A bit of lazy blogging. But going through various bits and pieces from last week it occurred to me that I didn’t post my speech from the Neighbourhood Watch conference I referred to in Tweeting not twitching in Wandsworth.

I don’t often write speeches – which probably shows through in my performances in the council chamber – but was pressured to put a bit more preparation into this! And having done it, I’ll be damned if my words of wisdom won’t be available for all on the internet (with the usual “check against delivery” caveat):

Hello and welcome everyone to the Battersea Park Pump House for this afternoon’s conference on the Big Society and Neighbourhood Watch.

I would like to start by thanking Wandsworth Community Safety Trust for funding this afternoon and to the Wandsworth Community Safety Team for organising it.

I’m particularly excited by this afternoon’s programme because I have long believed that Neighbourhood Watch can be the leading example of the Big Society, and, here in Wandsworth, our work has been proving just that.

However, while we can throw any number of buzz-words at Neighbourhood Watch: whether we think it’s the Big Society, an example of nudge, traditional community empowerment – and I think there are plenty of examples to illustrate each concept and far more besides – the key thing about Neighbourhood Watch is that it just works.
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NW is so successful in Wandsworth, we've used up the budget for putting signs up!

It’s received precious little coverage but we are coming towards the end of Neighbourhood Watch week. Most of the coverage there has been seems to have centred on the “tweeting not twitching” soundbite (probably more because of the reference to Twitter than Neighbourhood Watch), indeed, if you are listening to the radio this afternoon you might catch me doing a little spot on it.

I’m in a council limbo at the moment, between jobs (de facto, but not de jure until the council meeting formalises it next month) but it was pleasing to still, technically, be around for conference in Battersea Park the Wandsworth Community Safety Trust funded part of Neighbourhood Watch week, not least because it was the venue Baroness Browning, minister for crime reduction and anti-social behaviour, chose to formally launch the Our Watch website.

Neighbourhood Watch has never been a sexy topic. Perhaps it never will be. But I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve done in Wandsworth, where the council have been responsible for its management (it’s usually a police responsibility) since 1994.

I’m proud with good reason. Wandsworth has a disproportionate share of London’s Watches, of the 8,000 in London, 470 are in Wandsworth – and I’ve no doubt that plays a role in keeping Wandsworth inner London’s safest borough.

We are well ahead of the game on developing Neighbourhood Watch, recognising long ago that it’s about far more than curtain twitching and developing training schemes for members so in the event of disaster or terrorist attack they know what to do to help themselves, their neighbours and keep pressure off the emergency services.

And all this is recognised outside, so when London Fire Brigade were looking for a pilot area for a scheme in which volunteers are available to offer help and support to the victims of fire they chose Wandsworth purely because it had such a well-established base of Neighbourhood Watches that already went beyond the curtain-twitching stereotype.

If you want to find out more you might be interested in the council’s Neighbourhood Watch pages.

North Wales' Balance Your Bobbies site

North Wales are running a ‘Balance Your Bobbies’ website for well-over a year, so I’m disappointed I only found out about it last week, because it looks like a really interesting site.

It’s similar to the ‘You Choose’ budget simulator that several councils are using to involve residents in budget decisions, but instead asks people to balance police resources between various neighbourhood priorities.

It does lack some of the finesse of the You Choose model, it doesn’t, for example, attempt to suggest any of the consequences of decisions: for example dedicating a team to ASB might help remove much of it and give highly visible results, but dedicating a team to burglary wouldn’t, most people aren’t aware of burglaries even nearby and only when someone is caught in the act do we know that a specific burglary has been prevented.

However, it does start to introduce residents to the concept of prioritisation for the police – every day the police have to make operational decisions on what they are doing. If you look at trends locally, you can detect the impact some operations have, which aren’t always positive: if you focus on reducing one crime it may mean that other crimes start to creep up. At the neighbourhood level, when you ask your police team to tackle one problem, it means there are lots and lots of things they aren’t tackling.

In London, there is a particular issue since the model of neighbourhood policing is going to change. Instead of the model of each ward having about the same size of team (one sergeant, two constables, three PCSOs) they are being rebalanced according to need. In effect, areas with relatively few problems will lose officers to those areas with more problems. Frankly, the standard size model, a consequence of the rapid introduction of Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs) in London, was never sustainable.

I have been criticised in the past for saying it – but stick by my belief – that it’s impossible to justify dedicating the same level of policing to an area with the top priority of cycling on pavements as to an area concerned with anti-social behaviour problems associated with drink and drugs.

We’re going through the end of our strategic assessment process, and one of the strongest criticisms of it has not been the priorities we’ve suggested, but that we didn’t involve residents at an earlier stage. And we didn’t. That’s something we need to improve.

Even if it’s not perfect, Balance Your Bobbies starts a process of getting people thinking about the issues they face and how to tackle them. Taken a little further, it could start educating both those involved in policing about what the public wants, but also educating the public about the broader strategic priorities and how their decisions – with their SNTs – can feed into them.

It would be fascinating to see how something similar would work in Wandsworth. What would you want your SNT concentrating on? But, perhaps more importantly, what wouldn’t you mind them ignoring?

BAC: Home of cutting edge theatre. And police meetings.

AMENDMENT: I was trying to be informative, but I was misinformed (or possibly just incompetent)! The meeting is tonight at 7pm, but at the Devas Club on Stormont Road, although I don’t have a nice image of that.

The Shaftesbury Safer Neighbourhood Team hold their regular public meeting this evening.

Starting at 7pm in Battersea Arts Centre it’s a chance to talk to your local police team and find out what they are doing to make Shaftesbury ward safer. You can also find out what crime is like in the area from the national police crime maps.

Unfortunately I won’t be there (I’ll be somewhere between Wales and London, hopefully closer to the latter) but my ward colleague Jonathan Cook does plan to attend, so can help with council related matters.

Members of the Northcote Safer Neighbourhood Team and the Mayor

Congratulations to Northcote Safer Neighbourhood Team who picked up their SNT of the Year award from the Mayor of Wandsworth last night.

While there was some stiff competition, their nomination was impressive for showing a wide range of engagement with not just local residents but also local businesses and schools. I know how big a role they played in installing the well-liked AlertBox system along Northcote Road so it was good to see this recognised with lots of nominations from those businesses.

Congratulations to them all.

The new crime mapping system: burglaries around Lavender Hill police station

After all the fuss about my old crime maps and the crime briefing the council would send out to Neighbourhood Watch coordinators the government are the ones to ride in and save the day with their new crime mapping system.

You can read about the sad history of my crime maps in a post I published at the time, but the short story is that after 18 months of publishing them a complaint from Harrow Council brought them, and the council briefings I used to create them, to an end.

This was annoying, not least because we knew that pretty much every other council continued (and continues) to produce the same sort of crime briefing to inform their Neighbourhood Watch coordinators. But having been identified, we had to stop. This was, and continues to be, an incredibly sore point for many people who valued the regular briefing.

But now the government has come good on its commitment to providing ‘street level’ information on crime. I first heard that publication was imminent a few weeks ago, and was surprised when I was told how they would work, mainly because the Information Commissioner has been so insistent that this sort of mapping isn’t acceptable.

The new mapping site follows almost the same methodology as my maps did, using the central point for a road to spot map crime. But it has a lot more information than mine did, mapping anti-social behaviour, robbery, burglary, vehicle crime, violent crime and a generic category for all other crime. I’m convinced these work well in informing the public. In most cases, I suspect people will be surprised at how low crime is: when I was producing my maps people just assumed crime rates were much higher. But they are a valuable took which enable people to hold the relevant authorities to account.

I’d love to know what you think of them, but most of all I would love to know what the Information Commissioner thinks about it!

We’re currently going through our annual process of reassessing our community safety priorities, and as part of that consulting on what they should be and any issues you might have. Rather than re-write, the council’s text, and details of how you can take part, are below:

Each year the Community Safety Partnership (the Council, Police, Fire Service, Probation and Primary Care Trust) reviews the priorities for reducing crime and disorder within Wandsworth.  Following our analysis of crime and disorder within the borough, we now need to consult widely to confirm our understanding of what must be done.  We therefore seek your views by completing a short questionnaire, the results of which will be used to determine our priorities for 2011/12. 
This link will take you to the questionnaire which you can fill in online.  You are invited to circulate the link as widely as possible to any individuals or groups within the borough that you are associated with who may be interested.
If you prefer, a printed copy of the survey can be provided; please telephone 0208 871 6603, stating your address and the number of copies required.  When completed, the printed copy should be returned to:-

Director of Technical Services,
Community Safety Division,
Wandsworth Borough Council,
The Town Hall,
Wandsworth High Street,
London SW18 4BR.

The questionnaire can also be provided in large print if required.

Next week (from 18-24 October) is National Identity Fraud week. Wandsworth traditionally is one of the worst places in the country for identity theft, despite the problem gaining more and more exposure.

It only takes a few carelessly discarded items for your identity to be stolen, and it’s worth taking a few moments to make sure anything that can be used to prove your identity of residence is securely destroyed.

You can find out more about on the National Identity Fraud Prevention Week website.

Alternatively, because Wandsworth is such a hotspot next Wednesday (20 October) will see the council, local police are running a series of roadshows at:

  • Northcote Library, 12 noon – 2pm
  • Battersea Library, 12 noon – 2pm
  • Sainsburys Garratt Lane, 12 noon – 3pm
  • MacMillian Way (next to the Health Centre), time to be confirmed

As well as advice the sessions will also have shredders, ID protection stamps and security scissors.

Lambeth police, never worried about doing things differently, seem to be bucking the usual pattern that policing follows. An article in the Streatham Guardian details their plans to move more police into neighbourhood policing.

Traditionally the police have had a cyclical approach to policing alternating between a response and a neighbourhood focus. To give a simplistic explanation:

If you start with ‘response’ policing, then dedicated police officers concentrate on responding to calls – so when you see the police they are probably on their way to, from or at a 999 call. However, the public begin to complain. They never see the police on the beat. They have no way of communicating with them unless in emergencies. They want Dixon of Dock Green policing where they knew their local bobby and their local bobby knew them. Public confidence falls.

So the police adopt ‘neighbourhood’ policing. They have officers dedicated to specific beats. They are tasked not just to uphold law and order, but to engage with their communities and respond to their concerns. But that means resource that could be dedicated to response is re-directed. Average response times will fall because there are a fewer dedicated response officers. For calls categorised as a low-priority, where, for example there’s no human harm and little prospect of catching anyone it means the victim just has to wait at the back of the queue until someone can see them. The public begin to complain. They can’t get a prompt response. They shouldn’t have to wait hours for the police to see them and take evidence. Public confidence falls.

So the police…

You get the idea. This cycle has repeated a few times, most recently with Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs) – a model started in London and now replicated across the country – but, frankly, probably overdue for a reversion back to response policing.

So I am amazed that a further expansion of neighbourhood policing is being considered in Lambeth.

A radical overhaul of policing in Lambeth is planned, in what the borough’s top cop has billed as “probably the most significant change to the service in years”.

Scores of officers are set to be transferred into neighbourhood policing, as borough commander Chief Superintendent Nick Ephgrave oversees a pilot scheme that could form the model for policing across London.

Two thirds of officers who make up the borough’s emergency response teams are instead set to join “neighbourhood teams” to bolster community policing.

This runs counter to what I think seems to be the prevailing wisdom with the police everywhere: given the huge financial constraints they need to focus on their ‘core’ business, and that means moving resource from neighbourhood policing to response teams.

To a degree I have sympathy with that view. At the core of the SNT policing model is that every team is generally the same size (one sergeant, two constables, three support officers), and that each local government ward has a team. But, of course, not every area has the same problems, and those problems don’t often respect ward boundaries.

The public might be satisfied by it, but is it really a valuable use of police officers to have one team of six dedicated to dealing with cycling on the pavement while another team of six has to deal with drug dealing and anti-social behaviour from youths associated with it?

But I think the crucial element we mustn’t lose is the public accountability and interface. It might not be working perfectly, but it’s vital that residents have a way of influencing policing in their area. That, in part, is behind my passion for public and open data – so they can play an informed role and set intelligent priorities. One thing I that I think is proven by the Redbridge YouChoose consultation is that people, given the information, are capable of understanding and making difficult decisions, even if they do not necessarily like them – and that might mean tolerating pavement cyclists.

However, that’s where the Lambeth proposal seems to fall down:

If the pilot is approved by the Metropolitan Police it will cover policing responsibilities set by the inspectors that lead them, as opposed to resident-led SNT panels.

It might just be that these are locally based response teams. The crucial factor will be what priorities the inspectors set. If those priorities are to back up the SNTs, but to concentrate on the major problems (and not the miscreant cyclists) it could be an incredibly exciting experiment, both for residents and policing. With police resources flexibily allocated, allowing them to respond when necessary but using free time to address the most pressing resident concerns it might just provide the best of both worlds and end the response/neighbourhood cycle.

It will be interesting to see how it all works in practice.

I went along to the ‘launch’ of the Wandsworth Domestic Violence Strategy and Action Plan this morning. I was down as the closing speaker, and while I had been given a few notes by officers to guide me I ended up ignoring them. The session was thought-provoking, challenging and inspirational in equal measure – and left me at the end using my session to make a few observations and share my reflections. It was a good turnout at the event, I guess a couple of hundred where there, and they were kind enough to indulge me. And I’m lucky enough to have a blog so I’m going to repeat them here too!

My first observation was my total ignorance about the subject. I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment without domestic violence. As far as I’m aware it did not impinge on my life at all, and while I’m sure it happened, it never happened anywhere that I saw any evidence.

I think the first time I saw it as a problem and not a rarity was in 2000. As a parliamentary candidate I spent the evening on patrol with the police, and being quite gung-ho I decided to spend the Saturday evening shift with them; I expected to spend the evening visiting pubs and clubs, seeing the aftermath of fights and the police having to wade in.

I actually spent the evening going from house to house while the police dealt with domestic violence (the exception being a quick visit to check someone was abiding by bail conditions at the beginning of their shift). I might well have seen the after effects of the alcohol drunk, or the arguments started, in those pubs and clubs – but the violence took place in homes, not streets and bars.

And this, I was told, was fairly typical. Not only did they spend their Saturdays dealing with domestic violence, they spent a lot of them at the same homes.

The statistics
One of the statistics shocked me: 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence at some stage in their lives. An easy thought experiment is to apply that to my life. I have a wife, sister and two sisters-in-law. Four women.

A more sobering thought is that between them they have four husbands, one of them being me.

Using the one-in-four statistic would suggest that one is likely have perpetrated, and another suffered, domestic violence.

Of course, statistics don’t work that way, I can’t cherry pick four women and assume with any confidence one has experienced domestic violence. But then you start thinking.

Think about all the people in your life – family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, the people you meet on holiday, or at your local.

Think about all the relationships you know, from the married couples to co-habitees, heterosexual or same-sex, whether formalised by a ceremony or joint names on a gas bill.

For most of us the list will include dozens, if not hundreds, of people and then, statistically, it becomes highly improbable that you don’t know someone who has survived or perpetrated domestic violence.

This isn’t something that happens to ‘other people’.

My role… and our role
Before I went this morning I had some difficulty trying to think what I would say. It’s hard being the politician in a room full of practitioners. I can talk about the priority we place on an issue. And I did talk with some pride that the council’s domestic violence co-ordinator will soon be part of the council’s community safety team, meaning I will be the political champion for it. But it occurred to me that I’m not just the politician, I’m also one of the practitioners.

I hesitated to raise it, but this is somewhere the Big Society has a role to play. I’m conscious I might be adopting a ‘hammer mentality’ (when all you have is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail), but this is one of those areas that needs a collective responsibility. It isn’t just for the council to give housing to domestic violence survivors, or just for the police to prosecute the perpetrators, nor for Victim Support to offer and co-ordinate services.

Instead it’s incumbent on everyone not to be ignorant of a problem, not to think it happens to ‘other people’. And it’s for everyone to know there are solutions to the problem.

It’s an example of the Big Society being a civic society, which doesn’t tolerate domestic violence. I don’t expect everyone to carry the details of the one-stop shop in their head, or know about the Stay Put, Stay Safe scheme. But the more people who know about the problem, and who know that there are options available to those suffering as a result, the more the message spreads. And that can only lead to more escaping the violence and more perpetrators being brought to justice.