Crime and Disorder Overview and Scrutiny Committee took place last Thursday
evening in the Civic Centre, the first opportunity to hear the new Borough
Police Commander Peter Ayling speaking in the council chamber. Such was the
interest from the public that only the News Shopper reporter, a single member
of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group and I were there.
Crime and Disorder is chaired by councillor Alex Sawyer who can be relied upon to be a safe pair of hands and Thursday was no exception. Alex is approachable, effective, commands respect and behaves as if he has a three figure IQ. Unlike his less well endowed colleagues he didn’t insult each of the assembled trio by telling them they must not record proceedings for fear of offending the other two. Deaf abusing mayor Alan Downing please note. Alex got straight down to business at 19:30 and before long Superintendent Ayling was asked to speak.
Ayling began by regretting the fact he was the fifth Commander In Bexley in the space of three years. He said that “Will and Teresa” had made representations to senior management but had been assured that “his feet would be nailed to the floor for the next two years” and there would be “no change of direction”. The opening familiarity, and later name dropping repetitions, I find to be slightly alarming. Ayling is already on record as being economical with the actualité when he replied under FOI that police were not stationed at the Civic Centre for last October’s cabinet meeting and were not providing any “special service”. My own eyes told me otherwise, one officer was in the chamber! There was definitely a presence outside throughout the meeting.
Ayling’s FOI response was to the effect that his then boss Victor Olisa had made the decision to “provide normal policing services”. It is to be hoped that the new man is not put in the position of misrepresenting the facts to protect another police officer again. We need honest leadership in Bexley because the other sort has proved to be a total disaster.
Superintendent Ayling said the “new police model will go live in Bexley on either 3rd or 10th June 2013”. That, in case you don’t recognise the jargon, is the new budget saving scheme much debated in recent months. He updated the Committee on crime statistics. Robbery down 24%, motor vehicle crime -9·3% and serious youth violence -44%.
Not so good is burglary up 7·1%, theft from vehicles +3%, domestic violence +18·5% and racist and religious crime up from 120 incidents last year to 215 this. Councillor Philip Read was on the ball when he said the figures didn’t correspond with the figures provided by council officers but it turned out that one set was for the calendar year and the other for the financial year. A cynical councillor Kerry Allon thought we might be using whichever looks best.
It transpires that the retention of Belvedere police station for a few hours a week is not, as one might hope, for the convenience of the public but for the convenience of the police. They are to commission a new car pound in the North of the borough and they need a stop gap base for equipment in the North. When the new facility is available, Belvedere will go.
Councillor Maxine Fothergill related how she was unable to report a crime on behalf of a resident who wished to remain anonymous and wanted to know if that was standard practice. Ayling said it was not but he is probably blissfully unaware of just how difficult it is to report crime. Fortunately the need for me to do so has not arisen frequently but I doubt I’d bother to report any minor crime, life is too short to go through all the police procedures, telephone delays and probable disinterest.
Councillor Philip Read said the level of domestic violence in Bexley was worrying and asked about clear up rates. Supt. Ayling seemed to be stumped by this and could only say Bexley is within the top ten for every crime category. How that can be reconciled with them being the least efficient force in the whole of London I have no idea.
Councillor Nigel Betts wanted to know what opportunities would be available for councillors to meet Neighbourhood Teams. Ayling did not know yet.
Councillor Graham D’Amiral took an interest in the large percentage reduction in recorded homophobic hate crime this year compared to last but as the number of crimes is barely into double figures, percentages were not a very reliable guide.
Councillor Mike Slaughter usually displays a healthy scepticism for police statements and this time he said he was “particularly dissatisfied” with the cut to Neighbourhood Team numbers having been assured in the past this would not happen. “We need some honesty from the police.” How very true.
Councillor Stefano Borella was present in a sort of private capacity - he is not a member of the committee. However he was allowed to stick his hand up and ask a question with absolutely no objection from the chair. He was made to wait until last but there was no principled objection as there always is when members of the public attempt to avail themselves of the procedure - and that goes for Alex Sawyer’s chairmanship too. Borella’s question wasn’t so much a question as a criticism of councillor Fothergill and not worth the effort of reporting it.
Rob Clarke, a guest speaker from the Probation Service, explained at some length that his department had spent £25,000 on developing a finger print entry system to their Bromley office. This meant that offenders could report in as required by the courts, put their thumb on a pad and go home again without seeing anyone. They will have fulfilled their obligations.
I would not dispute that developing a software system from scratch for twenty five grand may be some sort of triumph in the public sector, but what is the point? It looked like a solution looking for a problem to me. Councillors Philip Read, Nigel Betts and Brenda Langstead all made comments along very similar lines.
Following council officer Emma Leathers report on Community Safety, councillor Mike Slaughter expressed some dissatisfaction about the procedures for reporting anti-social behaviour. He said “they are all very well but they just don’t work” and asked for a feature article in the next Bexley Magazine to get the word around. Councillor Slaughter in Victor Meldrew mode makes for pretty effective scrutiny of officials who might fit councillor Deadman’s description.
The meeting ended at 21:15 with only me staying the course in the public gallery. Thanks to councillor Sawyer, an uneventful meeting beautifully timed to end two minutes before my bus was due.
Note: I don’t wish to imply the NS reporter was skiving, he was engaged in another meeting in the building.