Sunday, February 1, 2009

Police Authority Winter Consultation on Wednesday

From the police via their e-cops system:

"Have the police got their priorities right? In an ideal world, what would you like to see happen in your neighbourhood from next year? The Police Authority is responsible for maintaining an efficient and effective policing service in Cambridgeshire. We set the police budget for the year ahead and are responsible for holding the chief constable to account for the delivery of policing in Cambridgeshire. To share your views with us about policing in Cambridge and hear more about the kind of work we are involved in locally and nationally, including our priorities for the year ahead and the resources available to us, come along to Wesley Methodist Church, Christ's Pieces, on Wednesday, February 4 at 7.30pm. We can't promise the earth, but we do want to hear your views. They will help us shape policing in your area and across the county over the coming year."

Which is great, I encourage residents to turn up if they have any concerns about policing priorities. 'Community engagement' is the latest central government inspired buzzword to be sweeping public services, and if the City Council's area committees are any indicator, this will doubtless be at great cost to tax payers. I have to confess that personally I am suffering a little from consultation fatigue here. As part of the East Area committee I help agree local policing priorities for East Area. As part of the City Council Strategy and Resources committee, I comment on the prorities set by the Community Safety Partnership, yet another body with its own meetings schedule including the police and local authorities that sets policing priorities. I worry about how much effort is being spent collecting opinion about setting police priorities, and doubtless deciding between different conflicting priorities, so that ultimately less resource is available for actually tackling problems like the little toerags who keep spraying 'DSC' all round Coleridge.

And then there is the extent to which setting a small number of priorities actually sets huge numbers of areas that will then be deprioritised. Like some of my priorities - cycle theft, that the community safety partnership rejected as a priority, or actual police enforcement of speed limits on residential roads (which the Labour led East Area committee recently rejected in favour of 'supporting resident's Speedwatch' as a priority, so it is now hard to see how the police could do less to tackle the problem if speeding wasn't set as a priority at all.)

I fear "community engagement" initiatives more generally are eroding the power of democratically elected people, transferring their powers to the self-selecting few who actively engage in the new community engagement initiatives, and further disenfranchising people who don't want to continually interact with the state, but just want the authorities to get on with efficiently providing core services.

Ideally we would have properly empowered democratically elected representatives (including for bodies such as police forces and local healthcare trusts), then residents can elect the people they think will best represent their interests, can contact them if they have a problem, and if they don't like the results, they can throw them out of office and elect someone else.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Cllr Howell's suggestion that power to set police priorities ought be in the hands of democratically elected individuals. We have a good example of this working in London, where the Mayor, Boris Johnston, chairs the Police Authority and everyone knows where responsibility lies. I think that model should be built on and used elsewhere. I think Cambridgeshire Police Authority could be strengthened by the presence of more elected individuals, perhaps an MP and certainly a Cambridge city councillor; I don't think there's an appetite for direct elections to the Police Authority here.

One problem we have with many current city councillors is their reluctance to use the influence they do have. The system of councillors having the opportunity to set police priorities at area committees, and hold the police to account for their performance against the priorities set is in my view excellent. However councillors amending priorities recommended by the police is a very rare occurrence. Recently published draft minutes of the January West/Central Area committee confirm my recollection that councillors at that meeting failed to consider and approve the policing priorities for the next period despite it being on their agenda. The city council and police both also appear reluctant to promote the role of the area committees in setting police priorities. I think the system we do have operating could be used, and publicised, much better.

Members of the Police Authority are currently not prepared to take a stand on matters such as giving police powers to security guards and arming all response police with TASER weapons despite many clearly having misgivings. I believe the city's Liberal Democrats are opposed to both of these developments too, yet none are willing to act. With respect to the police powers for security guards their is a statutory requirement for consultation with Local Authorities, however like other opportunities for influencing policing locally this is not being used. With respect to TASERs, the minister recently stressed that the deployment to all response police ought be a local decision involving Police Authorities. The police are very unwilling to discuss matters such as these, or the new body-worn video cameras being worn during police consultative meetings, preferring all such meetings to focus on "neighbourhood policing" and "anti-social behaviour".

The mechanism for setting police priorities in Cambridge is currently a confusing mess, with even members of the police authority and professionals working with the system not understanding the relationship between priorities set by different groups at different levels. In Cllr Howell's post he critisises the Community Safety Partnership for removing cycle crime from their city wide priorities, yet he was a member of the council committee which on the 19th of January 2009 voted unanimously to endorse amendments to the city wide priorities including removing cycling. Councillors did note a number of concerns and mandated the council leader to ask the Community Safety Partnership to improve their communications, but still endorsed the priorities they had misgivings about. One odd city wide priority was to focus on burglaries in Petersfield Ward, which is inexplicable both as North Cambridge has higher level of burglaries and it appeared to be a point more suited to a local, not city wide, priority.

One unelected member of the Police Authority, who has the role of representative for Cambridge, refuses to communicate directly with the public yet other members of the Authority have not taken action to either remove her or change her position.

I could go on, I'm very passionate about improving the policing of Cambridge, more of my observations and suggestions are on my website at:

Chris Howell said...

Hi Richard,

Just to reply to your comments about the meeting on the 19th. The minutes record:

"An amendment was moved by Councillor Herbert and seconded by Councillor Howell to highlight the Committees continued concern over cycle theft and street robbery in the agreed recommendation."

I suggested at the meeting that cycle theft should be maintained as a priority, but was told that it wasn't possible for this partnership to do justice to more priorities than the number recommended, and there was already lots going on to tackle cycle theft, hence supporting the amendment to the recommendations as noted above rather than changing the priorities. The problem is as identified in the post - the connection between priorities in these committee reports and action on the ground. By amending as we did the amendment was passed, and the issue is still very much on the agenda. If reassurances given in the committee turn out to be insufficient, I will certainly be revisiting this issue in committee. I'm more than happy to propose amendments to police recommendations - I have done at just about every East Area Committee since May to try getting effective police action on speeding in residential roads, but none of my amendments have been passed by the Labour dominated committee. I look forward to finally winning this battle, so we can see what effect it has in terms of police doing things differently.