Bridgwater Town Council hosted the quarterly Police Forum meeting last Wednesday the 31st May 2023 and unsurprisingly a number of issues important to many local residents were raised by members present. The meeting was chaired by Cllr Brian Smedley who with Cllr Liz Marsh and Cllr Tim Mander head up the councilor Police Forum, whilst the Police were represented by Neighbourhood Sergeant Kat Forest; Team Leader of PCSO’s Lora Bray and Community Safety Manager (Somerset Area North) Rob Semple. To give the Police an opportunity to research issues questions were given in advance. Brian Smedley kicked off the session by raising the issue of anti social behavior by school aged children at the YMCA. Although quite a new issue to the Police progress had been made by identifying individuals and working with local schools whilst more work needs to be done the parties concerned were hopeful of a positive outcome.
Cllr Tim Mander then raised the ongoing issue of Street Drinkers who gather outside the Nationwide and adjacent Charity Shop. The problem revolves around the perception of threat. The Police response was this was tricky as quite often a crime hasn’t been committed. Whilst it can be very intimidating the wardens regularly in the area and are building relationships and being received well by the public. The only crime is if threatening people or refusing to surrender alcohol unfortunately undesirable behaviour is not enough they have to actually commit a crime for Police action to be taken. Once again crimes needed to be reported. The reality is that people causing the problems get wise to the system though and just buy one drink at a time which they either quickly finish as the Police arrive or just hand over the remains of that drink. When Police leave they go and buy one more drink from the local shop(s) and the cycle continues. The Police and Somerset Council accepted the need to get shops on board to not sell single alcoholic drinks and they were looking at trials in other parts of the Country where licensing conditions were put in place to stop single alcoholic sales.
Drug use in Blake Gardens was raised as a continuing problem but again must be properly reported each time with as much detail as possible.
Northgate Yard – once again Tim Mander raised a concern over the Polices own statistics which showed 12 reported incidents of ASB at Northgate Yard over the last three months. Clearly this is not something that wants to get out of hand although the Police said that since Allstars introduced security things had improved and Scotts also take a fairly hardline on poor behavior.
With the Town Council’s plans to re-open Recreation a couple of members had concerns regarding Open Session held the previous week. Rob Semple advised a firm hand was a need and you had to be on top of the behaviour from the start, explaining clearly what will not be tolerated but reward considerate/good behavior. It was essential to engage with the community and it is hoped that a space for the Police could be created within the Re-Creation building
A recent break in to the former Legion Building in Castle Street was highlighted, Lora Bray explained that Police don’t go in abandoned buildings and rarely chase the young people doing it for good health and safety rasons. However they were aware of a large group of kids (20-25) that can be separated into 2 different groups and a third hanger on group. Other areas were the back of the old cinema and Docks/Bowerings site, again Police aware – talking to kids involved, wardens to patrol and are hoping situation will improve.
The Meads/St Matthews Field – Brian Smedley raised the issue of camping and problems with human excrement. He asked Rob Semple what the protocol now for dealing with issues like this. Rob Semple explained that Somerset Council were testing a new legal process (slower than previously under SDC but will hopefully get quicker) advice and support always offered first with Homes in Sedgemoor and the Outreach Team
The issue of support to retailers was raised and Rob Semple said that his team were looking to start a ShopWatch that will work similarly to the PubWatch scheme where those shops that sign up will have a radio and can contact each other for support and awareness – radios (£25/month) will also link to the Police and the Wardens to get assistance quicker
Finally some questions about incidents up on Bower were raised on behave of Cllr Richard Morgan related to parking adjacent to a school entrance but the questions weren’t really tackled due to there being not enough information and not being appropriate for a public forum. Lora Bray stated that PCSOs regularly go to Parkway and BCA and haven’t experienced any complaints regarding parking and hostility by local residents although parking is an issue generally at school drop off and pick up times. As Richard wasn’t at the meeting there wasn’t much more to be added other than the Police didn’t think it was gangs rather one specific person and it was being dealt with.
So a lot of points were covered and the need for dialogue was evident as was the need to encourage detailed reporting of crimes and incidents.