Last Wednesday evening I was spoilt for choice; three meetings to go to.
Councillor Caroline Newton’s Communities Scrutiny Committee had to be given a
miss, a shame because she seemed to be genuinely sorry that I wasn’t there. “We
don’t have any members of the public unfortunately, hopefully many
people are watching on the webcast.”
In case they were not I will trawl through it to see if anything particularly interesting was discussed. One of the things I would have liked to have seen at first hand was the first appearance of the new joint Borough Police Commander Chief Superintendent Simon Dobinson; does he live up to my expectations? One must hope not.
Councillor Sybil Camsey (Conservative, Crooklog) said she doesn’t often speak of her experience as a Head Teacher but on this occasion she would. She did not think that the automatic exclusion of weapon carrying pupils was always a good idea. While in post she had nine, ten and eleven year olds caught with weapons at school but she “had found other ways of dealing with the situation”.
First find out what they had brought them to school, then sit down and solve the problem. In one case she asked a father to take his boy to the police because he had waved a knife at fellow pupils.
“They finger printed him, photographed him and took his DNA which frightened the life out of him.” Councillor Camsey was then able to write to other parents to warn them that “if your child does this, this is what will happen. It was a very simple way of making sure it didn’t happen again”.
Deputy Director for Communities Tonia Ainge confirmed that “there had been fairly much a blanket exclusion policy in schools” but was looking for better solutions. “It is early days.”
Councillor Alan Downing reminded the Committee that “we used to have 240 cameras stuck on lamp posts throughout the borough and a very good control room manned 24/7. I am told that it will all be controlled from Lewisham from now on. Does this mean we will have a Control Room in Lewisham? It is a shame that we have all these cameras and a service contract but we don’t know how they are being used. Is someone paying Bexley for the use of them?”.
Good question Alan. Another was “how has Bexley benefitted” from the amalgamation of the three borough police units.
The Chief Superintendent confirmed that the CCTV is not monitored. The recordings are sometimes looked at but as yet not from Lewisham so it is not a good use of police time. He knew nothing of the funding arrangements.
There were no direct benefits to Bexley from the new policing model except that some crimes, notably domestic violence, are now investigated locally and not by a centralised department. Overall “there are 100 odd fewer police posts and there are 91 vacancies, 57 officers on restricted duties a 6% sickness rate and some deployed elsewhere in London and it goes on. We should have a squad of 15 but we are starting with twelve and can only put nine players on the pitch ”.
Ex-copper Alan Downing suggested reintroduction of a number of ‘old fashioned’ ideas but was told they would all run foul of General Data Protection Regulations, GDPR.
Deputy Director Ainge said that when the police took over the CCTV system there was no financial settlement and spoke of losing the benefits of CCTV when in fact it was consciously given up. Not the same thing at all.
Councillor Downing said that Bexley’s CCTV facility was big enough to oversee Greenwich and Lewisham too but Toni Ainge said that contractual obligations had scuppered sensible arrangements.
Councillor Richard Diment (Conservative, Sidcup) was concerned that crime in Bexley was rising “significantly with relatively low detection rates, one in twenty five for burglaries”.
The replies to the Councillor’s concerns all came from Council officers and were wholly about improving data collection with not a word about improving policing. It will surprise no one.