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Bonkers Blog April 2014

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22 April (Part 2) - Crime and Disorder in the Civic Chamber

It feels like a long time ago now but there was a Crime and Disorder Committee meeting last Thursday and I have forgotten most of what was said already. I’m going to have to listen to the nearly two hours of recording.

Alan DowningIt was chaired by councillor Alan Downing whose performance there is quite different from that seen when he was mayor. The rudeness to members of the public which was his mayoral style is totally absent and any member of the public unaware of his history might think he was an OK sort of chap. As the only members of the public present were Mick Barnbrook and myself that opportunity did not arise.

Councillor Downing saw the funny side (as he has before) of the routine request for anyone intending to take photographs to identify himself - neither of us admitted to carrying a camera - and then saying he wanted each of us to be aware of where the non-existent photographer might be.

The main event of the evening is Chief Superintendent Peter Ayling telling everyone about local crime statistics and how they never seem to change much. They are low and Bexley was now in the top spot in the Metropolitan Police area gaining the honour from Harrow which was pushed back into second place.

We heard all the old stuff about Romanian burglars and prison releases which can cause peaks in crime numbers until their collars are felt again and the only fundamentally new thing I picked up is that football World Cups always cause an increase in domestic violence. (Previous Romanian references: here and here).

For those who are interested in the detail…

• Burglary was up by 4% in the last financial year compared to the previous one. 68 crimes. Last Autumn was particularly bad but things moved back on track more recently.
• Thefts of motor vehicles were up by 41 offences but known offenders are being targeted to good effect.
• Criminal damage was down by 7·%. 114 offences.
• Theft from motor vehicles down 4·7%. 55 offences.
• Violence with injury was down 4·6%. 52 offences.
Anti-Social Behaviour down 13·7%. 1,053 fewer incidents.

AylingOver ten years burglary is down by 31%, robbery by 41%, criminal damage down by 72%, theft from motor vehicles is down by 39%, of motor vehicles down 61% and violent injuries down 29%. The total offences recorded in Bexley is down 43%, 8,745 a year. Even allowing for people like me who have given up on reporting crime that looks like things must have got better.

The Chief Superintendent has been criticised both at council and public meetings over what is seen as a lack of communication. He said the internal processes had been given a complete overhaul and they are to be rolled out shortly. A new Chief Inspector has been appointed to the role.

The “workforce not deployable for one reason or another” has fallen from 20% to only one vacancy which sounded like comparing apples to pears to me but CS Ayling said it was “a really good position to be in”.

Questions from councillors followed and the first was from John Wilkinson but as at no time during the meeting did he bother to switch on his microphone I can only assume that it was as inconsequential as his questions usually are.

ClarkCouncillor Val Clark was similarly inaudible because she places the microphone some three or so feet from her mouth. However I noted that her question was something to do with drivers ignoring School Crossing Attendants, photographic or other good evidence being obtained, but the police doing nothing about it. Chief Superintendent Ayling was not aware of the problem but said that such reports are not handled ‘on borough’ under the new arrangements but he would be looking into Councillor Clark’s report which included a bundle of evidence. He though it might well be good enough to warrant prosecutions.

Councillor Brenda Langstead contrasted the number of police officers to be seen rushing around in cars with their lights and sirens on with falling crime statistics. CS Ayling said that Bexley had seen the largest increase (18%) of any London borough in the number of ‘immediate grade’ calls and that and a lot of responses to road traffic accidents explains the increased activity. There have also been more responses to health emergencies because of the ‘challenges’ facing the London Ambulance Service. Yes I found that one a bit shocking too. And then some reported crimes turn out not to be crimes at all so there is not necessarily a direct correlation between police sirens and crime statistics.

Councillor Alex Sawyer displayed his usual preoccupation with “crimes committed by persons born outside the United Kingdom” and was curious as to how people could be encouraged to report crime. Young people are apparently reluctant to report crime but whilst recognised as “an issue” there is nothing specific being done about it. Bexley has a high proportion of foreign offenders though the absolute numbers were not bad compared to other borough.

Councillor Philip Read asked the Borough Commander what had caused the burglary spike last year, I guess he must have dozed off at the last meeting. It was pre-Christmas, the dark evenings were longer, there was an abnormally high number of prison releases and organised Romanian burglars took a fancy to Sidcup. This was not helped by courts who refused to remand them in custody and they committed more crimes.

The other item of interest was an update on the situation at the soon to be privatised Probation Service. It would I think be fair to say that previous speakers on this subject have painted a bleak picture of the likely outcome and failed totally to conceal their own misgivings. This time the London Probation Service (LPS) was taking no chances and had sent along their Assistant Chief Officer Louise Hubbard. She made things rather clearer but failed to dispel the fears for the future.

In future all imprisoned offenders will be given supervision on release and not just those sentenced to over 12 months which must be good but “an element of competition in services delivered by the public sector” may be more debatable. All sex offences, even low level ones, and the most serious violence offences will remain in the public sector but “pretty much everything else” will go.

Ms. Hubbard said that “a huge amount of complexity is to be introduced into the system” and that comment just about sums up what is planned. “We don’t have clear boundaries between the new National Probation Service and the delivery companies. I cannot believe that this will not be something that will get resolved sooner rather than later”. Any half decent manager should be tearing their hair out with planning like that and you can understand why the LPS people have made such a poor job of explaining the changes to councillors. Should they be loyal to their employer or should they tell the truth? There is apparently “a huge risk that offenders will get lost” in the transition between the present system and the next. There will be “challenges”. As if there are not enough already!

There were no questions from councillors. All of them no doubt stunned by what they had heard.



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