You might not have noticed but things are changing down at your local police station. In fact many of you in Peterborough will no longer have a local police station, as Werrington and Bridge Street stations are closing and Hampton station will have no public access.
What’s happening is a big change in the way our city is policed. And the reason you probably don’t know about is the change was made on 1 November without any public consultation. Councillors were informed by letter but only after the implementation date.
So what is going on?
I’ve been asking a lot of questions and getting some answers. It seems the police are shifting their resources away from neighbourhood policing to have more police officers working in five specialist teams, working on issues such as hate crime, burglary, domestic violence etc. Some of the information on precise numbers is not clear but there will be fewer police officers on routine patrols across the city. There will still be three neighbourhood policing teams but one of these will focus exclusively on the city centre and one on the Milfield/New England area (known as the “Can Do” area). There will be just on one team doing neighbourhood policing in the remaining 90 per cent of the city (the “Can’t Do Area ??) …and I am told there will be only four fully qualified police officers in it, plus some Police Community Support Officers. If you want to see a police officer, you will have to book an appointment and go to Thorpe Wood Police Station.
Neighbourhood police patrols will in future consist largely of city council enforcement officers. These will be council officers who currently do things like parking enforcement. They will work in joint teams with the police, have some additional powers and wear a uniform. But they won’t have the training or full powers of a police officer.
So why do I have a problem with all of this?
Firstly, because of the lack of consultation. The council has yet to finalise its new “community enforcement teams” and indeed there has been no cabinet decision made to authorise them. But the police have jumped the gun by making changes, which means that the council has no choice but adapt to them. So much for partnership working?!
Secondly, it is a reversal of over 30 years of emphasis on neighbourhood and community policing. The idea of police officers out on patrol, building up relationships with local people, deterring crime but also gathering intelligence to help solve crime but, above all, reassuring the public.
Local Lib Dems have recently done an extensive residents’ survey in Paston where one of the questions we asked was about policing. We got more than 200 responses and 77 per cent of them said they wanted to see more police officers out patrolling the streets, not less.
Thirdly, yes we know that police budgets are under stress and they have targets and priorities to meet. But the Chancellor has just announced that funding for the police will not be cut any further. And recent events in Paris and elsewhere, mean that there are increased concerns about security and much more need for a visible police presence out on the streets. Will be people be as reassured by the sight of a council enforcement officer, however well trained and however smart and well pressed the uniform?
Next year in May there are city council elections. But there are also elections for a new Police and Crime Commissioner for Peterborough and Cambridgeshire. If you share my concerns about these changes, why not ask some questions of the candidates for this post, if they should come round seeking your vote?
And finally, I must comment on that big law enforcement issue: cycling in Bridge Street.
Local Lib Dems received a letter from a police sergeant saying that the current cycle ban is not a priority for the police and that it is largely unenforceable. Also, there hasn’t been a single reported accident caused by cyclists in Bridge Street in the past five years. This enforcement power has now been handed over to the new “improved” city council enforcement officers. Rather than scrapping the ban and allowing cyclists and pedestrians to mix as they do in other cities such as Cambridge, our Tory council leadership has announced they intend to extend the ban to Sundays and treat enforcement of it as a priority.
Isn’t it a pity they don’t have more important issues to deal with?