wouldn’t recommend anyone new to attending council meetings dips their toe
in by going to one chaired by councillor Alex Sawyer. He plays a straight bat,
tinged occasionally with gentle humour and is blessed with a committee almost free
of Bexley council’s lunatic fringe. Those who prefer political histrionics,
partisanship and plain stupidity should opt for a Cheryl Bacon chaired meeting
every time. So with Alex’s committee all on their best behaviour prepare
yourself for a factual report, with close to zero entertainment value.
Council officer Dick Passmore kicked off by mentioning the small budget consumed by the committee’s activities. Councillor Steven Hall wanted to know where an unquantified £127,000 had gone. Steven is a man who doesn’t consider one hundred and twenty seven grand to be small change. The answer was that it had gone on the St. Giles Trust (offenders rehabilitation), the Bobby Van scheme (security advice and practical help), Neighbourhood Watch (community crime prevention) and youth diversion projects (no idea).
Next on stage was that 12 month wonder, Chief Superintendent Victor Olisa. He said that Bexley was, under the ‘cut backs’, going to see a reduction of only one in its number of front line police officers (to 344) but it would rise again by 2015 to 360. He said that was a rise of 24. Not sure where that came from, perhaps 344 will drop to 336 in 2015.
Safer Neighbourhood Teams are going to investigate their own crimes in future - maybe the Commander should have rephrased that but I’m sure he knows his staff better than I do - and CID staff numbers will take a dip as a result.
Burglary stats. are up but not by much and the principal cause is theft from motor vehicles. Too many people leave car doors unlocked.
Councillor Mike Slaughter thought that the police were pulling a fast one with the Safer Neighbourhood Teams. He said the council had been promised “no political decisions” and “no merging” of SNTs, but the reduction in the number of sergeants was “merging by a different name”. The Borough Commander said the new arrangements were justified by the added flexibility. Councillor Slaughter was not impressed. “It is disturbing it has changed this much.”
Councillor John Davey was concerned that burglary numbers might be oscillating up and down in tune with certain individuals alternating between jail and the mean streets of Bexley. The Commander didn’t agree. He targeted known criminals and has had freed offenders locked up again in as little as 19 minutes of getting out.
Councillor Val Clark related how her car was vandalised while in a Bexley car park under a CCTV camera. She reported it to the police more for the statistics than in expectation of a result but wasn’t helped by police who said it wasn’t worth checking the CCTV because the cameras were always pointing the wrong way. Maybe the crooks look up before they strike. CS Olisa said that there were no car theft hotspots in Bexley so it wasn’t easy to pay special attention anywhere. He had placed decoy vehicles across the borough over the past six months and not a single one had attracted criminal attention.
At the last Crime & Disorder meeting the Commander spoke of merging Bexley and Bromley police at senior management level and forming ‘Basic Command Units’. Councillor Brenda Langstead asked for an update on that but was told instead that the plan had been totally abandoned. Some back office staff may be shared, nothing else. Councillor Langstead complained that police officers are concentrated in Bexleyheath and Bexley to the detriment of areas such as hers which had no CCTV coverage. Commander Olisa was unmoved.
Safer Neighbourhood Panels caused more dissension in the ranks. Councillors had been discouraged from attending them but the police had agreed to relax their rules such that councillors who lived in a ward could attend “as residents”. A moment’s thought would show the flaws in that. Many councillors do not live in their wards and would be barred from keeping themselves informed via such forums.
Olisa shifted his position but insisted that any councillor “who made a political statement would be asked to desist or leave.” Somewhat naive to expect a politician not to be political surely? Councillor Nigel Betts probably put his finger on why the police don’t want councillors to be at their public meetings. “Officers talk out of the back of their heads on subjects which they know nothing about. Politics is not the issue”. Olisa continued to rumble on about “councillors will be asked to leave or desist”. I know I have sometimes suggested that Bexley is a police state but I didn’t expect Chief Superintendent Olisa to take me quite so literally. If elected representatives are not allowed to represent because the police chiefs say so it’s a good job we will shortly see the back of this one.
On that subject it was revealed that council leader Teresa O’Neill and chief executive Will Tuckley had written to the Met. Commissioner to express their discontent at Bexley being used as a police training ground. Councillor Val Clark said the borough has had “dozens” of police Borough Commanders in her time as a councillor and the longest lasted two years, one only three months. Perhaps bending the rules to suit a crooked council proves to be too stressful?
Olisa’s replacement, Superintendent Peter Ayling, was variously described by the outgoing commander as “fantastic” and “more than capable” - of giving a very dubious answer to a Freedom of Information request I assume - and he would appoint his deputy, a Chief Inspector, after he had settled in. When would he take over? That question was asked twice, one answer was 4th March and the other the 5th.
Council officer David Bryce-Smith was asked to speak about the Bexley Crime Survey and wisely did not go into too much detail of the data gathered. I shall take the same leaf out of his book but it is worthy of note that the number of participants (810) had fallen compared to the year before (1,141) and is now less than the number of people who will read about it here today.
The numbers are so low that one must doubt the validity of the statistics. Only 48 out of 91 people had suffered a crime and reported it but fewer than half provided postcodes. Despite that a Ward table of unreported crime had been lovingly produced with Erith in bottom position but otherwise filled with noughts, ones and twos. On such scant information strategies are formulated and money is spent. Public apathy rules once again and councillors must be glad of that, for without it many would be out on their ear. To be fair, David Bryce-Smith was obviously only too aware that “the statistical significance is quite low”.
While on the subject of apathy I should add that apart from myself there was at most only one member of the public present - and I wasn’t absolutely sure about him. Even the BCMG mob were absent, presumably realising that with Alex Sawyer in charge there was unlikely to be any chicanery worth monitoring. The meeting closed at 21:08. 98 minutes of my life I won’t get back.