Mayor of Glastonbury, Green Councillor Jon Cousins writes: On Tuesday 18th October, I met with Sue Mountstevens – the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) – at Glastonbury Town Hall.
The background to our meeting has been my attempt to help address the increasing anti-social behaviour that our community has been suffering for quite some time – the intimidation, drunkenness, racial and verbal abuse, and open drug dealing that so many of you have raised with me – a situation which came to a head with the serious assault near St. John’s Church on 14th September…
In preparation for the meeting, I’ve had several conversations with the local Police Beat Team; and the Deputy Mayor and I also met with Sergeant Slade and Inspector Nicholson… I also talked with an Area Commander, and I can tell you that – from Constable to Commander – I received the same response to my questioning:
The force seriously lacks resource; six years of cuts to the Police budget mean a loss of apparently 600-700 officers to the Avon and Somerset Constabulary…
On 13th September, I also asked you – Glastonbury’s community – for your thoughts on what I should raise with the PCC; to tell me your concerns; your issues; your ideas. I received lots of feedback from you, and I took a long list of the issues you raised to the meeting.
Finally, in the week before I met with Sue Mountstevens, I helped to arrange and took part a ‘multi agency’ meeting about crime in the town – with representatives from the police, town and district council, a number of support services, the PACT team, and the Church. This was very productive, and also gave me further points to raise.
Sue Mountstevens came to the Town Hall with her Staff Officer, Detective Sergeant Ashley Jones, and met with me and the Deputy Town Clerk, Gerard Tucker.
Not surprisingly, the first issue we discussed was anti-social behaviour; the main concern for so many of us in the town. I asked the PCC why there was a lack of a visible police presence in Glastonbury; why there was not a beat officer patrolling, on foot, up and down the streets in the centre of our town? Many of you had fed-back that you felt the lack of police presence contributed to the rise of anti-social behaviour over the summer.
Part of Sue Mountsteven’s response was a practical point – since PC Mark Pople moved to Street, Glastonbury’s Police Beat Team has been short staffed, with a number of officers coming into post and leaving again… However, the good news for Glastonbury is that Sergeant Martha Spikes – who previously worked in the town a few years ago – has transferred from Wells to join the local team.
The PCC also confirmed that in the future, Inspector Nicholson would be able to re-deploy officers to a ‘permanent’ day-time police presence in the High Street – something would certainly be prioritised next summer. However, the PCC did comment that with the reductions in the police budget officers could still be called away to other areas if required.
She informed us that the new Public Space Protection Orders – which Mendip District Council are currently developing – would also provide Glastonbury with a number of additional ‘Enforcement Officers’, who would work for the District Council.
We discussed the ‘multi-agency’ approach; particularly the work of the ‘One Team’ in dealing with troubled families and individuals. The PCC was pleased to hear about the meeting of the multi-agency group in Glastonbury the week before. One of the points raised at the Glastonbury multi-agency meeting was the proven effectiveness of ‘Street Pastors’ in dealing with street drinkers, addicts, and anti-social behaviour in Bristol. Sue Mountstevens told us about possible funding available to support Street Pastors team in our town.
INCREASE IN DRUG DEALING:
Another issue that many of you are concerned about is the increase in drug dealing in the town – particularly of the most harmful and addictive Class A drugs, like heron and cocaine. This is something that the Police are fully aware of, however, as the PCC reiterated, without residents reporting incidents, there is a disconnect between police intelligence and local knowledge.
We discussed the fact that many people who have got in touch with me about witnessing crimes – such a drug dealing – are scared to report these incidents to the Police for fear of reprisal. Sue Mountstevens understood people’s reticence, and reminded me about Crimestoppers – the national confidential reporting charity (independent to the police) to which the public can make truly anonymous reports about any criminal activity of any kind. This seemed like a very useful option, and I am providing a link HERE for anyone who is interested:
HEALTH AND WELLBEING:
We discussed issues around health and wellbeing, and the impact on policing from cuts in the support services for people with mental ill health, for the homeless, for vulnerable people, for addicts.
I mentioned the recent closure of Turning Point’s centre at the Old Library; the County Council’s cutbacks to the drug and alcohol service – this was an area that Sue Mountstevens was obviously passionate about, and she was not impressed by Somerset County Council’s performance. She said that as a result of the increased impact of mental ill health on the police service, she had placed professional mental health workers into the police call centres. Apparently, the only large authority in the Constabulary’s area not to financially support this service is Somerset County Council… !
I was amazed to hear the PCC talk about how 86% of the incidents Avon and Somerset deal with are not crime related – e.g. mental health incidents, safeguarding, and missing persons! I was shocked to discover that in the Avon and Somerset area, there are over 5,000 missing persons – many of them children…
IMPACT OF POLICE FUNDING CUTS:
Sue Mountstevens was very candid about the impact of the austerity funding cuts imposed by central government on the Police service as a whole, and that Avon and Somerset had been intentionally ‘dampened’ – provided with less resources than other constabularies, resulting in £14 million ‘missing’ from the budget; which means 350 fewer officers, PCSOs and staff than the average! Apparently, the PCC doesn’t have the power to set the amount of funding, and couldn’t explain why Avon and Somerset has seen a disproportionately low amount of funding!
I explained to the PCC that I was very disappointed to hear, from every level of the force – from Constable to Commander to Commissioner – about lack of resources. I asked: “If you are not responsible for funding the Police, who is?” “Brandon Lewis”, she replied, “the Policing and Fire Minister…”
I will attempt to arrange a meeting with Brandon Lewis MP, he threatened to come and see me earlier this year, but he pulled out at the last minute…
In concluding our meeting, we discussed a number of options which might help the situation in Glastonbury.
1) as mentioned above, the deployment of officers for a ‘permanent’ day-time police presence in the High Street;
2) developing a Street Pastor team, to work as part of a multi-agency approach to addressing the anti-social behaviour;
3) encouraging people who are concerned about reporting crimes and incidents, for fear of reprisal, to use Crimestoppers
4) Special Constables – residents who have had enough, and would like to make a difference, could apply to join the Special Constabulary… There are apparently vacancies for over 300 Specials in Avon and Somerset! I have asked the PCC to contact the Special Constabulary Coordinator in respect to recruiting for Special Officers in the Glastonbury area, and to make a closer collaboration with the Town Council and Special Constabulary
5) Finally, there is the potential for Glastonbury to fund an additional PCSO post for the town… However, that is something I would like to know your thoughts on…
With regard to a Glastonbury funded PCSO:
a) there has already been some discussion by the Council’s Town Centre Working Group about funding a private security firm to ‘police’ Glastonbury…
b) until 2002, Glastonbury Town Council used to annually fund Glastonbury Fire Station’s second Fire Engine…
c) a Glastonbury PCSO, funded through the Council Tax would probably cost each household around £1 per month…
What do you think? Is £1 a month worth a dedicated Glastonbury PCSO?
I look forward to your comments.
Cllr Jon Cousins
Mayor of Glastonbury
Glastonbury Council, St. Edmund’s Ward
Town Hall, Magdalene Street, Glastonbury,
Somerset. BA6 9EL