Why are meetings about crimes committed within our communities happening in private?
Calls have now been made for the community safety partnerships to be held in public once again
By Sarah Ward
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Important meetings about the crime happening within our communities are being held in private and some councillors have now raised concerns about the lack of public reporting.
A few years ago the community safety partnership meetings served the local borough or district council area and were held in public - with regular granular reports about crime trends within the towns and villages. These were reported by the media and also made available to councillors who would share the details with the residents they represented.
For instance in one of the last reports by the Corby Safety Partnership in October 2019 the number of anti social behaviour incidents was reported for that year and the previous twelves months with the percentage change given as well as the action taken to tackle it.
But since the unitary councils were given the go ahead in 2018 and the former two tier borough and county council system was scrapped last year, there have been established two large community safety partnerships - one for the North and one for the West of the county.
Made up of agencies such as the police, the councils, health bodies and the probation service, the partnerships meet quarterly and have various sub groups underneath them which meet more regularly and target areas such as domestic abuse and devise strategy.
However these meetings are private and the minutes are not published.
Councillors from across the political groups are now calling for the larger community safety partnership meetings to be made public and for more information to be shared, as they are concerned that a full picture of crime in the county is unknown and that police are also missing out on information from the public.
Conservative Cllr David Sims, who represents the Corby Rural ward, spoke to NN Journal yesterday following a number of recent crimes in the area. On Sunday evening at around 6pm vandals caused £60,000 of damage after breaking into East Carlton Hall and smashing windows in front of picnickers enjoying the country park.
This follows a break in just down the road at Wilbarston Primary School over the weekend in which some items were stolen from the early years centre and then dumped in a brook.
He said councillors need to know more about what is happening in their communities and the old forums that used to exist where councillors were briefed by officers and could question police have been lost.
“The information we get is very limited,” he said. “It is nowhere near as open as it used to be.
“I am concerned about crime increasing in the villages. I don’t think it is just for one reason. In town there are more cameras. In villages there seems to be a perception they are easy pickings. They are more remote and there is less community CCTV about.
“People are concerned and people are worried.
“Since the new unitary - it is a completely different situation to when it was a smaller authority - it is so big. It’s still in its early days but it is too impersonal. You don’t know what is going on because it is too big.”
Independent Cllr Jim Hakewill, who represents Rothwell and Mawsley on North Northamptonshire Council agrees with Cllr Sims that since the North unitary was established the communication about crime within the communities has reduced. He said the information he gets about crime is ‘very patchy’.
“We have lost the local, close relationships that the boroughs and districts had and nothing has replaced it other than remote, private meetings.
“With the arrival of the new unitaries so much of the opportunities for the public to talk to public services like the police appear to have closed down.
“Communities can add a great deal of information that is new to the police and the [former] community safety partnerships created some great channels of communication.
“You need consistent reporting of crime to know if it is going up or down. We used to have in Kettering a rural forum that met regularly and the police came along.
“But that was closed down before the unitary.”
In the West the authority has set up ‘neighbourhood working groups’, which concentrate on local areas, for example there is one for the St James area of Northampton and another for the town’s Kings Heath.
These are populated by chosen representatives and some local residents, but again these meetings are held in private and minutes of discussions are not published.
The larger West Northamptonshire Community Safety Partnership is obliged to publish an annual report, but since being established last May there has not been a public report.
The terms of reference for the committee say that it is:
To provide a forum for the discussion of matters relating to crime and disorder reduction and community safety locally.
And it goes on to say that:
Board Members will be responsible to their own individual responsible authorities and host authorities for their role in WNCSP. They will ensure relevant issues are reported back to their organisations as required.
Liberal democrat Jonathan Harris who represents the Brixworth ward, said he receives information through the parish council but not so much in his role as a unitary councillor.
“When I was a councillor on the former Daventry District Council I certainly seemed to receive more regular updates with [crime] data for the area. I’m not saying that we don’t get it now but it is certainly hit and miss. The only crime that gets talked about regularly is fly tipping - I’m not saying that is not an issue but that is the only thing that crops up fairly regularly.
“There is no scrutiny [of crime]. It is one of the things that is on a number of people’s minds, that we are not using scrutiny fully either.”
There is a Northamptonshire Police, Fire and Crime Panel which meets every two months and which has the remit of holding the police commissioner Stephen Mold to account rather than the police force. The crime figures are reported to the panel annually and there is focus on the scrutiny of strategy, finances and complaints.
The meetings are also not publicised in North Northamptonshire and the agenda does not appear on the council’s website, despite it covering both authority areas.
In April Northamptonshire police issued a press release saying the force, which is rated as requires improvement, had made major performance improvements.
It included various statistics presenting the force in a positive light, but the underlying data was not provided to the media to scrutinise. NN Journal has asked the police force on a number of occasions since April for this data arguing that if the force issues positive results it should allow the wider crime statistics to be analysed but the data has not been provided.
Crime data can be accessed from the national website for policing, but this is often in arrears. The latest data for Cottingham has the most up to date information for April.
NN Journal asked North Northamptonshire Council yesterday why the community safety partnership meetings were being held in private and it said:
“It’s not unusual for Community Safety Partnerships to hold their meetings in private rather than being open to the public. There is no legislative requirement under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to hold them in public session.
“We are exploring developing locality-based forums where we can engage and connect with communities.
You can have a look at the crime levels for where you live here
This comment was added after publication on June 21.
Yesterday our report concerned a suspected stabbing on the Queensway estate in Wellingborough.
Police have since confirmed a man in his 30s was stabbed by an unknown gang on Masefield Close in the early hours of Saturday morning and is now in hospital, where his injuries are said to be non life threatening.
At the time of going to press last night we had just heard news of another possible stabbing in the Fulmar Lane area of Wellingborough on the Hemmingwell estate.
We have contacted the police to confirm and will keep you updated.
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