This is hardly surprising: for 1998/9 the Cambridgeshire Police's single local policing priority was
As of 2001, people are still deeply concerned at the lack of priority for community policing. For instance, I've not seen a policeman patrolling (as opposed to responding to a specific incident) since 1997.
Things must be bad when Coun. Evelyn Knowles, as a member of the Safer Cambridge Steering Group, said people have lost confidence in Police actions (CEN 12-Apr-1996). This comment followed Police advice to lone women to stay off the City's streets at night.
A survey by the City Centre management group
and South Cambs District Council showed that only 24% of women feel safe in Cambridge
at night, 27% of men+women. The survey had 7,000 responses.
He was quoted in the CEN 1-Feb-96:
The [new] system is not only feasible for the city but positively desirable.
We are building up a community feeling and trying to problem-solve together.
Around 1995 they were thinking of moving the traffic section out of Parkside to the old Bottisham village police station and this seems to have happened.
We need a more Dixon of Dock Green approach if you like. People say that's harking back to a golden age but that kind of policing proved a success, both with the police and the public.
There is a crisis of confidence in the police emerging and we really must do something about it. People want to see bobbies back on the beat. There may well be studies that show that more police officers on patrol do not affect the crime rate much, but that is beside the point. The fact is that bobbies on the beat make people feel safer.
The Chief Constable, Ben Gunn (caught & fined on the spot by his own officers for speeding in 1996), said the Force's priorities in that Plan were to cut road accidents, raise public support for the Police and make sure policing was responsive to local needs (CEN 1-Apr-1996).
The CEN on 29-Feb-1996 reported that it might be three to six months before call answering was satisfactory, partly as it takes three months to train an operator. 13 out of the 103 operators left when the new system was installed. The East Anglia Ambulance Trust had even worse self-inflicted problems.
The Chief Constable claimed a helicopter would be equivalent to 20 officers, at an initial cost of £900,000 and a running cost of £418,000 plus manpower, as quoted in a letter from P.W. Blake pleading for beat officers as a priority. (CEN 29-Feb-1996) The cost has also been expressed as more than £500 per hour.
The Home Office gave the Cambridgeshire/Essex air support consortium the £900,000, which allowed them to have two helicopters, one based in each county (CEN 24-Apr).
The only compatible (so spares are shared) 2nd-hand Aerospatiale Squirrel helicopter they found was in Puerto Rico, so it took a lot of time to ship over in bits and reassemble. Another restriction in choice is that the Home Office insists on twin-engined models, apparently for safety over populated areas. It finally arrived in April 1997. It's mainly black, with registration G-CAMB, and has become a common feature hovering over the City. It does sometimes seem that they bring it out at the slightest excuse, which is hardly surprising. It proved extremely useful to the Police in just its first few months.
However it routinely provokes outrage from residents due to its noise, particularly near the Parkside police station as it often hovers in the area whilst awaiting instructions. For instance at the combined Animal Rights/Reclaim The Streets demo in 1998 it produced far more noise than the demo.
The point is that it is better (far more effective) for alarms to be silent - signalling directly the Police or a security firm. Anything which reduces the curse of ringing alarms should be welcomed, particularly by Environmental Health officers, who have to deal with noise pollution.
The Police responded to more than 7,000 ringing alarms in 1995, 40 of which were triggered by a crime. That represents an immense waste of Police manpower.
Sounding alarms are for deterring crime, not eliciting a Police response.
The only real initiative being pursued is the City Council's CCTV: as expected it'll be extended to Mill Road in lieu of policing.
The excellent Channel 4 series Coppers in September 1999 pointed out how the Police came to lose touch with the public and increasingly retreat to Police stations and squad cars since the 1950s. The "Z car" in the early 1960s was the fatal step. Whenever junior members of the Police are interviewed, they say they regret the loss of contact and would love to be back on the beat. They're rightly credited with making the best they can of the situation of hopelessly inadequate funding and weak, out-of-touch management.
At the 1999 Labour Party Conference the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, promised £50M
for 5,000 extra officers on the beat - a tiny improvement when spread across the country.
However year-on-year "efficiency savings" (i.e. cuts) under the New Tory Government,
plus one-off costs for a new radio system and policing the coming
"Millennium" (with all Police leave cancelled),
mean that Cambridgeshire will lose between 60 and 70 officers in 1999-2000.
As 87% of the £75M budget is for staff, the 2% cuts always hit staffing.
The latest Home Office statistics are that Cambs. Police have a detection rate of 28.6%, the lowest in the region
(Suffolk manage 41%).
To his great credit, Cllr. Geoffrey Heathcock resigned as Chairman
of the Police Local Consulation Group in October 1999, citing the appalling lack of interest
by senior officers in the Huntingdon HQ, in spite of their constant banging on about "partnership" and "listening".
He knows the force spends too much time on producing pleasing statistics for the Home Office.
In November the Police decided to move seven detectives from Parkside to the Histon and Sawston
Police stations so as to be closer to the crimes they want to investigate. It's apparently part of getting to
know the communities they serve and is supposed to release uniformed officers for "front-line" policing.
This is presumably part of the ethos of "smarter policing" espoused by think-tanks and other political cronies, the theory being that we don't need more policemen on the beat but instead resources should be diverted to initiatives such as helicopters, office work and "targeted" policing (i.e. picking cost-effective areas of policing - where to get good statistics at minimal cost). In short, it's a convenient rationalisation for avoiding proper expenditure on real policing.
Anything involving technology tends to be welcomed under this mindset, hence experiments such as the modern version of the medieval hue & cry: Police use the likes of e-mail and Web sites to inform a neighbourhood immediately a crime is reported.
In mid-1997 the Ambulance Trust announced a plan to issue remote homes in East Anglia with their grid references, to keep by the 'phone to speed up location and despatch. If they'd retained the local knowledge this wouldn't be so necessary. In 1999 there was a major shake-up of the service (for instance improving local management), following a highly critical independent inquiry.