The second meeting in the newly formed Town Council Police Priorities Forum was held today on Zoom. Questions from members of the public were raised by councillors to Sgt Joe Piscina and also in attendance were Rob Semple and Victoria Whittlesea from Sedgemoor . At the meeting the Police confirmed that Town Centre and Youth anti-social behaviour were their two top priorities but also spoke about the great successes of the County Lines programme, which underpinned a lot of the causes of the above, and also tackled questions of traffic problems, increased Police resources, stop and search issues and Scams. In the interests of public safety and reassurance we have as near to verbatim a record of the meeting as possible.
Cllr Smedley ;–I want to start by asking a broad question about the situation in Bridgwater generally. And I want to start before I go to questions submitted by the public to ask about the incident reported yesterday outside Haygrove. At a public council meeting yesterday a member raised the issue that a major incident had occurred at Haygrove involving an attack by children on another and that Police were involved and knives and baseball bats were used. The information had been obtained from social media and, as is always the case, spread extremely quickly developing like a Chinese whisper reaching the usual ‘our town is the worst its ever been’ comments. With the decline of conventional media and journalistic standards and people feeling that facebook and twitter are their first port of call for news, yet with no quality control or factchecking, this is a major problem. If the Haygrove story is true we’d like to know what the Police are doing about it. If it isn’t true we’d like to know what we can do about the curse of social media. But before we go into the main issues, can you say whether Bridgwater is any different to any other town in the country and any worse than it has ever been in your knowledge??
JOE There was a reported incident at Haygrove. A fight between 2 youths. When school kicked out. School is aware and the beat team are working with them. But it’s a very minor incident. Typical of social media-damned if you do damned if you don’t. The PCSO team were there in a car. Log shows -one child sees a kids he thinks has a weapon-mum rings up-thinks there’s a knife-Police send new officers-social media kicks off- Suddenly perception has escalated. We patrolled-no knife- we follow up -it’s an isolated incident. No witnesses. PC Amy Burton is visiting the school. There are no concerns. The good thing is we were on patrol and we attended. Is Bridgwater lawless? We have issues with ASB but on the whole crime is down. Police are stretched, yes. There are incidents and we’re better at recording them. Social media feeds into scaremongering. There are fights at kicking out time in every town and city. The night time economy units are there to deal with them. We knew that the 10.00 curfew would mean problems because people would be the on street at same time. They get recorded on soc media and it makes it look bad but it isn’t worse than before. Bridgwater now is the safest its been in my 11 years at policing, we’re just better at recording these incidents. We have the best response times to emergency calls we’ve ever had. For example one mention of a knife and the police were there in 5 minutes . The investigation into the incident does continue and if any offences are confirmed we will deal accordingly.
CLLR BURROWS I don’t check Facebook because I’ve got a life. That was a false alarm then. So has anyone posted a rebuttal.?
JOE We’re working on this but we’re full of red tape. Nearly reached the point. Yes, we need an official Police Social media response capability. We aim to go live with Police Facebook accounts by December
CLLR SLOCOMBE I’m relieved to hear of this update. However, I spoke to chair of governors and we heard there were 7 police cars, another school was involved – a ‘special school’ , and there is a thorough investigation. The story has changed so you need to have a Facebook presence
JOE yes 2 pupils from another school were involved -but I used to see these fights at schools-competitive idiots and a bit of background….but no baseball bat or knife.
Questions submitted from the public;-
TOWN CENTRE ANTI SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR
1.;-The other Friday there was serious trouble in town with groups of youths. In all my years of living in the town centre, I’ve never seen anything that bad, even when following Bristol City and the football violence of the 1970s and 1980s, it was totally out of control. The police did turn up very quickly, it would be interesting to find out how many ASBOs that night were given out,?
- Regarding anti-social behaviour on Salmon Parade, East Quay and Blake Gardens.. Groups of drinkers are still gathering in large numbers. The other day I counted 15 people, one group on Salmon Parade another on East Quay. I did call the police to report this because there was no social distancing and they were shouting, throwing cans onto the riverbank and openly urinating. There was a lot of discussion about this incident on social media, the police on their facebook page said two fixed penalty notices had been given out, I really don’t think that just two fixed notices is really tackling the problem, it should have been a lot more fines. Why were more not given out that day?
- Are off licences the source of the problem? Should there be a licence review for town centre premises? Could the sale of individual cans of alcohol to street drinkers be prevented? Are the police gathering evidence against stores for a licence review?
JOE We work closely with licenses team. Yes opening hours are a problem – 1000 becomes the old 1100. Things get busy for a 15-20 minute flashpoint. There’s a mix of youths being out and this mixes with normal pub problems. That’s what happened on the weekend in question. There has been a fight. On the 2nd Friday there was a very nasty fight but no one involved wanted us to do anything. However, we do have really good CCTV and also 8 suspects for public order offences, which should be assault. We have interviewed 3, with more to do. We will make the charging decision and we do want to force the matter – but these things do take time. People go their seperate ways then come back next day. They are under18 so we need appropriate adults. Also, we have time to get CCTV as witnesses aren’t forthcoming. With 8 suspects 5 are likely to be charged but investigations are not complete
In terms of street drinkers -they are a problem. It wasn’t so much of a problem just hanging round but now with covid it is. We have issued 15 fines for covid breaches – hanging round in groups of more than 6. We did 2 more yesterday as we’re now in lockdown. Some in the town centre have had up to 4 fines each and will be going to court. However, this is new legislation and we haven’t gone to court yet. But this could mean up to £2000 in fines already so we need to see what example the courts set. I dealt with 3 of these incidents personally.
We have background info on 43 offenders linked to youth related incidents. Regarding ASBOS, well, they don’t exist any more. We cant give an order on the back of 1 incident so we need a wide ranging set of evidence. We’ve spoken to all parents and yes some are still coming out during lockdown and so the fines sent to the parents. Of the 43, we have started ASB contracts with 16 youths. Of that 16 we are issuing 5 with community protection warnings – this means we set a standards to be out of town by a certain time and if they breech it then the next level is CPN (Community Protection Notice). This builds up to the old style ASBO but its better as they go through the court quicker. If they go to a certain area at a certain time they’ll be arrested. 43 people, 16 will have conditions 5 or 6 will be processed. By end of year we will have plenty of orders in place.
TOWN CLERK –I reported an incident. 15 + people clearly drinking alcohol, drunk ,hurling abuse at an old lady and got abuse myself. I called it in. The Police are rightly issuing fines but without legislation they would actually be legally entitled to be there in a group. Makes town look bad. This Lady was simply minding her own business. What more can be done?
JOE – Using the same methods as with youth re ASB powers to get CPW then CPN. Using fines first now because that’s easy but it builds up evidence. Can’t make promises because its so new and we don’t know what courts will do. Early days and testing the law and will become case law in this crazy period we’re living in. I don’t understand what the lure is for that bridge though. It’s easy when they actually break laws
CLLR SLOCOMBE CPWs and CPNs?! With these continual offenders, why cant we just hoik em into police station and leave them there for a few hours, let them know what the real world is all about. You’ve got the cellspace. These young offenders know nothings going to happen. I wonder if an old fashioned radical approach might be better.
JOE Well, any cop, any sergeant or inspector, that’s what we want to do. But we’ve been weakened down the years by regulations. Yes, it takes too long to deal with people but our hands are tied. Changes come from Government level and our arrests then dropped off. We have to deal with people in a proper manner and there are safeguarding issues.
ROB SEMPLE – Regarding youths, there is a multi agency approach and it’s working well in Yeovil, so we’re trying it here. The Together Team is going out to try to engage with young people to work with them. Particularly in the weeks Christmas. Also, Youth Unlimited will host drop-in sessions and target core group. This will be run from Baptist church with access to food and hot drinks. Funding is in place for 12 weeks. It will kick in shortly. Also the street drinking – what the Town Clerk saw was exactly the things that don’t get reported -Often when people call in stuff there’s actually nothing in the reports we can use. When we go back to complainants we cant find what exactly is being done wrong. Doing stuff really wrong is what needs reporting. One thing we are working on is talking to the Town Deal fund regarding funding Street Enforcement Officers for Bridgwater who could engage with these groups- SDC liveried up people will increase a perception of improvement and also can tackle litter and dog fouling plus link with businesses and work some evenings.
CLLR PEARCE – Regarding the street drinking and the scenario that the Town Clerk witnessed , is licensing included in multi-agency team? It can’t be right that certain establishments continue to sell alcohol to people already drunk.. Although the danger is just displacement. Obviously there is something thats a lure for that location.
JOE Licensing team form part of the weekly priorities meeting. We did take an off licence to review a year back but we lost it. Yes, they buy alcohol but they’re also at that location when it isn’t not open on Sundays. It is a concern. If it closed they would just go to a different location to buy drink – a supermarket, nearby houses. You can buy alcohol and get drunk of course but they shouldn’t sell it to a drunk person. And that doesn’t happen so often.
CLLR BURROWS – Rob Semple reminds us that ASB isn’t just young people with cans of drinks, it’s also older people too. I’m more angry at litter, and dog foulers and engine idlers. But it is a problem of course. But I have to challenge Cllr Slocombe, there’s also a lot of evidence that throwing people in jail makes them come out worse. So things like the Drop-in at the Baptist church is good. There are causes in society much higher up to blame here. There is also the problem of shops and banks in the town centre where workers at their place of work are being threatened . Also that cash machines are in the vicinity and people withdrawing money are immediately approached for their money. Maybe parks should be drink zones? People hammer on show windows and this is intimidating. Cant special measures be taken to make some part of the pavement out of bounds?
JOE No, that’s unrealistic. But repeat offenders are being targeted .1 individual will get a CPO to prevent him going into town. We’re awaiting court-that’s most of the problem. He wont be allowed in so it’s a good outcome. A 2nd individual is targeted now. Its off putting. Things will come together as court dates catch up. 15 are likely to go thru courts.
CLLR LOVERIDGE– In the next 12 months the Celebration Mile from railway to docks will get major improvements. So we will get town bridge as a focus-people will come into town then meet this ASB on town bridge and that won’t look good for our town.
JOE I agree. But it could be kids or it could be a rugby team, I know this is intimidating.
CLLR LERRY In trying to promote Bridgwater as a safe place to shop and enjoy cafes and restaurants and as we open up again, people need to feel safe in their workplaces and doing their shopping. They need to see more Police in those streets
CLLR SMEDLEY Not just workers and shoppers but people who live in the town centre need to feel safe in their homes.
JOE The Town Centre is the top of my priority list. I would love to free up more cops to patrol but with our Response Units we know you will get a cop on the scene in 5 minutes. We are struggling because we are servicing so many calls – but we hope to increase it. My promise to you is that the Town Centre will be my priority.
CLLR SLOCOMBE I’m not saying public floggings but I would like to show the Police some support. There isn’t a deterrent. But people somehow have to learn there’s somethings you can do and some things you cant. Its affecting businesses. Its an awful feeling in town now.
4 is it true that the police have been around a lot more lately specifically booking people for COVID violation?
5 Why is ‘Rocketman’ allowed to trade during a lockdown? Although the website is saying people are to order their fireworks and collect at the door, surely this is trading? If this was good practice I’m sure other gift shops, clothing shops, shoe shops would like to do the same.
JOE I know its busier but there have been some 2500 more calls to deal with due to–and that’s a lot. A lot of people reporting their neighbours and we’re dealing with 36% of that. I’m glad people have seen more cops on streets. I put in requests for resources and we’ve had for instance mounted sections down too. But thhere’s high demand in other areas, for instance Glastonbury and Central Bristol are high demand areas. Regarding the Fireworks shop yes if you can take pre-orders online and then stand at the door and hand out or do delivery then yes you can trade. That’s the Governments stance.
ROB SEMPLE – yes , I confirm, click and collect is valid. Also, Sedgemoor is best place to deal with trading breeches.
6 Can the police do more to combat the speeding drivers that also make a huge noise going down Eastover showing off. Maybe more CCTV and advertising might assist
7 Parking on Anson Way for the school drop off and pick up is getting chaotic and dangerous. Too many near misses and illegal parking. Some presence around 3pm in particular would be ideal, either by a patrol car or even a traffic warden just to issue a warning as sooner or later a child will be hit.
8 Exhaust and Idling – in particular the small number of people in Bridgwater who have those noisy exhausts that announce their behaviours across most of the town. I would have thought that they would be easy to locate, identify and deal with. Secondary to that is idlers – I work all day with the shop door open and we breathe the fumes from Eastover street and particularly, we breathe the unnecessary idlers fumes. There is a habit of people to sit on the single yellow line while their spouse does the shopping, looking at phones and idling. On the 30 minute spaces, the same happens, but for longer. I rarely see police officers on Eastover but just a word in idler;s ears would gently change behaviors. The most awesome idlers are the ones who are not sat in their car, they have gone shopping, leaving their engine running.
JOE –Yes Police are looking at idling drivers and speedy drivers, but we have to manage expectation and it’[s lower down priorities list-but important. A lot is on Bristol road where incidents are high, but we will focus on Eastover more. Idling, yes It’s a ticket-able offence and we can use PCSOs more. School pick-ups is something we are on to. And we will increase patrols on identified locations. It’s more difficult because of covid. There’s more cars because of greater fear.
CLLR LERRY Regarding Anson Way, we’re looking at a ‘home zone’ to slow up traffic and to share with pedestrians and cyclists. Do the Police get involved in these?
JOE Not normally
CLLR PEARCE – For clarity, I have reported the Anson Way issue thru county-is that wrong?
JOE The Police will deal with dangerous parking or obstructions. The local council (in this case SCC) for double yellows etc. This is why I put PCSOs outside.
CLLR BURROWS – Polluting the environment should be as challengeable as any ASB I think. But regarding idling, can you ticket if no occupant? Also the noise problem of boy racers is transformed recently in Eastover – with the gate shut on Leggar, a camera and inspectors introduced and it’s been better
CLLR LOVERIDGE – The speeding is horrendous in Eastover. In Polden st we’re putting a 20mph limit and I was driving down there the other day but people were flashing me and I was abused.
JOE its crazy – that’s a public order issue. If we have number plates we can deal with it. Speeding is an issue but not isolated to that area its everywhere across Avon and Somerset. Will pass this to our traffic unit
CLLR SLOCOMBE There are increased cars at schools and so we need more help. We need ticketing officers up there. We need more PCSOs – and not just Haygrove- all schools
JOE We are doing it on a rota basis
POLICE NUMBERS & PRIORITIES
- Where are we with Police numbers? How many police officers do we actually have on the street? I think the PCSOs are great, but not a lot of use to us if they are in Cheddar and by moving from place to place makes it hard for them to ‘get to know’ and build a rapport with either local residents, communities or even the ones causing the problems. “are there more police coming in and how many?” .
10 Can Regular patrols be increased with larger numbers? I feel there are, lots more police cars driving about which feels positive but is it true?.
11 We are all aware that the Police are severely stretched regarding manpower and resources and the Home Secretary has now asked that more stringent measures be taken towards rule breakers. Yet, we have witnessed numerous occasions on Salmon Parade on which a “softly-softly” approach has resulted in nothing except scorn poured on the Police as they walk away. Could you stop that approach and take more forceful action against the groups that continue to flout the rules with total impunity.
12 What is being done to address the disproportionality of stop and searches under Section 60 Criminal Justice & Public Order Act across Avon & Somerset, particularly for black people? ‘In 2018/19, and despite a fall in overall volume of stops and searches, black people were searched at just over seven times the rate of white people. People of mixed backgrounds were searched at four and a half times the rate of whites (an increase on previous years). Asians were searched at just over one and a half times the rate of whites. Only people from Chinese or other ethnic minority backgrounds were searched at a lower rate than white people across Avon and Somerset. In the period April 2016 – March 2017 just 8% of stop and searches conducted under PACE Section 1 lead to an arrest.’ https://www.stop-watch.org/your-area/area/avon-somerset
13 Police priority areas were identified recently as including High street and Broadway – Are these really the top priorities?? Surely area priorities must include Salmon Parade, the entire Town Bridge area and Blake Gardens,
14 We would like CCTV in King Street, how do we get it?
15 The brazeness of the drug dealing to the side of Nationwide even during the day is quite astounding, absolutely no attempt to hide it. Be worth the police speaking to the staff in Nationwide as I’m sure they’ve witnessed quite a lot and certainly it is very intimidating for their customers.
JOE We have some big numbers now coming through. But with some delay. My Local team has a Sgt + 8 PCS and then a supervisor with 9 PCSOs and second team same. That’s a decent number for Sedgemoor. Then there’s the Response Teams – they have a big increase of numbers. Each Sgt has 12-18 PCs on this. This massively changes the picture. When we’re up to full strength this will give us more time to patrol and problem solve. However, it’s all happened at once with Covid there’s large number of calls and demands. PCs are spread evenly across the teams and different Beat areas so that’s why we’re seeing more cops. As we deal with less logs we will see them on the streets more.
Our main aim is to increase regular patrols. Regarding ‘Response’– on average we will be there in 4 and half minutes
Our priority is ASB – but what people don’t see so much is the County lines drugs operations –and its a massive issue. What you often see is the resulting ASB from it,But over the last year theres been some really good wins. Local teams working closely with the MET and we’ve stopped loads of lines coming in to Bridgwater.
Regarding the section 60 issue – a senior officer has to authorise this – we hardly issue these – so its incorrect. But we do have stop and search for weapons and drugs. That’s what we use and we use it just on people targeted for drugs or weapons. Its all intel led. Figures seem disproportionate but we don’t have any complaints in this area about stop search. In order for my officers to do stop search it has to be intel led but it needs proper grounds 1. Drug dealing location and 2 I can smell cannabis or 3 I’ve seen a deal -intel and grounds -without that we don’t do stop search, as a result we’ve closed 7 drug addresses and closed 2 lines and made hell of a lot of arrests- seized a kilo of spice that didn’t make our streets- we don’t see it any more- we stopped it. And we’ve just seized a huge amount of cocaine. That’s our priority because the knock-on is the ASB ..
ROB SEMPLE CCTV is really effective. Well, it’s not good with car issues as there’s no sound or speed, but it can get dangerous driving. They’re a tool but not a solution. Re town cover- it’s pretty well covered and options for more come are down to cost. A new camera and column is about £15,000 then add maintenance, so a specific need needs identifying then if funding is available through the council could choose to support a location.
JOE Regarding priorities, we are very keen to work closely and get good communications with Town Council – but we have to pick and choose – for me its town centre because of high footfall of visitors so ASB in town and youths is number 1 and 2. County lines is the hidden thing and its big because off the back of this is vulnerability, mental healtH
16 CAB Citizens Advice Sedgemoor has been campaigning form 18 months on the subject of Scams. We see a fairly small but horrifying/heartbreaking number of people with Scam problems. Meaning frauds against individuals. Main points of this are:Number of Scams detected is negligible. Number committed is HUGE. About a third of all crime.Number of police deployed on the subject in Avon & Somerset – 11 (at the last count, out of about 7000 staff). Action Fraud – can take NO ACTION. A con trick in itself. Interesting insight – the victims tend to be the vulnerable groups. The offenders aren’t usually vulnerable. It is a form of bullying. A common example is older people tricked into giving up their pension lump sums. Local officers will say – not our problem. Action Fraud would say – we are only contracted to record offences – not to prevent or detect them. In fairness, they are often difficult to detect – if, for example, the scammer is in another country. So whose problem is it ??? Constitutionally it is the Chief Constable’s, and he wants to contract it out because he has plenty of other problems competing for attention. We would not argue that Scams deserves a top priority – but the victims deserve better than this !
JOE This is a big issue for vulnerable people. These scams are massive. They can be foreign based and organised crime at its best so well beyond police forces. All fraud from international to doorstep feeds into Action Fraud who can share the info and ID offenders – This info goes back to the force and vulnerable victims will get a visit from PCSO. Action Force’s purpose is to share info with the entire force. And we will assign an officer. Its not an outsourced thing at all. They manage the intel and share it with us. We will look after victims and make arrests..
JOE yes rural crime is now a massive business. We have a rural task force as farmyards are massive really big business . We have Farmwatch and rural beat teams and rural affairs unit, that’s big. The other thing is check and test scams-people ring to self isolate and offer scam cheap tests. New ways to dupe the vulnerable to make money. We are working with neighbourhood watch co-ordinators to warn this,. Never give bank details!
CLLR SMEDLEY We have managed to keep exactly to one and a half hours and covered everything submitted with some full and reassuring answers. Thanks to the public sending in questions and for Joe Piscina to attend today and discuss priorities with us. We will discuss this further at Town Council and agree that set of priorities with you.