Fear Crowborough will become an easy target for criminals

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex, Katy Bourne, answered questions from residents concerned that under a new policing model, Crowborough will be left without a dedicated police presence.

Katy Bourne, Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex answering questions from the public in Crowborough

Katy Bourne, Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex answering questions from the public in Crowborough

The Neighbourhood Watch Meeting at Crowborough Community Centre on Tuesday evening (22nd March) was attended by over 100 members of the public anxious to hear Mrs Bourne defend the changes.

In her introduction, Mrs Bourne set the context about how the police is funded and how crime is evolving.  She explained that despite a £5 rise in Council Tax in the coming year, and the Chancellor’s pledge to protect police budgets, Sussex will still have to save an additional £30 to 35 million by 2020.

New model of Local Policing

In a review of neighbourhood policing, Police Community Support Officers’ job descriptions were changing.  PCSOs will be given more powers, such as the enforcement of certain licensing offences and an increased focus on problem solving.  Existing staff were issued with notice of redundancy and required to apply for the new role.  They will be deployed more flexibly in teams to vulnerable locations across Sussex assessed on the level of threat, risk and harm.

In the Wealden district they’ll be a team of about 12 Police Community Support Officers managed by a Police Sergeant.  The PCSOs will be briefed in Hailsham in person each day, before being assigned tasks throughout the district.

In future they will not be doing patrolling activity, for the sake of just providing a visible presence within communities.

During the discussion Mrs Bourne gave an example of one PCSO who had spent 4 hours just playing Chinese game of Marjong with residents.

Mrs Bourne took great pains to explain that it was the Chief Constable’s plan (as she is not responsible for operational matters), but that she will hold him to account if it does not prove to be working effectively in practice:

I am not saying this model that Sussex Police has developed is the be all and end all, because I know it is going to work.  But all I can say is where they have already implemented it , in Chichester and in Lewes, so far it seems to be working.

It might not be perfect for your area, and we might need to find another solution.  Until it is rolled-out and it’s actually up and running, it would be good to give them an opportunity.  So let’s just see what will happen.

It is going to be different to what you are used to, I’m sure.  And I can’t convince everybody.

All I can say to you is, I can only operate within the constraints that I’m given, I cannot perform miracles.

The first question was from a woman concerned about an increase in anti-social behavior and drug taking in the Beeches area of the town.  She passed the Commissioner a nitrous oxide canister she had found locally.

Abandoned for Brighton

Most of the questions from the public were about how Crowborough pays its own way in taxes and how the town wants to get value for money.

At one stage somebody shouted out: “We are just subsidising Brighton.”

There was concern expressed that criminals will soon learn that places like Crowborough are a “soft target” and move in.

The Commissioner explained how PCSOs will be issued with smart phones to enable them to be more effective on the move.  The public questioned her as to why officers had to go to Hailsham each day, why instead they couldn’t be assigned tasks using modern technology.  Mrs Bourne explained not all police stations had things like video conferencing.

The Chairman of Crowborough Chamber of Commerce told the Commissioner that in many cases shop-keepers had stopped reporting thefts from their stores as they felt the crimes were not being investigated.  She explained there was a new Business Warden scheme being piloted and she promised to put him in touch with the co-ordinator.

Local Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinators said they were troubled that there will be a disconnect between the public and the police.  Whereas in the past there were good channels of communication, with officers regularly attended their meetings to get feedback, since about Christmas this had suddenly stopped happening.

There was surprise, that a police officer, such as the District Commander, was not at the evening’s meeting to hear the disquiet about the changes themselves.  Mrs Bourne explained that the police had not been invited, as a matter of courtesy earlier in the day she had told the Divisional Commander for East Sussex that she was coming.  The Commissioner encouraged the community to still invite officers, if there were specific matters they wanted to discuss.

Police Station and Police Houses

Mrs Bourne explained the sale of Crowborough Police station had been suspended when she came into office four-years ago.  She prevented stations being closed until a suitable alternative space was found, in a public building.  Chantal Wilson, who was chairing the meeting, asked why Pine Grove had been dismissed as a location.  A couple of residents asked why Sussex Police were keeping two police houses in Crowborough that had been vacant for many years, as these could be sold to pay for a PCSO.

At the end of the meeting, Mrs Bourne said she recognised the strength of feeling in Crowborough, and she agreed to raise the issue during her monthly Performance and Accountability Meeting with the Chief Constable on 15th April.

Have Your Say:

Were you at the meeting – were you reassured by the answers given? What do you think needs to happen to modernise the police service?  Add your comments below or join the conversation on Facebook.

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