Police and Crime Commissioner faces tough questions from town councillorsAngus Macpherson, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Wiltshire and Swindon, faced a series of tough questions from town councillors at a public session in the Town Hall before the full council meeting on Monday's (July 23).
He made an opening statement in which he gave the first details of the police 'Touchdown Point' that will replace the town's police station which 'no longer meets operational needs'. (We publish his opening remarks in full below.)
Councillor Cairns made the PCC aware that councillors wish to be involved in the future of the police station building "...for the benefit of the community as a whole." However, it has been pointed out to marlborough.news that Wiltshire Council will have a say in its future as they make the final decision on any planning permission for its future use.
Councillor Noel Barrett-Morton cited young people's bad behaviour in Priory Gardens: "I voted for you - I wonder what I will do next time around, because we do not see enough police. There is an abundance of anti-social behaviour and the kids are taking over. I would like you to do something about it."
The PCC replied they were maintaining community police teams - the increase in the money he was allowed to raise through the council tax 'police precept' for this year had just matched salaries. So there had been no decrease in numbers. And if he was allowed the same increase in funding again, then next year numbers might be increased.
Councillors - with three members of the public present - were given more details about numbers. The community police team for Wiltshire's east police sector (which includes Devizes, Pewsey and Marlborough areas) has 56 frontline staff. This includes 35 PCs, five sergeants with investigators and support officers.
The sector is commanded by Inspector Chris Martin and he assured the meeting that a police car visits Marlborough every shift of every day.
Councillor Cairns raised the increasing presence of 'County lines' drug dealers. He expected Marlborough with its two secondary schools to be particularly targeted.
The PCC acknowledge the threat of what he termed 'the drugs business' and explained how these people come into an area and prey on the vulnerable and use their homes for stop-overs. The police can - and do - get closure orders on such premises, which restrict occupancy to named people.
He said intelligence about drug activities reported from the community was vital for police successes.
Councillor Forbes accused the PCC of blaming cuts when the police had '...terrible priorities that are not what Marlborough people need'. He cited the time police spend using social media and making hate crimes a priority: "The people of Marlborough have had enough".
The Town Mayor, Councillor Farrell, said she agreed with the police use of Facebook as a way of reaching young people and helping them. The PCC emphasised that crime prevention is very important - and cited police programmes like the Junior Good Citizens and their work in schools.
Social media, he said, was a key way to reach the young: "We have to support the young...if we don't do that we write off a generation."
The Deputy Mayor, Councillor Mervyn Hall, realised it was a time 'of great austerity' and police clear-up rates were falling. He believed there was a 'mis-match' between the public's perception that it was pointless to contact the police and what is really happening.
The PCC replied: "There isn't a crime if you don't report it. They do their best with what's brought to their attention."
This theme was emphasised later in the evening when Inspector Martin reported to the full council meeting. Councillor Wilson: "You say you action every crime that comes through. Are we reporting enough crimes?" He said people think it's not worth phoning the police 'they don't do anything anyway': "May we see more police in Marlborough because crimes are reported?"
Inspector Martin: "I urge you to report all crimes - and anti-social behaviour".
It emerged that of the three PCSOs working in Marlborough one is pregnant and off duty and one is on holiday. Councillor Forbes asked why there was no cover for them. Inspector Martin: "I do not have the resilience to find cover - I can't get replacements - I'd love to."
Which brought the evening's debate over policing back to cuts and austerity.
The Police and Crime Commissioner's opening remarks:
"Good evening. I’d like to thank the Mayor, Councillor Lisa Farrell, for giving me this opportunity to brief you on recent developments and future plans. And thanks to the Town Clerk, Shelley Parker, for her help with the arrangements. I’m pleased to be accompanied by Inspector Chris Martin, who leads the Wiltshire East Community Policing Team.
I’m sure you are all aware, from the massive media coverage, that the events of the past few months have imposed considerable pressure on your police force.
I continue to feel horrified and appalled that a lethal nerve agent has been used on the streets of our county. Thankfully Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, along with Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, were able to be discharged from hospital after the shocking incident in Salisbuy in March. Last Friday evening, Charlie Rowley was discharged from hospital after coming into contact with the liquid. Sadly his partner Dawn Sturgess was not so fortunate and she died on the eighth of July.
Wiltshire Police has received great support from almost every police force across the county since the first major incident was declared in March. Alongside the Chief Constable I couldn’t be more grateful for the help and support of those forces under the scheme known as mutual aid. I have visited the accommodation which the Army has made available for police officers from around the country and I was impressed by the time and trouble taken by our Force to make the accommodation as comfortable as possible with plenty of drinking water, fans and so on. It’s like being in the B n B business!
I spoke to the Policing Minister Nick Hurd to ensure that the increased pressure on our police officers, staff and volunteers was addressed and eased as quickly as possible to ensure that policing services more widely across Wiltshire and Swindon remain unaffected. As a result private security guards have now joined police officers on some of the cordons in Salisbury and Amesbury. This has freed up some Wiltshire Police officers to get back to day-to-day community policing.
I have been greatly impressed by the selfless and dedicated officers, staff and volunteers who work together to keep our country safe.
Before taking questions, I would like to say something about policing in Marlborough. I think many of you here this evening are aware that we are looking to move to a new location in the town. This is part of an estates strategy under which we have reviewed all of the buildings we own in Wiltshire and Swindon. I asked the Chief Constable to set out his operational policing needs for the Force area. The current Marlborough station no longer met the operational needs of the Force and is too big for the policing requirements of the town. The vast bulk of the site is used for specialist services which we are looking to move to our Gablecross police station on the outskirts of Swindon.
Under the new community policing model, officers and staff no longer need to return to a police station to do paperwork and can effectively work anywhere using mobile technology.
Some of you may have heard the phrase “touchdown point” being used and wondered what it means. We are looking to gain planning approval to use The Corner House as a touchdown point. It would provide 24 hour access to welfare facilities – toilet and kitchen, plus rest area. The Corner House would, in addition, accommodate an interview room, part-time front counter service and have access to the building’s WiFi service. If it goes ahead, the proposed move will save Wiltshire Police the equivalent cost of three police officers.
We are developing a modern, technology-enabled police service for the 21st Century. We are exploring new ways for you - our public - to interact with us. But what doesn’t change is the determination of the Chief Constable Kier Pritchard, of Inspector Martin and his colleagues, and me as your Commissioner to:
- Prevent crime and anti-social behaviour
- Protect the most vulnerable people in society
- Put victims and witnesses at the heart of everything we do
- And secure high-quality, efficient and trusted services.
Thank you. Over to you Madam Mayor."