speed traps to operate on Northfield Avenue; Sgt. Wragg said the special constabulary were doing that kind of work in Cambridge and he would make sure they did did some work on Northfields Avenue .
Cllr McGovern asked about “anti-social behaviour” in Arbury Court, he thanked the police for their work there, but wanted reassurance that the recent good work would not be undone if their focus was lost following the proposed deprioritisation of the area. He received the assurance he was looking for.
It was on the subject of the drugs raid that a member of the public questioned Sgt. Wragg. In reference to the drugs raids she asked why the police arrested some people yet didn’t appear to arrest “nice people” they caught with drugs. Sgt. Wragg explained that this had been mis-reported in the Cambridge Evening News, and they had printed an apology. He explained that if it was someone’s first offence they might get a caution. He said that Inspector Kerridge had decided to administer a caution in one case. Sgt. Wragg gave his opinion that the outcome would not have been any different had the case gone to court, and he doubted it would have been possible to get it that far.
Sgt. Wragg suggested that much of the public perception of what was being described had arisen from the way it had been portrayed on Ecops. Attention was drawn to differences between what the Sgt. was saying to the meeting and what had been written on Ecops. Sgt. Wragg said that often Ecops messages contained bad spelling and grammar and their content was sometimes not in line with what was being said by “higher ups in the police”. There are often utterly crazy messages on Ecops for example earlier this year they propagated a urban myth mobile phone scam, and they have also advised people not to keep wheelie bins outside their houses saying:
Also have a look around the outside of you home to make sure there are no items that could be used to gain entry to your home such as ladders or wheelie bins.
The member of the public speaking to the meeting said she had tried to contact Sgt. Wragg and Inspector Kerridge, but did not get any response until she went to police headquarters at Hinchinbrook.
A number of councillors were critical of the fact the report did not include statistics from November, and asked about how trends had continued in that month. Cllr Huppert in particular asked this question in respect of his East Chesterton ward.
Cllr Blair used the police item to tell everyone that she had been out on a patrol in her ward with PC Lewis, and noted she has been invited to go back on a Saturday Evening. She thanked the police for their work reducing “ASB” around Echo house.
I was given the opportunity to speak next. I first reminded Sgt. Wragg of his statement that dwelling burglary had “increased slightly”. I pointed him to the statistics given in the neighbourhood profile which reveal an over 100% increase from 76 to 160 comparing the quarter being reported on: Jul 08 – Oct 08, with the same period last year.
I urged councillors to prioritise burglary at this meeting.
I noted that last time councillors had set burglary as a priority it had been effective. I reminded them of the additional patrols we had last year this time which included traffic, dog, and firearms teams who were tasked to drive around the streets of North Cambridge when their specialist skills were not required elsewhere. I said that patrolling the streets at night is one of the core things I expect the police to do.
I then moved onto TASERs, I explained that while it was a national issue, the proposed deployment of TASER to all front line response police in the UK was something which I thought important with respect to policing North Cambridge. I explained I support firearms officers having TASERs which they can elect to use as an alternative to a gun, however I do not believe our police should be routinely armed with TASERs as this will damage the relationship between the public and the police, making policing harder.
I told the committee that within hours of the Home Secretary’s announcement on Monday, 24 November 2008 the Metropolitan Police Authority announced their decision not to extend TASER use to all front line response officers in London on the grounds that they may cause fear and damage public confidence. I asked Mr Wilkins, a county councillor, member of the police authority and member of the North Area Committee, if the Cambridgeshire Police Authority were going to make their decision during their meeting on the 17th of December. I noted the Liberal Democrats nationally opposed the TASER deployment and asked if Cambridge Liberal Democrats, specifically those councillors I was speaking to agreed.
Mr Wilkins responded first, he said that despite it being less than a week away, the Police Authority agenda had not been published, either to him as a member, or to the public. (It is worth noting the Chief Executive of the Police Authority in Cambridge is paid around £100K and he can’t even get these basics sorted). Mr Wilkins said he agreed with my opposition to the TASER deployment and he would try and ensure it was discussed on the 17th.
Cllr Pitt also indicated his opposition to the expanded deployment of TASERs. Sgt. Wragg did not make any comment on behalf of the police.
I then told the committee that I had attended the Arbury ward police consultative meeting in October 2008, I pointed out no Liberal Democrat Councillors or representatives were present, and neither were any council officers. I suggested that the meetings might be more effective and involve more people if councillors and others attended to provide a route for action to be taken on matters raised.
I told the North Area Committee that the CCTV coverage at Kingsway had been discussed at the Arbury meeting and that the automatic movement of the existing cameras so that they cover a wider area had been suggested. I had contacted the council’s CCTV manager and he said this suggestion would be taken seriously, I asked councillors to support the idea.
Finally I reported that PC Ball reported to the Arbury meeting, that it was often frustrating for her to return to Parkside after a shift and find out that there had been calls from residents, including at Kingsway, which had come in while she was out on duty but had not been passed onto her. We’re talking here about non-emergency calls that don’t need an immediate response, but raise matters of concern, that might be on-going.
Sgt. Wragg responded on this final point, saying that the effectiveness of communications depended on what else was going on. He reported that the police in the area were going to move to a two channel radio system which would improve things. He largely dismissed the point though – saying that it was not a significant problem.
Councillors then turned to the priorities.
The police were recommending:
- That the prevention of thefts from vehicles in East Chesterton is discussed given a significant increase in offences.
- To continue tackling anti-social behaviour in the East Chesterton ward, and specific hotspots within the ward to target are identified by the Committee.
- Tackling dwelling burglary remains a key city wide priority for the Community Safety Partnership, partnership work on this issue should focus on the North for the next period.
Cllr Pitt stated he was “sympathetic to including burglary as a local priority”.
Cllr Todd-Jones said that he too would support a local priority for burglary, particularly given the rise in Arbury shown by the neighbourhood profile.
Cllr Nimmo-Smith asked Sgt. Jason Wragg of the police what difference, if any, it would make if councillors set burglary as a local priority. Sgt. Wragg responded that it would make a difference, it would give him a strong mandate in his negotiations for resources within the police. Sgt. Wragg pointed to the extra patrols that we had seen last year, from firearms, traffic and dog teams and said if councillors set burglary as a local priority he would be in a stronger position to lobby for such deployments in the north area again.
I think Sgt. Wragg was suggesting to councillors they might want to support him by setting a clear local priority.
Cllr Blair asked Sgt. Wragg if he would support rewording his suggested priority to make it clearer burglary was a local priority; he declined to do this, leaving it, quite rightly up to councillors to set the priority. Cllr Blair was reluctant to set a priority which wasn’t exactly as suggested by the police. Cllr Blair said that she was “not clear” on what the difference was between setting a local and city wide priority, she couldn’t see the difference. Sgt. Wragg again clarified, repeating some of what he had said in response to Cllr Nimmo-Smith.
Councillors then voted to accept the police’s recommended priorities unammended.
I got a chance to speak in the “Open Forum” section of the meeting, during which I said I thought councillors had missed a great opportunity to set a local priority for burglary, and Sgt. Wragg had indicated to them that doing so would be worthwhile. Cllr Pitt interrupted to say that was not what happened.
I spoke to Cllr Pitt after the meeting how he felt I had mischaracterised what had gone on, he said he thought what he and his fellow councillors had done was set a local priority for burglary, he said he would not be happy if it was not listed at a priority when the police produced the list and if the police did not report on their progress in relation to it at the next meeting.
Cllr Mike-Todd Jones also speaking to me after the meeting complained about how unclear the system of city-wide verses local priorities was.
City Cllrs Levy, Upstone and Liddle were absent. The following day’s Cambridge Evening News reported on the policing item at this meeting and in relation to Cllr Levy stated:
Cambridge city councillor Alan Levy, who represents Arbury ward, said he was sure the councillors would consider all the evidence put to them.
Having made that statement, it was interesting that he was absent from the meeting.