The chairman invited the Executive Member for Community Safety, Cllr G. Knight, to introduce the annual scrutiny of the Community Safety Partnership. Cllr Knight provided a brief overview of the work of the East Surrey Community Safety Partnership (ESCSP) and introduced the forthcoming presentations.
There were two advance questions received in relation to this item, responses to which had been circulated to the members of the committee and were tabled at the meeting.
The committee received a presentation from Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Surrey, David Munro regarding the role and work of his office and its engagement with community safety in the county as a whole.
The presentation detailed the core role of the PCC and an evaluation of the performance of the areas of work overseen by the office. Public satisfaction levels, support for vulnerable people, community safety & victim grants, volunteer activity and Joint Enforcement Taskforce(s) (JET) were assessed to be going well. The Policing in Your Neighbourhood (PiYN) programme, the increase in recorded crime, community engagement, collaboration with partners, criminal justice activities, the 101 non-emergency phone line and general funding concerns were assessed to have some issues, but also positive elements. Retention of staff, responses to issues around traveller activities, and ICT support for the police were assessed to be areas requiring improvement.
The committee thanked the PCC for the presentation. There was an opportunity for questions and comments following the presentation. These related to the following topics, with supporting information provided by Borough Inspector Angie Austin:
• Transfer of enforcement powers to the Borough Council/JET from the Police, particularly in areas of work where the council was better positioned to support enforcement. It was noted that there was an ongoing review regarding potential such actions, with particular regard to parking enforcement. It was noted that not all such powers currently rested with the police, with some operated via the county council or highways agency. No timeline for the transfer of any powers was available, but the PCC noted that he hoped an update would be available soon.
• Retention of police staff, particularly with regard to early retirement. It was noted that availability of early retirement had reduced significantly from previous years. With regard to the interaction of retirement and disciplinary processes, it was noted that the general disciplinary process was being improved to reduce delays in decision making. It was remarked that there would be little benefit to the public from attempts to keep staff members in post who did not wish to continue in the role.
• Volunteers and support for improving information availability to residents. It was noted that there was ongoing recruitment for volunteers in this area and that the ‘In the know’ public communication scheme was continuing to develop. The scheme was noted to be working well in some areas and less well in others, with the aim to improve where necessary. Committee members indicated that there was concern around communication in a number of areas across the borough.
• The increase in recorded crime. Committee members queried why this was not considered to be a more significant concern, given the substantial increase in some areas, particularly acquisitive crime. It was noted in response that changes in recording practices made direct comparisons less representative and that victim surveys reported a much less significant increase in crime, although all increases in reported crime continued to be of concern to the police.
• Burglaries in the north of the borough and a lack of associated information. Members drew attention to a recent high rate of burglaries around properties in the northern wards of the borough, and expressed concern about a lack of communication to residents regarding these occurrences. Concern was expressed that in the absence of reassurances being provided to residents, there would be an increase in use of private security and/or vigilante attitudes. The PCC assured Members that appropriate investigation of the burglaries was being undertaken. It was noted that a range of communication activities were ongoing, but that not all communication avenues were currently performing to target.
• Neighbourhood Watch and support for related activities in the borough. A concern was expressed that police support levels for such schemes had decreased over time. It was noted that there was a range of information available to support Neighbourhood Watch groups via the Surrey Police website and that police representatives would be happy to attend specific meetings where requested.
The committee then received a presentation from Borough Inspector Angie Austin on the work of the police and its engagement with community safety within the borough in particular.
The presentation outlined the headline performance figures for the police, the priorities of their work around community safety, operations and general activities undertaken to address issues and support residents within the borough, and the general context in which their operations occurred.
The committee thanked the Borough Inspector for the presentation. There was an opportunity for questions and comments following the presentation. These related to the following topics:
• Communications. Concern was again expressed regarding the apparent lack of communication to residents and councillors in the borough regarding the work of the police and issues around crime and community safety. It was noted that some communication had shifted towards supporting initiatives where there was the most potential for public engagement, such as around preventing child sexual exploitation and domestic abuse. It was also noted that more communication now took place via online routes and social media. It was noted that data suggested these online routes had good reach and enabled more officer time to be spent on frontline policing matters, but it was acknowledged that not all residents were comfortable engaging with these communication channels. Members suggested that more general information around instances of crime would help residents to take precautionary actions where appropriate. Members suggested that they would be better able to undertake a community leadership role to support residents if they had greater information on the crime and community safety issues facing the borough. It was noted that work to improve communication within available resources was ongoing, and that feedback regarding specific concerns would be welcomed.
• Reporting of and response to incidents. Queries were raised regarding a few specific incidences where there was concern about the responses received, or lack thereof, where incidents were reported. The Borough Inspector and PCC indicated that they would confirm communications around and responses to specific incidents where details could be provided. A clarification was provided that road traffic incidents involving damage to property should be reported to the police, although the police were not required to attend in all cases unless there was injury to persons.
• Reasons for individuals misusing the ‘999’ emergency number. A query was concerning those individuals who might misuse the emergency number due to mental health issues or related concerns. The Borough Inspector confirmed that the police did monitor repeat callers and passed any concerns to other supporting agencies where such possibilities were identified.
• Appreciation of the work of the Police. A number of Members expressed their thanks to the police for their work in the borough. It was noted that although Members recognised that a number of issues had been identified, there had also been a number of positive experiences, and that the efforts of the Borough Inspector and her officers were appreciated.
The committee then received a presentation from the Reigate and Banstead Community Safety Officer, Sarah Crosbie, regarding the work of the Community Safety Partnership. This outlined the various areas of work and initiatives of the partnership and the priority areas of the partnership’s work. Additional detail on these topics was included in the annual review of the East Surrey Community Safety Partnership, as contained within the report for Item 4 of the agenda.
The committee thanked the community safety officer for the presentation. There was an opportunity for questions and comments following the presentation. These related to the following topics:
• Police engagement with the community safety partnership. It was confirmed that a police representative attended meetings of the partnership.
• Councillor updates regarding the ESCSP. It was suggested that Members would be interested in a regular all-Member briefing on the work of the ESCSP. The Chairman of the ESCSP indicated that they would be happy to support this, in consultation with the portfolio holder for Community Safety.
• The scope of the current priorities of the ESCSP. It was noted that the priorities identified were for the ESCSP specifically and reflected the areas where inter-agency cooperation could be most effective. It was noted that individual agencies, such the police, would also continue to maintain their own focus on areas of most concern within their remit.
The Chairman thanked the guests and officers for attending and answering the Committee’s questions.
RESOLVED that the report on the Annual Scrutiny of the Community Safety partnership be noted.