Notes of a Parish Open Meeting held at Long Buckby United Reformed Church on 25th September 2018
The chairman, Radio Northampton’s Martin Heath, welcomed all 132 people in the audience and introduced Rachel Dobbs who is one of our parish councillors to set the scene. He stressed that whilst he would like to interview people after the meeting, his role was to facilitate and chair, and that the meeting was not being recorded for media purposes.
Rachel stated that this was not a meeting organised by the parish council but a spontaneous response to a perceived need in the village and to ascertain the feeling of residents and seek some clarity about policing in the Long Buckby area. She stated that this journey started with a number of questions at the Annual Meeting, and since then, more questions and more questions with answers that appeared to her to be misleading, convoluted, opinionated or just ignoring the original question. She stated her goal for the evening was information and understanding for ordinary people.
Rachel introduced Sam Dobbs, our neighbourhood policing sergeant and requested that he outline the current policing strategy.
Sgt Dobbs suggested that many people who don’t have firsthand experience of policing gain their views from the media, television or bygone memories. Burgeoning and increasingly complex police demand set against reducing resources, means the delivery of policing services requires to be more prevention and intelligence-led in an often rapidly changing county and national context. He gave examples i.e. that reports of child sexual offences had increased by around 400% in the last few years, drug dealing had changed to involve younger children at a time when policing had reduced. Response policing and 999 services are prioritized. Neighbourhood policing numbers have been reduced, but ring-fenced to their core role. Daventry District Police (of which Long Buckby is part) is now/currently resourced by a Neighbourhood team of two sergeants, four constables, six PCSOs (funded conventionally) and five PCSOs (sponsored).
For these reasons, the police is reliant on information from the public. An indicator of a current ‘disconnect’ or gap is the perception, consistently and widely expressed at the Annual Parish Meeting and elsewhere, that the village has a drugs problem. But statistically, there have been only six drug offences recorded in the village in the past two years, and local information on the true extent of the problem is not forthcoming. People are reticent to report on 101 or even 999 and we need to bridge this gap.
As an example of both the complexity and changing demands on policing, and because more information had been sought on the County Lines syndrome, the county lead for Gangs and County Lines, Detective Chief Inspector Lee McBride, was invited to deliver a presentation to Long Buckby residents.
Lee stated that his role was to protect people from harm and to show the kind of harm that can occur he showed a NSPCC video about gangs and gang techniques.
Showing slides he explained what was a gang, how they operate from our large cities nationally, how the gang can progress from a simple gathering of people through to criminality, and he gave the Northamptonshire perspective. He stated that we have had corrosive substances used as a weapon in the county and have had cuckooing locally (two cases in Daventry). Guns have been used in Wellingborough and knives have been recovered more generally. The large city gangs have grown up to use violence as a way of increasing influence and have shown that they will use it as a normal tool in any area they choose to operate, now extending via ‘County Lines’ to places like Northamptonshire, using the county’s accessible transport connections. He went on to explain the criminality features in terms of emerging risk and what the warning signs are.
Police have become more reactive and less pro-active meaning they need to be intelligence led and in order to do this they need the help of the general public. DCI McBride outlined how we can all help and the reporting methods i.e. 999 for life threatening emergencies and crimes in progress, 101 for more general information about events.
There has been some success with the force operation to combat this criminality: Operation Viper has netted £3.5m in recovered assets from the proceeds of crime. There followed a video about Operation Viper, introduced on screen by the new Chief Constable, showing how the policy and practice is to gather evidence, confiscate assets and prosecute criminals.
Apart from exploiting ever younger children as couriers, another technique to recruit gang members is via sexual exploitation. If a child has been persuaded to perform an act on social media that they could be embarrassed by they can be coerced into compliance. The police policy is to evaluate and disrupt criminal operations, this also includes modern day slavery where people are forced to work for little or no pay against their will.
Signs of exploitation could be vulnerable people living in squalor close to the gang leader, children disappearing into their bedrooms refusing to talk to adults, expensive items suddenly being used with no explanation of how they have been purchased. DCI McBride urged us to be professionally curious, probe these changes and if not satisfied with the answers report to the police. If you feel there could be a conflict of interest report your misgivings through a third party.
Sgt Sam Dobbs then returned to outline the local policing strategy, hoping that Lee’s presentation exemplified how policing has become more complex and why threat, harm and risk is prioritized. The policy is to prioritise Threat Harm and Risk. Long Buckby and the District is one of the safest areas in the county (statistically) and, as previously mentioned, has a very low incidence of reported drug abuse and this also applies to most crime categories. He stressed that he was willing to communicate with the parish council about policing to ensure that their knowledge is up to date and he does so with many other parish councils, however Long Buckby have not invited him back to cover questions raised since the Annual Meeting, leaving room for misinformation and misunderstanding.
He is only able to allocate resources following reported incidents so local knowledge is key and he urged the meeting to keep reporting concerns. What is being reported does not often tally with word in the village. Whilst the village show no evidence of being targeted by County Lines criminals, there have been incidents of concern involving rival drug gangs and, separately, incidents showing the vulnerability of the village’s children’s homes.
What is needed, is informed debate so decisions can be made. Sgt Dobbs stressed he was not there ‘to sell us a PCSO’ but to appeal that any decisions made on community safety are made from an informed perspective, which is why he welcomed this event, staggered and delighted by the response.
Andy Crisp the District’s Neighbourhood Watch lead, was invited to talk about Long Buckby Neighbourhood Watch. He stated that Long Buckby used to have a very good scheme in operation but has lost the co-ordinator, consequently it has ceased to exist, losing vital local knowledge.
He made a plea to the meeting for a volunteer to act as the Local Co-ordinator so that street/area level watch schemes could be organised to report concerns.
Following the meeting he was approached. The results of his plea are that a co ordinator has now been registered and awaiting a meeting with Mr Crisp. A Parish Councillor from another parish, and also a NHW contact, offered to help in any way.
It was outlined that as well as Neighbourhood Watch, there are a number of schemes for communities who wish to subscribe to initiatives to increase local safety, approved by the Police & Crime Commission. Those mentioned included Street Watch, Street Ranger, Neighbourhood Alert, Volunteers on Horseback, Farm Watch, Community Speed Watch and PCSO sponsorship.
Neighbourhood Watch can be more effective than dialling 101 as the co-ordinators know where to channel the information and 101 is not so well resourced as 999.
A question and answer session then ensued, chaired by Martin Heath and with a panel comprising Chris Heaton-Harris MP, Andy Crisp, Sam Dobbs, Lee McBride and Emily Evans (from the Office of the Police & Crime Commissioner).
Q What does Chris Heaton Harris think of sponsored PCSO’s?
A good idea they give an extra layer of policing. They are being used successfully in the Spratton Ward, at DIRFT and Crick, in Daventry town centre, in Woodford Halse and at Bugbrooke.
Q What does a PCSO cost?
Emily confirmed the cost at just under £37,500 per year which Rachel Dobbs clarified would equate to £23.88 per Long Buckby council tax payer on band D - ie, costing less than 49p per week based on this year’s figures.
Q What do you get for a sponsored PCSO?
(Emily) You get an officer for 37.5hrs per-week; sponsors can specify that priority be given to certain tasks or duties or times. The contracted shift hours of work are normally between 8am and midnight. If the officer is removed from Long Buckby for operational reasons (extremely unlikely) such as a terrorist alert or incident, the sponsor will not be charged for the absence. Businesses can be invited to contribute towards the cost of sponsored PCSO’s but not charged for on the business rates.
Q Who would request a sponsored PCSO?
(Chris) The Parish Council would ordinarily make the final decision / request as the only authority which could precept such an arrangement.
Q What do you think of private security firms instead of PCSO’s
(Chris) Not a lot! They will only do what they have specified by their sponsors and will ignore other concerns, they are not responsible to or trained by the police. Example given of a horror story in Frinton.
Q What powers do PCSO’s have?
(Sam) They have considerable powers including the power of detention for 30 mins but rarely use them relying instead on persuasion and education to resolve the problem. PCSO Kirsten's view was all about forming relationships to gain intelligence and information and reducing harm, preventing crime.
Q Does the County Council reorganisation affect the police?
(Chris) The only reason the Police budget is connected to the County Council is via the revenue collection service otherwise the services are separate so not affected by the situation at Northamptonshire County Council
Q Why do we need a PCSO for Long Buckby?
(Sam) Long Buckby is well placed to be serviced by criminals from several large cities with good transport links and three children’s homes to exploit. The statistics don’t seem to bear out the feel, and on the patch, Long Buckby is one of three large villages which probably has more going on under the surface than I’d like as the neighbourhood sergeant. It’s a safe place and we want to keep it that way.
A PCSO would increase the intelligence flow into the police to disrupt problems before they arise. They will also deal with domestic abuse, fraud, sexual abuse, drugs information, safeguarding of vulnerable people and educational projects in the community. At present we have one PCSO covering 37 villagesof Rural North.
Martin Heath asked the audience present to indicate whether they were in favour of a sponsored PCSO for Long Buckby. A show of hands showed an overwhelming majority in favour of having a sponsored PCSO. Martin then reminded us, though, that this may not be a fully representative sample of the village even though there was a very good number of people present. After all, this meeting could not make the decision.
Q Were the Police aware of drugs residue being left in the Co-Op car park?
Yes and the source has been identified.
Q What is the difference between a Special Constable and a PCSO?
A special has the full power of the police but being an unpaid volunteer can specify more where they will and will not work. A PCSO is directed and contracted as to the areas of work.
Unfortunately due to lack of time not all the emailed or verbal enquiries regarding questions were answered .
At the close of the meeting PCSO Craig Egdell introduced himself and reported that he covered 39 villages and that he started in the area in August and over the last 6 weeks had spent approx 6hrs in Long Buckby in that time he had gained 2 lots of drugs intel and 2 possible addresses for cuckooing.
Martin Heath thanked all the participants for their input and the meeting closed at 9.30pm