An evening meeting in Basildon town centre on 18 February allowed the community to discuss policing and community safety issues across the district with Police and Crime Commissioner Nick Alston, Chief Inspector Josie Hayes – the Basildon District Commander – and Bala Mahendran, Chief Executive for Basildon Borough Council and Chair of the Basildon Community Safety Partnership (CSP). The meeting began with an overview of mixed crime trends in the district, including an 18 per cent increase in shoplifting, a decrease in theft from cars and vans of over 13 per cent, a significant decrease in non-domestic burglaries but a 25 per cent increase in reporting of serious sexual offences. It is thought this latter increase may be due in part to the ‘Savile effect’ and greater public confidence in reporting historical offences. Throughout the evening the audience asked their own questions directly of Nick Alston, Josie Hayes and members of the CSP. Key questions that were asked at the event included:
What is the future of PCSOs?
There was a good discussion which made clear how much local communities value PCSOs, and how much local knowledge they possess. Both the Chief Constable and the PCC have stated that PCSOs are integral to the local policing model, but financial challenges mean that the number of PCSOs has fallen across the county.
The PCC talked about being in Mersea recently and spotted a PCSO operating a police surgery in the local library. It gave the public a chance to talk to their local policing team in another way.
Nick Alston and Josie Hayes praised the work of PCSOs and stressed the need for them to be a key part of the local policing team.
Members of the public can put questions about PCSOs and other local policing issues directly to the Chief Constable at the Essex Police Challenge on February 27 (click here for details http://ow.ly/tOlAJ). Get your question in now!
How do the police deal with domestic abuse?
The PCC has made domestic abuse the only crime type which is an Area of Focus in the Police and Crime Plan for Essex. Josie Hayes and Nick Alston spoke of the sheer volume of cases of domestic abuse, with around 20 burglaries a day across Essex, and around 80 domestic abuse incidents reported to Essex Police every day. Almost half of all rapes in Essex occur in the family home.
Nick added, “We must make it easier for victims of domestic abuse to know how they can get support and build their confidence to seek police help if appropriate.”
He drew attention to an innovative programme in Braintree, supported with PCC money, to train hairdressers to support women who may be suffering from domestic abuse. This is an approach that could be adopted across Essex. Please see full story below.
Can you tell me more about your New Initiatives Fund?
During 2013-14, the PCC allocated £500,000 to the New Initiatives Fund. This money has been used to support a wide range of groups delivering services in each of the eight areas of focus of the Police and Crime Plan to reduce crime and improve the safety of our communities. The PCC intends to allocate £300,000 to the New Initiatives Fund in 2014-15.
Details of grants made can be seen on the PCC website: https://www.essex.pfcc.police.uk/income-and-expenditure/new-initiatives-fund/
Nick Alston said, “We want to make a difference to Essex by working with groups that have energy and enthusiasm and want to make a difference to their local communities. Money is tight for many groups, and a small grant from our New Initiatives Fund to a voluntary organisation or a local community safety group can really help.”
I’m worried about the part-night street lighting?
The decision to introduce part-night street lighting in many parts of Essex was made by the County Council. The pilot projects in Maldon and Uttlesford have not resulted in any increase in crime, but all parts of our county are different and Basildon has a large and thriving night time economy.
Nick Alston said, “It may be that consideration should be given to creating ‘safe corridors’ to enable people working in or enjoying Basildon’s busy night life to return safely to their residential homes. I’m pleased that the County Council has decided that major street junctions will remain lit, because I’m concerned about the potential road safety implications if people are driving in busy areas with no street lighting.”
Both Essex Police and the PCC will continue to gather evidence in areas where the street lights have been switched off, and if – over time – there is hard evidence of crime increasing in a particular area where the lights are now off and there seems to be a causal link, then this will be raised with the County Council.
Why do police stations such as Laindon, from which officers operate, not have front counter open to the public?
There was a lively debate around the fact that Laindon, like many police buildings across Essex, is a base from which police officers operate but is not open to the public.
Both the Basildon District Commander and the PCC explained that creating and staffing a front counter open to the public was costly and potentially diverted resources away from police operational activity. It was also the case that “footfall”, the number of people attending police front counters across Essex, was very low and the Essex Police Evolve team was currently gathering evidence of public visits to police stations as part of their overall strategy for the force.
A member of the public made the argument that police staff could be working from the front counter whilst also being available to engage or speak with any visitors. Nick Alston spoke of the importance of modernising contact between the police and public, and making best use of technology.