I observed Cambridge’s South Area committee on the 11th of March 2010 where the first thing councillors turned to was deciding policing priorities for the South of the city. The police presented their report on the last three months of policing activity in the area. One of the key points revealed by the report was a rise in burglary rates. Queen Ediths has had low burglary levels but in the last period they had almost doubled to a figure almost approaching that seen in Kings Hedges in the North of the City. This was blamed on repeat burglary offenders who had been let out of prison on probation and were offending again. The police said this has a cyclical a problem for some time in the South of the city and said they had no control over what the probation service did. When asked to what degree the police can monitor known burglars out on probation Inspector Kerridge indicated that they had to be very careful and ensure their actions were proportionate and justifiable.
Omissions from the Police Report
Cllr Taylor, as she has done at previous meetings, complained about the lack of statistics on matters such as speeding. The police claimed they didn’t want to overwhelm councillors with information and would only provide additional data on request. Cllr Taylor explained she had requested reports on speeding before and wanted to know why the North and East area committees were now getting reports on speeding but the South wasn’t. Inspector Kerridge committed (as he did last time) to bring speeding data next time.
On a different point of omission Cllr Al-Bander called at a previous South Area committee for a separate, specific, reporting on domestic violence but the police had not acted on this request many months later at the February 2010 South Area Committee. In the South, unlike Chesterton, reported violent crime is down compared to last year. The council leader reported to the North Area committee that it was a community safety partnership priority to increase recorded domestic violence so a rise in reported violent crime ought be regarded as a good thing. The problem though is that the statistics are not broken down into domestic and non-domestic violent offences. The only location where such a breakdown has been provided is within Cherry Hinton where six of nineteen offences were domestically related and concerned violence between partners in a relationship.
As background to the current state of reporting when I met Mr Fuller the police staff member responsible for public consultation in Cambridge, he claimed councillors had been pushing for less and less in their reports, he said for example it was councillors who were directly responsible for their reports no longer containing crime maps of problem areas as they said these made the reports too large. Initially Liberal Democrats were not keen at all on getting involved in setting local police priorities it is excellent that public pressure, and the lead taken by the East Area committee, where the Lib Dems are not in a majority, is changing this and they’re starting to get a grip.
Suggesting New Priorities
- Cllr Geoff Heathcock was instrumental in lobbying the committee to set burglary as priority. He spoke persuasively about the amount of upset and disruption a burglary causes. A member of the public complained that when he was burgled the police told him they had likely suspects but never got back to him to let him know the outcome of their investigations. Cllr Heathcock asked for more frequent communications assuring the public that the police were actually taking action to deal with burglaries
- Member of the public Stephen Oliver asked if future reports could include statistics on the amount of time officers had spent patrolling in the area. He said that having lived in Cambridge, on the Accordia development, for four months he had never seen a police officer where he lived.
- Cllr Sanders suggested a priority relating to cycling near Addenbrookes, stopping people cycling without lights and people cycling through red lights on the roundabout outside the hospital.
- As usual in Cambridge a member of the public asked about verge parking. The police said this wasn’t really a matter for them. Cllr Baker said the best thing to do was to call the council who he said would send a parking enforcement officer on a scooter out to the location straight away to issue a £60 fixed penalty ticket.
- A member of the public called on the police to deal with “anti-social behaviour” and another asked what deterrents were in place to prevent it. In response the police pointed to their dispersal powers under Section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction at (those which the council doesn’t have to approve and apply everywhere). I was astounded to hear Inspector Kerridge’s explanation of how Cambridge Police are using this power. He said the police targeted people early in the evening who they thought might cause problems later and order them out of the area. A member of the public, spoke against the use of dispersal powers, questioning where people were being dispersed too.
- A member of the public suggested the police shouldn’t take problem causing youths home, but to make their parents come out and get them, as a means of getting through to parents and making them take responsibility. Inspector Kerridge responded by saying that the police can’t do much about parents who don’t agree with the police that what their children are getting up to is a problem
The meeting ended up with I think it was six possible priorities and the police asked for the top three while noting that everything raised would be considered to some degree.
The three chosen were:
- Antisocial Behaviour; particularly as per the police suggestion of: “Youth related anti-social behaviour (ASB) on Paget Rd, Foster Rd and Anstey Way”.
- Cycling offences – cycling without lights and jumping red traffic lights, around Addenbrookes.
Councillors at the South Area committee prioritised tackling burglary. I strongly support this, and I’ve been lobbying my own local councillors in the North to do this too. In the North councillors have refused to do on the grounds it is a city wide priority despite being told of the extra work which would take place if it was also a local priority. This is despite the north having much higher burglary levels than the south.
Dwelling Burglary – South vs North Cambridge
Burglary levels in the South are much much lower than in the North yet in the South but not the North councillors are supporting the police in tackling the problem.
|Period||South Area||North Area|
|Trumpington||Cherry Hinton||Queen Ediths||Arbury||East Chesterton||Kings Hedges||West Chesterton|
|Oct 09 – Jan 10||6||20||37||50||33||40||28|
|June 09 – Sept 09||11||12||15||24||19||32||15|
|Oct 08 – Jan 09||14||14||21||61||50||61||41|
I was burgled last year, but have been campaigning for it to be a police priority for a long time before my house got broken into. Living where I did, with the police and councillors apparently tolerating the high burglary levels in the area, it was almost inevitable.
Now councillors are playing a bigger role in setting police priorities perhaps people in the North, in Arbury, Kings Hedges and Chesterton, will bear that in mind and if they want burglary tackled won’t re-elect the current councillors.
The Priority Setting System in Cambridge
There are a couple of current problems with the priority setting system which mean we don’t quite yet have direct local democratic influence over the police; though what we do have is fantastic and much better than elsewhere in the country. Councillors don’t have the final say on the priorities; a secret meeting of council, fire and police officers called the Neighbourhood Action Group has the final say. But I, and some councillors, have been trying to ensure that the police are held to account against the priorities actually approved by councillors, and that often now happens. The leader of the council has promised a number of times over the last few years to try and get some more openness in the system, both with respect to the Neighbourhood Action Group and the city wide Community Safety Partnership – both of which are currently highly secretive and uncommunicative. I think this is urgently needed and would give local involvement in policing a significant boost. Only rarely for example are dates of the NAG meetings revealed to councillors at the Area Committees. Sometimes the Area Committees have met just after a NAG presumably meaning their decisions will have taken months to formally take effect.
At the moment I think in practice the system is working better than perhaps it looks like it should from the outside. The area committees to appear to be a mechanism which work and have real noticeable effects and where councillors are willing to use it there have been results.
- March 2010 South Area Committee Agenda
- Police City South Neighbourhood Report – February 2010
- How local police priorities are set in Cambridge
Cllr Amanda Taylor advertised the meeting on her website as starting at 19.30. It actually started at 19.00.