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.

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.

A blurry night-time photo of me with officers from the local SNT, Parks Police and council.

Round about now seventeen men should be up at South West Magistrates court for kerb-crawling (and other offences).

They were all arrested as part of an operation, jointly funded by Wandsworth Council, undertaken last month on Bedford Hill. I was invited along on one of the nights to see it in action.

The plan was fairly simple, female police officers would linger on Bedford Hill, wearing microphones. If anyone approached them for sex the evidence would be recorded and waiting officers would pounce to stop the kerb-crawler and arrest them. Many were also arrested for other offences, including one who was carrying a large knife when stopped.

It was a real demonstration of effective team work (as well as joint funding): the Metropolitan Police’s vice unit were running the operation, but were supported by the local Safer Neighbourhood Team and, once an arrest was made, the council’s Parks Police provided the transport to take the offender to the police station.

While I’m sensible enough to know that prostitution will never go away, I am also aware that we should ensure it doesn’t impact on other people’s lives in the way it does on Bedford Hill – causing local residents to feel unsafe and resulting in innocent women being propositioned by kerb-crawlers.

The council and police won the Metropolitan Police’s snappily titled Problem Oriented Partnership Award last night for their work talking problems in Strathan Close, Putney.

A great example of how effective targeted work can be in solving, rather than just moving a problem, the area has seen reports of anti-social behaviour drop from one per day to just one per month.

The council worked at improving the area, re-designing aspects that caused groups to congregate, while helping residents form a residents’ association and Neighbourhood Watch. And while this was happing the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit, Youth Offending Team and police targeted the ring-leaders while Youth Services did work with the others.

Congratulations to all concerned.

Last night I went to the awarding of the Safer Neighbourhood Team of the year award. I was a member of the judging panel and have to say it was a hard choice, with Roehampton just pipping Fairfield to the title. Building on their special award at last year’s Enterprising Roehampton awards.

Both teams received many nominations from every part of the communities they serve, and this, I think, shows the strength of SNTs lies very much in their ability to build relationships in their areas.

Some of the nominations reflect this:

  • “The SNT are visible, clued up, approachable and able to relate to the local community.” (Local resident)
  • “They are like family … watching over us making sure we don’t get hurt.” (11 year old resident)
  • They “successfully build bridges with the local community with their friendly but no nonsense attitude.” (local business)
  • “The most amazing thing is the follow up care. In this day and age people often forget the long term effects on a person of a crime but the Roehampton team provide over and above support.” (local GP surgery)
  • “Their ability to raise students’ awareness of personal safety issues and social responsibility within a vibrant and established community has had nothing but positive impacts in Roehampton.” (Roehampton Students Union)
  • “I like the police here you can always talk to them about anything without getting into trouble” (10 year old resident)

The Tour trophy: I'm troubled he (she?) doesn't have a name.
The Tour trophy: I'm troubled he (she?) doesn't have a name.

Although I usually use this last post of the week to witter on about the past week I’m going start off with an event two weeks ago.

Battersea Police Ball
I can’t believe I forgot to mention this last week, but on Saturday 28 November I attended, along with about 1,500 other people, the Battersea Police Ball. This is a fantastic annual event organised by the Battersea Crime Prevention Panel to raise funds for their work throughout the year.

As ever it was held in Battersea Park, and was a truly fantastic evening. It’s my 13th year of going and in all the time have never had anything but a great night out.

My congratulations to everyone involved in the organisation of the event.

Community Safety stall
Returning to the past week I spent some time on Saturday with the Community Safety Team who were manning, with the Shaftesbury Safer Neighbourhood Team and London Fire Brigade, a stall at Clapham Junction Asda. The purpose was to get out and offer advice (and a few freebies) to local residents. I posted earlier today about one incredibly positive aspect of their work and this is another.

Wandsworth Employment and Skills Partnership
In the middle of the week I chaired the Wandsworth Employment and Skills Partnership. The Partnership was set-up to try and improve joint working between everyone and to achieve some very challenging targets for getting people off benefits and into work.

Frankly, the recession has had a massive impact (the body and targets all pre-date the recession) but the body still serves a purpose. For example, during the meeting we discovered that Jobcentre Plus is ‘poaching’ people from a service we use to help long term unemployed people people back into work.

There’s nothing sinister about it, Job Centre Plus are now required to work more closely with the long term unemployed. But while that is a positive it means that the work that had already been done is lost as the Job Centre start from scratch. We’re now looking at whether we can prevent the poaching altogether, and if we can’t how we can ensure the unemployed person sees a progression, rather than getting halfway through one service to then have to start afresh with another.

Full council
Wednesday was the year’s last full council, and the year ended not with a bang but a whimper. It has to be said that the formal meetings of the council can be a bit, well, dull!

I’m tempted to suggest that it’s because the council is so well run it’s hard for anyone to disagree with what we do. But that isn’t the case. Despite only having one-sixth of the council seats the Labour group get, effectively, half the time of the council meeting to ask question and debate their issues. I don’t think the lack of spark at these meetings is for want of opportunity – but am at a loss to suggest why it isn’t there at the moment.

Police Borough Commander
I also had one of my regular meetings with Chief Superintendent Low, the borough police commander. These are useful catch-ups, making sure we both know what’s on each others minds and both sides are working together as well as they can. I believe (and I hope that he would agree!) the working relationship between the council and police has continued to get stronger over the years, and the fact that we are inner London’s safest borough reflects that.

Architectural Tour
And finally, last night was the council’s ‘Architectural Tour’. I did ponder whether I should include this or not, since it could be seen as cliquey or worse – but decided transparency is by far the best way to avoid that. Besides, on reflection I’m rather proud of it. I was one of the people who started it in 2002 and since then it has raised thousands for various supported by the Mayor each year, this year’s beneficiaries were the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades, Scouts and Guides

The evening is, fairly simply, a tour combined with a quiz around various sites of architectural merit in Wandsworth, which all happen to be pubs. The council divides into tribal loyalties, with department pitting themselves against department (and councillors) and being able to host the trophy – and even the wooden spoon – for a year has become quite an honour to a department.

Congratulations this year go the Housing Department, who are not only one of the country’s biggest social landlords, but also fairly hot on music, literature history and able to take a good guess on how many animals in London zoo are of unknown sex!

(Incidentally, the zoo don’t know the sex of 13,811 of their 14,665 animals at the time of writing.)

Canary Wharf from Westfield Stratford
Canary Wharf from top of the Westfield building site

I’m not sure why but it seems like campaigning seems to be taking up more and more time, although looking through the diary we’ve been keeping up a fairly stiff pace through the summer months. It is perhaps the onset of darker and considerably colder nights makes an evening on the doorstep seem a lot less appealing than it did in the summer months. Or it might be that the elections are starting to seem a little more real now that other candidates are falling into place – I’ve heard Martin Linton’s wife, Sara Apps-Linton, is standing as a council candidate in Shaftesbury – whether the story is accurate or not there is no doubt that we are definitely heading into election territory. If you don’t like elections and politics it might be an idea to book a long holiday!

SNT awards
Awards of one form or another have formed a large part of this week. I was one of the judging panel for the first Safer Neighbourhood Team awards this week, responsible for sifting through the hundreds of nominations made by members of the public, businesses, charities, pubs, councillors and children who all thought they had the borough’s best SNT.

At the risk of using cliché it was not an easy decision. I think the result changed several times during the discussions before the winner was finally decided. And while I’m not going to name the winner here, it says a lot that there is such support and recognition in the borough for the work of the SNTs.

CSD awards
I also attended a little session to recognise the awards that the council’s Community Safety Division have received over the past few weeks. I have often said how privileged I have been to work with some excellent council officers from all parts of my portfolio, but it’s always good to see their good work recognised externally. Since October Community Safety officers have been part of the team winning the London Region Tilley Award (a Home Office prize awarded annually) received a commendation from Ron Dobson, the London Fire Commissioner, (I understand this is the first time council staff have received such recognition) and also received commendations from Stewart Low, the Wandsworth police borough commander, for their community safety work.

That they are an award winning department is no surprise to me, and I’m incredibly proud of all that they have done for the borough.

Westfield Stratford City
While not directly related to the borough I took up an invitation to have a look around the Westfield Stratford City site this week. It is a truly massive project and (I am happy to admit) one that I hope I will never visit when finished! But however much I dislike shopping I cannot deny the regeneration benefits it will have for Newham, creating enormous employment opportunities for the area and fitting into the wider regeneration through the Olympics. Of course, a retail-led regeneration of that scale is not directly suitable for Wandsworth, not least because it would undermine the council’s five town centre strategy. But it is a example of what can be achieved between the private and public sector and while the parallels are not direct gives an indication of the sort of benefits might accrue to local residents as development begins in Nine Elms.

As an aside, it also offered an excellent view of the Olympic venues. Several are visible from the upper areas of the Westfield building site, and while the media (I think) tends to portray a negative image but when you see them you realise that they are very close to completion and that the Olympics are not very far away at all.

Housing ASB conference
Finally, I spent his morning at a conference on Anti-Social Behaviour organised by the council’s housing department. Wandsworth’s housing department is very strong when it comes to dealing with ASB from its tenants, but it is something that continues to blight many people’s lives. One aspect is understanding, a resident in a working group I took part in commented that, very often, people felt intimidated when there was no ill-will meant and sometimes a group of teenagers is just a group of teenages and not a knife-weilding gang!

It is a point we often lose sight of and I was talking to a Shaftesbury resident this afternoon about much the same subject. While the council and partners need to be (and are) tough on crime and anti-social behaviour we need to ensure that in doing so we do not criminalise and marginalise a generation just for doing what teenagers have always done – meet friends and hang about.

The Shaftesbury Safer Neighbourhood Team are holding a drop-in clinic tomorrow (Friday 27 November), between 12 noon and 4pm in the old Peabody Offices on Eversleigh Road.

They will be there to discuss any policing, crime or anti-social behaviour issues you may have. If you can’t get along their contact details are available on the Met’s website and they hold regular public meetings (again listed on the Met website, the next is 5 January at Battersea Arts Centre).