Another busy week in Essex
This will be another important and busy week for the policing of our county. Essex Police officers and PCSOs continue to work professionally and tirelessly, day and night, to keep us all safe, ably supported by their police staff colleagues.
On Wednesday, I will be making the case for a small increase of about 10 pence a week in the portion of council tax that pays for policing and community safety to the Police and Crime Panel. I believe this is the right and responsible decision, and you can see the details of my case here. The Police and Crime Panel meeting will be held in public from 2:30pm, on Wednesday January 29, in County Hall, Chelmsford. I encourage everyone to come along to the meeting, listen to the debate and ask your own questions.
My week began with an early morning meeting with members of our business community, an event organised by Bill Pirie and Denise Rossiter, Chair and Chief Executive of the Essex Chambers of Commerce. Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh was present, and we have been working hard to ensure there is an increased focus on crime against our business community.
In the Police and Crime Plan for Essex, I stated that I will seek to ensure that the impact of crime on a business is taken into account by the police and more widely by the criminal justice system. So, I’m delighted that the new national Victims Code enables businesses to make Victim Impact Statements directly to courts where appropriate.
I have created a Business Forum, with representation from the business community, Essex Police and partner agencies. I’ve asked Essex Police to produce some new means of measuring business crime in our county, such as looking at how often businesses are repeat victims. Early suggestions are that there has been a reduction in the number of crimes where a business was a repeat victim, and this is welcome. Less welcome is the increase in shoplifting of 12.5 per cent, a total of 720 offences, comparing April to November 2013 with the same period in 2012.
Eight out of the ten police districts have a Business Against Crime group and five of the police districts have a Town Link Radio system in place. Retail Watch groups are able to share information and intelligence about prolific shoplifters on a confidential basis. I will encourage Essex Police to continue to develop Business Watch schemes appropriate to local needs.
I also recognise that some types of crime are becoming more prevalent and businesses can be the victims of internet-enabled crime and fraud. My judgement is that there needs to be a greater focus on fraud and internet-enabled crime, encompassing incidents where businesses are the victims and those cases where ordinary members of the public are targeted.
On another matter, you may remember the case of a man who received a caution for a burglary in Galleywood, Chelmsford, early last year. The caution was reviewed, and the man subsequently pleaded guilty to the charge of burglary. On Friday January 24, Ireneusz Blaszczyk was sentenced to nine months imprisonment at Chelmsford Crown Court.
The burglary was very distressing for the victims. However, their determined and persistent efforts played an important role in ensuring that the man responsible was brought before our courts, and I commend their perseverance.
The case also received extensive media coverage, in particular from the Essex Chronicle. I was very clear from the beginning that Essex Police needed to look at the original investigation, and review how the case had been handled. My judgement remains that a burglary committed by a stranger should normally be tried in court, when there is sufficient evidence.
I spoke at the time with Chief Constable Jim Barker-McCardle, and a full review of cautions was conducted by Essex Police. I was broadly reassured by that review which established that the original caution in this case was exceptional.
In June 2013, an Out of Court Disposals Panel, chaired by Lindsay Whitehouse, Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, was created. The Panel consists of a group of criminal justice experts, including Magistrates, Essex Police, Essex Probation Service, the CPS, the Youth Offending Service, Victim Support and the Independent Advisory Group, who review the use of cautions here in Essex in an independent process. We are one of the first counties anywhere in the country to introduce an independent review, and around five per cent of cautions are examined at each of the quarterly meetings. The group highlights best practice, and also identifies areas where the use of cautions should be subject to further review. I am particularly delighted that our Magistrates are fully involved in this process, and confident that Essex is leading the way here in creating an independent scrutiny process regularly reviewing cautions, fixed penalty notices and community resolutions.