Norfolk Police & Crime Commissioner (Agenda Item 8)
Stephen Bett the Norfolk Police & Crime Commissioner has been invited to update the Commission on how targets are being met and to answer questions.
Stephen Bett, Norfolk Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC), thanked the Commission for their invite. He had been in post for two years since being elected in November 2012. He had had no idea what he was letting himself in for as no-one seemed to know what a PCC was expected to do.
He had decided to start by listening to what people wanted and expected. He had talked to public bodies, voluntary groups and charities. It had been very interesting. The main themes had been domestic violence, child sex exploitation, drug and alcohol abuse; mental health, etc.
After the first year of listening, he had asked people to tell him their problems and come up with solutions. There had been a huge list of problems from the prisons, employers, NHS, Social Services, etc and he had decided that the best way he could help was to co-ordinate all the agencies to work together. So the PCC Office had become a hub for everything and people chosen by the agencies worked there.
He now had a really great team that worked as one unit. They were not political. He was not an expert himself and he relied on his team to give him the information to make the decisions. He did not get involved in the day to day workings of the team. If necessary he went outside the team to get help in addressing problems. He could also question any organisation and they had to answer him. It was the first time in British political history that one person could cut across all boundaries and get things done.
A recent public consultation had not identified any new issues so he would keep on doing what he was doing as it was meeting the needs of the majority of people. He didn’t want to take on any more responsibilities as it would dilute what he was currently able to do.
He gave an example of one area where he had been able to make a difference. There had been a problem in Cromer with domestic abuse. It was obvious that the medical profession knew something was wrong but due to confidentiality issues they said nothing. He had got training for all GP surgeries on the early signs of domestic abuse. Over 500 nurses had been trained so far.
Another area he was working on was rehabilitation for prisoners. Currently if a prisoner served less than 12 months they got no support at all on release. Rehabilitation was important and all the problems like health, housing and mental health needed to be looked at. On release they needed to be given employment or training to get them in the right mind-frame to break the chain, stop re-offending and slow the growth in domestic violence. That was his priority for the medium to long term.
In future there would be less resources, so it was important to work closely with partners to break cycles or the problems would expand. If vulnerable people were looked after they would not become perpetrators of crime.
He was very pleased with his team and with the OPTs. They were working as one for all the people in Norfolk.
The Leader of the Council asked if the PCC could guarantee the funding for the Breckland OPT and Mr Bett advised that he could not because he did not know what the Minister was going to do, but he would do his upmost to safeguard the funding.
Councillor Wilkin asked an operational question about the A47. When there was a bad accident the road was closed and traffic was diverted off, but there didn’t seem to be an emergency plan to provide a secondary route. The diverted traffic found itself on narrow lanes without diversion signage. He asked if there was a plan in place.
The Chairman noted that the A1075 suffered from the same problem.
Mr Bett asked Inspector Wheatley to respond as District Commander for Breckland. He explained that it was very difficult because their priority was to safeguard any victims and protect what could be a crime scene. The police notified the Highways Authority and they put up the correct diversion signs.
Councillor Wilkin also asked about the number of police in attendance at an incident as he had seen seven vehicles at one single car accident which seemed to be too many resources.
Inspector Wheatley said that for major incidents the tactic was to get a command team in place quickly. They took control and determined the number of officers needed. He acknowledged that the first hour of any incident could be ‘chaotic’.
Councillor Canham asked about ASB and street drinking which was a problem for communities. In Thetford they had tried to tackle the problem but it was a big issue. The Vice Chairman agreed. One of his roles was on the Safer Thetford Action Group. They would like a blanket ban, but there were resource issues.
That was also an operational issue so Inspector Wheatley responded. There were designated no drink areas in Thetford but there was still a problem and the police regularly seized alcohol and prosecuted offenders. It was an on-going issue which would be looked at over the next 12 months. Currently research was being carried out to see if partnership working could help to address the issue. Under the new ASB Act the police had spontaneous dispersal area powers. They could take items away and require individuals to leave an area for 48 hours.
Councillor T Carter was a speed watch co-ordinator for several villages which had spent money on speed awareness message systems. However, those systems were only educational and the data could not be used to get a police officer presence.
The Chairman had the same systems in his own Ward and was aware that they could log the time and speed of a vehicle. Some villages suffered from excessive speeding especially by motor bikes. It was frustrating that the data collected which was passed to the Highway Authority, was not used by the police. He felt that there was reluctance by the police to address rural speeding problems even in known hot-spots. Villages were often used as rat-runs but the police seemed to be unwilling to follow up on rural crime. These issues had been raised time and again at Parish Council meetings. It was a serious problem in rural areas where there were many elderly and vulnerable people and he believed that residents felt let down by the police.
Councillor North attended her local SNAP meetings at which such issues were prioritised for a three month period. The police did get out and take action in her area and in the vast majority of cases it was the local inhabitants that were caught speeding.
Councillor Armes was concerned about parking on corners and yellow lines which caused a lot of problems in Thetford, particularly near schools. She also asked if there were still ‘safe houses’ in the District.
Inspector Wheatley confirmed that there were safe houses but their location was not publicised for obvious reasons.
With reference to a recent article in the news, Councillor Martin asked what measures were taken to ensure that all crimes were recorded.
Mr Bett advised that there were a number of areas for improvement and the system was not perfect but safeguards had been added to ensure that recording was being done correctly. Unfortunately ‘everything’ had to be recorded which could give a poor impression in the short term, but once the ‘norm’ had been established the figures would be more useful.
Councillor C Carter was satisfied with the broad brush approach to rural policing. The farming community often managed its own problems and the police were very good. People had to take responsibility for their possessions, which were often not branded or labelled and left in unlocked premises.
Mr Bett agreed that a lot of people did not help themselves. It was a big county and a small force with limited resources. He confirmed that most traffic offences in villages were committed by local people.
Councillor Armes had heard that the police would be using horses to access farms in future and asked if that was correct.
Mr Bett advised that if a PCSO or Special Constable owned a horse they could wear their uniform whilst riding in an aim to stop crimes like fly-tipping in remote areas.
Councillor Bambridge asked what was being done in Norfolk about the sexual exploitation of minors.
Mr Bett said that a lot was already being done but a special type of police officer was needed to investigate such matters properly. They were working with Trading Standards looking at fraud and paedophilia and trying to improve their cyber-detection methods. He assured Members that a lot of resources were being put into detecting such crimes.
Councillor Sharpe was aware of research which had found that there was a high incidence of dyslexia in offenders. He wondered if screening could be carried out in schools to try to prevent future crime.
Mr Bett regretted that there was not enough money to carry out that sort of screening. He was concentrating on identifying the problems whilst offenders were in prison and trying to deal with them when they came out.
Councillor Darby returned to the issue of parking on yellow lines which caused a lot of problems in small towns with narrow roads. It was a particular hazard to wheelchair and pushchairs.
At this point the Chairman advised that Mr Bett had to leave the meeting shortly to attend another engagement. The Vice-Chairman was invited to ask the last question. He asked Mr Bett what his best achievement had been so far and what his biggest disappointment had been during his term of office.
Mr Bett was really pleased with the money he had spent in the voluntary sector which had many unsung heroes. However, they were not good at communicating and were often scrimping for money. He would be offering more grants in future to sustainable projects. The best thing was that he really enjoyed the job and he was working with excellent people. To survive in austere times people had to work together.
The most irritating thing had been the expenses scandal which had caused a lot of bad publicity. But his conscience was clear and it had not detracted from his achievements and he was certain the report would say that he had done nothing wrong.
The Chairman thanked Mr Bett very much for coming and he said that he would be happy to come again. He then left the meeting.