Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, was joined by the Force’s Deputy Chief Constable, Garry Forsyth, and members of the town’s Community Policing Hub Team to set the record straight on crime in the town at a packed public meeting.
The meeting took place at Mentmore Pavilion, Mentmore Road, Linslade, Leighton Buzzard (Thursday August 30 2018) and was attended to capacity by residents, town councillors and the MP for South West Bedfordshire, Andrew Selous.
“It's incredibly important to set out what the actual facts are on crime in Leighton Buzzard and also to hear from residents themselves. Of those attending a packed meeting only six had experienced the crimes that dominate calls to the 999 Response officers of Bedfordshire Police - robbery, assault, theft or burglary. That doesn’t mean other experiences don't count of course. We heard residents complaining of a group of youths on bicycles on the High Street and a fear factor around Anti Social Behaviour (ASB) more generally which is why we have a Community Hub Team in Leighton Buzzard who work every day to address those problems,” said the Commissioner.
Asked why the town had lost its Enquiries Office and the police had moved from the old station to the Community Fire Station, PCC Holloway explained:
“Before I came into this role, I could not have known what the figures were for the footfall to the old station’s Enquiries Office - which had closed before I came into this position, as I started on May 15 2016. The evidence shows that an average of only two people a day were coming into the Enquiries Office to report matters to police because we all have mobile phones or landlines these days and can also report online. There was a very clear choice; if you still had an Enquiries Office and its civilian staff, you wouldn’t have Sgt Liam Mitchell and his 7 PCs and 3 PCSOs which form the largest team ever specifically dedicated to neighbourhood policing and problem solving in this town.”
DCC Forsyth confirmed this adding: “I was not part of the decision to close Leighton Buzzard’s Enquiries Office, which happened before I arrived, but I’ve closed down many front counters and there’s always a footfall analysis first. It’s very clear; either you can have an empty building with no cops in it or a team of cops on the streets of Leighton Buzzard working to solve problems for you and I'm certain I know which you’d choose.”
The Commissioner defended the decision to relocate the Leighton Buzzard Community Hub Team - a Sergeant, 7 PCs and 3 PCSOs acting under an Inspector, Chief Inspector and Superintendent Greg Horsford, who was also on the panel. “The old police station was not right here in the centre of the town as the Community Fire Station is, right off the High Street, Market Place and centre of policing demand around the shops and businesses by day and pubs and restaurants by night. What’s more, the Fire Station which they now share is a building you already pay for. There are visible police vehicles outside and they didn’t get here by magic. They were driven by police officers now working in your town.”
The Commissioner also addressed the myth that the Community Team works only until 10pm and that no police cover is available afterwards, by pointing to recent Hub activity until at least 3am to target those seeking to steal from vans and cars. Supt. Horsford confirmed that the 999 Response service covers the town after that time and that such crews do not return to their original bases between calls but are tasked to Leighton Buzzard late at night and in the early morning. The panel pointed to the swift response to a recent robbery at the Stanbridge Post Office at 5.37am.
PCC Holloway pointed to significant progress by the Leighton Buzzard Community Hub Team over the last year in driving down street drinking and begging in the town centre to a few individuals, all of whom are known by the Team, who continue to work with them (including arranging accommodation for one homeless man who has rejected it).
Sgt. Liam Mitchell, who leads the Community Hub team, confirmed that even the persistent nuisance cyclists, mentioned at the meeting, have been targeted by his team with the use of ASB and Community Protection Orders, including orders issued to parents which can attract a jail sentence. Sgt Mitchell said this has meant that a particular group of cyclists had stopped causing a nuisance throughout the recent school summer holidays.
He also spoke of the reduction of street drinkers from a group of around 20-30 to approximately four and the Environmental Audit being carried out for consideration with the council to deal with other ASB issues, such as noise. He also gave details of successful recent arrests for both drugs and burglary in the town as a direct result of the work of his team, most of whom were in attendance to speak to residents at the end of the meeting.
Sgt Mitchell explained that it has never been easier to get in contact with his Community Hub Team or find out what they have been doing; the team has its own Facebook page (with approximately 1600 likes from residents) - leighton buzzard community policing team - with a link at the top to get in touch.
Crime worries can also be reported via the Bedfordshire Police website - bedfordshire.police.uk - which, if someone wants to report a crime, offers the chance to do so in writing online or to speak to an operator via a webchat. A local issue can be reported via the “Raise a Concern” section.
The “Your local area” section, gives details of recent prosecutions, newsletters from the Hub team and news stories, if a search is entered for Leighton Buzzard.
Sgt Mitchell confirmed the Hub team’s local area priorities are set at quarterly meetings with town councillors and other partners to give them a voice in how policing is delivered in the town.
The Commissioner also spoke of the “fear factor” which is created by websites making claims which had often not withstood police scrutiny.
On the subject of thefts from vehicles, she pointed to the traditional problem in the town, first reported to her before she came into the role, in October 2015, given the quick getaway offered by the A5. The PCC asked the audience to consider the deterrent factor of notices which are widely used stating that “no valuables or equipment are contained in this vehicle overnight” and confirmed that, as the owner of a small business herself in the past, she would not have left the equipment on which her livelihood depended anywhere in an unattended car or van. “This is not, of course, passing the buck for such thefts to victims and this is why there has been such a push to target vehicle thefts by the Community Hub Team,” she said.