I’ve been a bit quiet on here recently. Since the local elections, things have been pretty busy as we’ve been allocated our areas of responsibility, and the various committees have been divvied up between us. And for anyone who’s been asleep for the last few months, we’ve also had the European elections. I will go into the areas of responsibility I now have, and the work I’m doing on the various committees I sit on, in more detail in my next blog post. For this blog, I wanted to talk about policing.
Since I was elected, I’ve been on two ride-alongs with the neighbourhood policing team. One of the biggest concerns residents have been telling me is the rise in anti-social behaviour, and the lack of visibility of the police. I too share these concerns, and have become increasingly worried, especially since the knife attack outside the station last month and the assault just outside the town centre last week in broad daylight. I wanted to try and understand from the perspective of the police what is going on.
My first ride-along was on a Friday during the daytime. I had to drive over to Loddon Valley Police Station in Lower Earley to meet the team who would take me out for the day. There in itself lies a problem – Wokingham Town does not have a Police station anymore. I have read many social media posts from residents about the lack of police station in the town, and it has also been mentioned on the doorstep several times. Please believe me when I tell you that the front-line police officers are as equally frustrated by this. My understanding is that the closure was for financial reasons, but it has had a huge knock on effect on the effectiveness of policing. Our local police teams are not able to achieve as much during their shifts because they waste so much time going back and forth to Loddon Valley; time which could be used proactively patrolling. I was given a scenario by one of the officers. Police officers are supposed to work in pairs (although this isn’t always the case anymore due to numbers of officers being so low), and if an officer is taking a statement, or gathers some evidence, they have to take it back to the station, write it up and log it. The other officer in the pair has to go back with them, and wait until they’re done before going back out on patrol. When the station was in the town centre, the other officer, whilst waiting for their colleague could quite easily go out and patrol the town centre on foot for a few minutes. Now they have to sit and wait at Loddon Valley (Earley is covered by a different team) for their colleague to finish, plus time is wasted driving back and forth. As a direct result of the closure of the police station, the officers spend less time patrolling our streets.
During my first ride-along we began by driving around Emmbrook, Woosehill, Evendons East, the town centre and Norreys. We then spent a large part of the morning in Woosehill. After driving up the full length of the spine road and along many of the side roads, we parked up at Morrisons and went on foot. We walked around the field behind Morrisons, and through the various footpaths around the estate. I didn’t expect to see much action on a Friday daytime, and I didn’t, although we saw quite a lot of evidence of drug use. It did give me the opportunity though to discuss some of the problems many residents in Woosehill have been facing. The car theft problems had recently been taking place, but I was pleased to hear that the offender had been caught and arrested. There are however a group of people causing further problems in the community, and the police are aware of who they are and trying to gather evidence in order to build a case for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
We then spent most of the afternoon in Norreys, although we did take a stroll through Latimer Park in Emmbrook ward through to the bowling alley. This is a known spot for trouble, and again we found evidence of drug use, not just in the field and by the bridges, but actually in the children’s play area, plus an abandoned bike. In Norreys, the officers were on the look out for particular vehicles that they know are related to drug rings in the area. They spotted one car parked that was on their radar, but there was no action, so after some time of waiting and watching, we drove on.
The second time I was due to go out with the officers was on a Saturday night. It was on one of the very warm weekends we had a few weeks ago, but when I turned up, they had to inform me that all the officers were dispatched so no one could take me out. There had been a serious robbery happen, plus a large number of minor crimes that meant they were working at full capacity. I rearranged for last night (Saturday 15th June). The officer I was supposed to go out with wasn’t there as he had just made an arrest (drugs related), but there were two other officers who offered to take me out.
Rather than go out on patrol this time, which is what the officers wanted to do, we were dispatched to Norreys again where there had been an incident that morning. The officers were tasked with viewing CCTV footage where available and interviewing residents by going door to door. The idea was to get as much evidence as possible to help build a case for the CPS. I spent quite a lot of time in the office at Sainsbury’s viewing the CCTV footage, but it was just as well we did, as we got some good footage that was burnt onto a disc and taken as evidence. We then knocked on the doors of some of the residents and managed to get a couple of witness statements.
After this, we drove back to Loddon Valley with the evidence so that it could be logged, by which time it was around 10pm. The officers had started their shift at 2pm and this was their first opportunity for a break and something to eat. They never got the chance to patrol that evening.
I know there is a lot of frustration amongst residents about lack of visibility of the community police team. They want to be out patrolling our streets, and used to do it much more frequently, but we’re now seeing a knock-on effect of the big ‘a’ word – Austerity. There just aren’t enough police officers. I didn’t see this so much on the first ride-along because it was a quiet daytime and the officers were patrolling. However, last night, I can see how easily patrolling takes a back seat when officers are called to assist other teams. The officers I spoke with are as frustrated as you and I. They deeply care about the communities they work in, and are doing everything they can, but without more funding that leads to more bobbies on the beat, they’re limited in what they can achieve. What is fantastic to hear though is that despite this, our team, the team that covers Evendons ward, Emmbrook, Norreys, Wescott and the town, is the highest performing team that works from Loddon Valley.
An area I wanted to discuss with the officers is around preventative measures that could be put in place; measures that reduce the chance of crime happening in the first place. One of the officers I was out with yesterday also covers Finchampstead and I wanted to find out the impact the FBC has had on the community. The perception I have is that community centres like the FBC work as preventative measures for anti-social behaviour as they are a hub for the community, and I would love to see a facility like this in Evendons Ward. If you haven’t been to the FBC yet, you must give it a go – it is something quite special. It was good to hear that anti-social behaviour in the area has gone down since the FBC opened and the officers would like to see more of these kind of facilities in the area.
I also took a trip over to Maidenhead a few weeks ago as they had a particular area where anti-social behaviour was rife. The council installed a MUPA (multi-use play area) which isn’t dissimilar to the area out the back of the FBC. Levels of anti-social behaviour have dropped significantly as a result. Whether we are in a position to implement something like this, I don’t know at this stage, but it is something I will investigate.
I found both ride-alongs a real eye-opener and I have a huge amount of respect for the officers that represent our community, and I have requested that when they do patrol, to ensure they check out the Woosehill underpass as frequently as they can. Moving forward, I intend to go on a ride-along every quarter so I can keep abreast of what is happening with community policing, and feedback to you. Plus, a little part of me really wants to be in a police car with the sirens going!