Following last months revelations about police numbers and force morale in Bridgwater,Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset , Sue Mountstevens, was asked to attend the December 3rd meeting of Bridgwater Town Council to set the record straight…if she could.
Sue Mountstevens, who was accompanied by Inspector Andrew Pritchard and Town Beat Sergeant Ryan Edwards, said she would talk strategically but leave operational matters to the local officers. The opening question from Cllr Mick Lerry (Victoria) put the key point about the 50% drop in numbers to her and how this could provide full cover for the people of Bridgwater.
Will Police numbers be affected?
The PCC explained that she had to produce a police and crime plan, and had set her precept for this at 1.99 but her funding was also subject to Government cutbacks. Although the Chancellor had said he wasn’t going ahead with Police budget cuts at last weeks announcement, that same afternoon he had sent all PCCs a letter there would in effect be a 1.3% cut as spending was re-orientated towards armed response, counter terrorism and border controls and therefore they still had to make savings. This means they are going through another review. Her approach would be “.. to identify areas of demand and apply resources accordingly. For instance shift times would be more targeted so that officers are working during hours of high demand. We simply don’t have the staff available to just slot in and so response had to be demand led.”
She also said that she would be focusing on key areas “child sex exploitation, cyber crime and vulnerable people” and look at “collaborative working with other forces in particular in relation to organised crime gangs from metropolitan areas that were targeting rural areas.”
Will Bridgwater Fair be properly policed?
Cllr Brian Smedley (Westover) asked “At a public meeting this week the Police said these cutbacks could affect Bridgwater Fair which is a major event and obviously needs proper policing and so people need to be reassured that this is not the case and that any review will ensure it remains adequately policed”. The PCC passed the question to Inspector Pritchard who said “We are reviewing the Fair along with the whole force area but no Police will be cut next year. Local beat officers and PCSOs will continue to police the Fair”
Police responses -are they adequate?
Cllr Adrian Moore (Hamp) challenged the PCC about the state of Police response to calls from the public after a crime and asked for reassurance that these would be taken seriously and not just ‘answered with a text message’.. The PCC replied that “..the Police can’t go to everybody so they have to assess the harm, risk and especially the vulnerability of the victim and prioritise their response. If a burglar is in your house the Police will come immediately but if you;ve returned from holiday to find you’ve been burgled then this is less urgent”
Why is half the town identified as ‘rural’?
Cllr Peter Johnstone (Wyndham) said “The town beat stops at Penel orlieu crossroads and the west of the town is classified as rural beat and run from Minehead and we never see a policeman now-how can that be right?” Sgt Edwards said it wasn’t right. “It’s not managed from Minehead. It’s rural in name only and is still covered. You won’t see so many Police only because the area covered is bigger.”
No replies to emails?
Cllr Dave Loveridge (Eastover) asked why he had never received any replies to his emails from the PCC. Mrs Mountstevens replied “I get 12,000 emails and they all get an acknowledgement and I always reply. If you haven’t had a reply I can only apologise” She said her email address was email@example.com.
Disproportionate resources to Bristol?
Cllr Liz Leavy (Wyndham) said she had been a Magistrate for 30 years and had seen the area covered get bigger and bigger and so was concerned that rural areas eventually suffered in favour of urban areas and that “Bristol seemed to be all consuming”. The PCC said this was an important message for her but that clearly Bristol got 40% of the crime and had to have the correct resources. Nevertheless she said “Somerset has the lowest crime levels ever and the highest number of PCSOs in any area. Also crime is changing and people are concluding why risk themselves robbing a bank when they can rob you more safely online”
Is drug related crime on the increase?
Cllr Pat Morley (Westover) said “The Mercury ran a headline saying one needle was found in a playground – but that doesn’t sound too bad considering we used to get stories like this on a regular basis. So is drug use on the increase or not?” Mrs Mountstevens said “crack cocaine and heroin is a greater problem and particularly because it is becoming purer and therefore causes more damage. The other problem is Legal Highs which are more widely available but can cause psychosis and lead to self harming” Sgt Edwards added “Legal Highs are a big problem because the Police are powerless to stop them, however, legislation is coming in that will help us. On the subject of needles there are considerably less.”
Will you stand up for neighbourhood policing?
Cllr Kathy Pearce (Westover) said “When I was first elected in the mid 1990s busses wouldn’t go to hamp in the evenings and it felt like the police were losing control after dark, but then the Labour Government put in higher levels of funding to the police, introduced PCSOs and introduced neighbourhood policing so things got better to such an extent that Policing wasn’t even an issue at the 2010 election. Now it seems to be going backwards again with all the cutbacks so I urge you to protect neighbourhood policing” The PCC said “We need to work closely with our partners and shrink together not shrink apart. I’m a strong advocate of neighbourhood policing, it’s all about policing by consent. Trust and confidence.”
Will the Police cope with rising population figures?
The Mayor Cllr Leigh Redman (Dunwear) said “It’s good to hear that Police numbers will remain the same” but Mrs Mountstevens interjected “I didn’t say that. I can’t say that until the review on 17th December.” Cllr Redman continued “With the population of the town increasing on average 750 a month die to Hinkley Point it will be crucial that Police numbers don’t just stay the same but are increased”
Inspector Pritchard said “There is a sergeant, 2 beat officers and a PCSO provided by EDF already and we have a dedicated office Sgt Crago working on this”
The Mayor thanked the PCC and the Police officers for their attendance and pointed out that our next meeting on January 14th would feature Sgt Crago as a guest. Members of the public are reminded that if they wish to speak at council meetings they need to register in advance with the Town Clerk.