Just three local residents bothered to turn up at last Thursday’s Crime and
Disorder Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Me, Nick Dowling sans broken
Dictaphone, and a newcomer who managed to stay the course until ten minutes from
the end. Quite an achievement considering the generally dull fare on offer.
Someone had gone to the trouble of erecting a barrier of tables to prevent anyone getting close to the chairman and about 20 chairs had been laid out for public use. There were only three Agendas on offer which suggests that someone on the council staff may be a mind reader.
Chairman Alan Downing kicked off in meticulous form, “No audio or video recording is permitted, all microphones have been tested” and all the standard democracy defying protocol stuff but delivered in an inoffensive manner. He even welcomed members of the public. Where has the old pen-jabbing, deaf abusing, Malik hammering, overbearing, unreasonable Downing gone? Instead we had a laid back, almost affable retired policeman on show, rambling on a bit and exercising minimal control such that the meeting went on for 172 yawn inducing minutes.
After correcting the accidental omission of Agenda Item 3, the chairman invited Chief Inspector Michael Loebenburg of Bexleyheath police to enlighten us on the new policing model introduced to the borough on 24th June.
Mike, for that is how he was addressed throughout the meeting, is a man who appeared to know his subject inside out but unfortunately rushed through the facts at breakneck speed. I felt an affinity with him in that thirty years ago I wrote a computer program for BT that scheduled telephone operators’ shift patterns to meet customer demand. The numbers involved were hugely greater but I bet it’s standard practice for the police now - not BT, all the operators have gone.
The new police arrangements aim to reduce burglary by 20%, boost public confidence by 20% and spend 20% less. CI Loebenburg revealed that the front counter at Marlowe House is now staffed entirely by volunteers and that all the Contact Centres are, for memorable simplicity, open at exactly the same times. It sounds good until you realise that each opens for three whole hours per week.
The borough has been divided into three policing ‘Neighbourhoods’; the imaginatively named North, Central and South. According to the brochure one of the Northern wards is Thamesmad, so perhaps not so unimaginative after all. All 21 wards will have one dedicated Police Constable and a PCSO plus five officers who may float around to other wards to maintain staffing in a flexible and economically efficient manner. Each Neighbourhood will have its own fully equipped base from which to operate without time wasting returns to Bexleyheath - unless someone is destined for the Custody Suite.
Councillor Michael Tarrant wanted to know how long term absences would be covered and Superintendent Peter Ayling’s response amounted to the time honoured “With difficulty” but said the larger numbers of staff compared to the recent past made things a bit easier and the Commissioner had ordered “ring fencing” of the dedicated Neighbourhood team members. Councillor Tarrant said the same was promised for the previous scheme and added “there must have been a lot of holes in your fence’. Supt. Ayling indicated that the old system came to grief during the Olympics.
Councillor Nick O’Hare asked if the number of Contact Centres London wide had gone up or down and how many volunteers we had in Bexley. CI Loebenburg was immediately able to say “slight increase” and “fifty”.
Councillor Cheryl Bacon asked a question about police visibility and the need to keep officers on the streets, oblivious to the irony of her own stupidity being responsible for the removal of two on the 19th June. Supt. Ayling said he was “absolutely convinced of the need for visibility and accountability”. He had 65 bikes of which only five were serviceable when he took over and he now has more on the road. The actual number was lost through a combination of the poor public address system and an outbreak of coughing.
Councillor Aileen Beckwith demonstrated the paucity of intellect in the chamber by asking if the right of citizen arrest still existed. Look it up on Google woman like anyone else would, Bexley council has already been accused of wasting police time once in the past week. Fortunately Ayling didn’t need Google, he knew the answer was yes.
Councillor Steven Hall sparked off an exchange that revealed some of the shift patterns employed by the Neighbourhood Teams. Don’t tell the bad boys but they don’t provide 24 hour cover.
Councillor Mike Slaughter always has a question for the police which implies a healthy scepticism. He said he used to be able to call an SNT manager directly but now he is put through to a call centre in Marlowe House. CI Loebenburg said this was more efficient. I think he meant slower.
Councillor John Wilkinson continued the theme and said that when he called the Brampton Neighbourhood Team he was told he would get a reply at some time during the next four days. Supt. Ayling said “that absolutely shouldn’t happen” and proceeded to identify the likely cause of the problem with the implication he would fix it.
Council Sybil Camsey said her Team didn’t even know their own email address and Supt. Ayling accepted that wasn’t good enough. It was teething problems!
As the report on the new Local Policing Model wound up, chairman Downing surprised the public present, well me and Nick Dowling anyway, by asking if we had any questions. We did not and his accommodation was not repeated for any other Agenda item so one must assume that this diversion from the norm was exactly that, never to be seen again.
The remainder of the evenings entertainment will be reported later. There is a limit of how much boring material can be imposed on readers in one go. And Campbell says they are thinking of webcasting it! One extraordinarily expensive snore festival!