The Chairman welcomed Matthew Barber, Thames Valley Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, and John Campbell, Thames Valley Police Chief Constable, to the meeting.They were also joined by the three Local Police Area Commanders - Superintendent Mike Loebenberg (Aylesbury Vale), Superintendent Amy Clements (Chiltern and South Bucks) and Superintendent Emma Burroughs (Wycombe).
Full Council received a presentation from the Chief Constable. The presentation in its entirety can be found appended to these minutes. In summary the presentation provided members with information and updates on the following:
- With regards to local policing, the Local Policing Areas model had been restructured and there had been an increase to patrol numbers. Year on year arrests had increased by 13% and stop and search incidents had increased by 58%.
- There was now an increased number of locally based detectives, many with specialist capabilities. Force wide outcomes (detections) were up 24% from this time last year.
- The 101 call handling service had seen an improvement in waiting times which had reduced to around two minutes for an average call time. 999 call time responses remained strong at 7.6 seconds. Online reporting had increased substantially from the previous year and the force was working on satisfaction rates to ensure people received the same level of service as they would expect through telephone calls or physical visits.
- Three men had been found guilty of the manslaughter of PC Andrew Harper. Two appeals had been lodged, one from the Attorney General who believed the sentences were too lenient and one from the defendants who believed the sentences were too harsh. The Court of Appeal would deal with the appeals in due course.
- A large amount of protest activity had taken place since 1 June 2020 and this had been carefully facilitated by the police. There had been no issues of arrests in this force area which reflected the good liaison between the police and protest organisers.
- TVP had the largest footprint of HS2 activity in the country and this presented a significant policing challenge, both in terms of resourcing and in balancing the needs of protesters. Local residents were concerned about damage and the impact on their communities and non-residents would also visit the area to protest accordingly. The police have had to mobilise resources on a number of occasions for spontaneous protests which were often violent in nature. There had been occasions officers had been contaminated with human waste and another occasion where a protester attempted to remove hydraulic pipes from a cherry picker an officer was using. Resourcing protests took resources away from local policing and this information had been shared with local MPs along with the associated costs with a view to a case being made to the Home Office to request additional funding due to the long term nature of the HS2 project.
- Operation Venetic had targeted serious and organised crime across the Thames Valley and the South East. A number of arrests had been made in the TVP area with investigations ongoing. It was an example of Thames Valley Police working successfully in partnership with the National Crime Agency.
- A number of local officers had been drawn in to support the response of the Forbury Gardens terrorist incident in Reading.
- Operation Restore was TVP’s response to the covid-19 pandemic. This involved supporting the repatriation of UK nationals from Wuhan in January, maintaining policing services, and protecting the workforce including response officers who were often entering chaotic circumstances. The force also supported a number of covid-19 testing sites through the Local Resilience Forum.
- TVP’s strategy of enforcement involved ‘engage, explain, encourage, enforce’ with the vast majority of communities being compliant. Fewer fixed penalty notices had been issued in the second wave of lockdown compared to the first. The notices often related to the rule of six not being followed, failing to use face coverings and failing to quarantine in line with guidance. There had been over 37,000 covid related incidents in the Thames Valley, over 3,000 of these were in Buckinghamshire with 250 Fixed Penalty Notices having been issued in Buckinghamshire.
- 781 officers were assaulted in Thames Valley between 1st April 2020 and 25th October 2020, which was a 22% increase on the previous year. 135 of these assaults took place in Buckinghamshire. 30 officers in Buckinghamshire were spat at, 6 officers were exposed to a blood born virus risk and 30 assaults had been Covid-19 related. These cases had been dealt with strongly by the courts with appropriate sentences given to perpetrators.
- An update on officer recruitment was given. Recruitment had opened in June with 23.5% of applications coming from BAME applicants. The increase in numbers was welcomed although would not bring the force back to its previous levels.
- The Superintendents of each respective local policing area provided an update on policing and criminal activity in their areas as noted in the presentation.
In response to Members’ questions the following main points were noted:
A question was asked on staffing levels within neighbourhood policing and it was queried whether numbers would now increase following the recruitment programme. The Chief Constable explained that TVP remained committed to neighbourhood policing and that the aim was to reduce turnover in this area to aid consistency. A review was ongoing in this area with a view to enhancing neighbourhood policing. The first wave of officer recruitment would be focused on local policing with a proportion going into local policing areas and some into neighbourhood policing. Superintendent Burroughs explained that for the Wycombe area, neighbourhood policing was strong and whilst officers were pulled away in exceptional circumstances, where possible they were protected to remain in the area. The Deputy PCC added that PCSO’s remained key to neighbourhood policing and the huge value that they add was recognised.
A member raised the issue of the introduction and enforcement of additional 20 mph zones for areas with high pedestrian use. The Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner explained that it was for the highways authority to set speed limits in consultation with the police, acknowledging that on occasion there would be genuine highways technicalities which would prevent certain speed changes. If more 20mph zones were to be implemented, these would have the same enforcement as other zones with the police continuing to prioritise the fast road network where fatalities and serious accidents were more likely to occur. It was understood that the Department for Transport was looking at the enforcement of 20mph zones with a possibility that this may be delegated in certain circumstances to local authorities at some point should legislation allow it.
In response to a query on speedwatch initiatives having access to ANPR and average speed cameras, Community Speedwatch was highlighted as an excellent initiative which the force would continue to look at supporting the improvement of. The Deputy PCC explained that whilst he was keen that volunteers had the widest spread of technology available to them as possible, there were some issues with what was permissible by the Home Office and Department for Transport. He added that if the pilot scheme which was currently underway was successful, he was hopeful that some PCC funding could be used so that a good range of standard equipment could be provided to community speedwatch groups which would be approved by the Police and would meet the Home Office and Department for Transport guidance. The Chief Constable was unaware of forces allowing members of the public access to ANPR due to the sensitive nature of data available although he would look into this further. Average speed cameras were said to be moderately successful, but involved significant costs. Hampshire Constabulary was piloting a scheme using average speed cameras which TVP would be keen to see the results of to aid future decisions.
In a further question that related to speeding concerns, members were advised that number plate and facial recognition required further discussion due to issues with accuracy and its ethical use. A fundamental review of ANPR would be undertaken to ensure a strategic approach moving forward.
A question was asked about a specific incident in the High Wycombe area and the investigation process was queried. The member was advised that the police were unaware of anyone who had a motive in the particular case and the CCTV footage had been poor due to lack of lighting and camera positioning. Reassurance patrols had been made and the case would be followed up if the victims were aware of any potential perpetrator(s).
In relation to policing numbers and budget pressures, the Chief Constable reported that at the present time the size of the officer establishment was approximately 4,000 officers to police the approximate 2.5 million residents of Thames Valley. Over the last ten years or so, the force had lost around 750 officers, but the assurances given as part of the officer uplift would result in 450 officers being recruited. This included 183 officers in the first wave of recruitment. The force had also lost operational staff posts, which had an impact on local policing.
A member raised a concern about the rise in domestic violence and questioned whether there were any new initiatives to address the behaviour of perpetrators. Members were advised that over the lockdown period there had not been a particular increase in cases, in some cases due to offenders not living with victims. TVP had proactively and sensitively contacted around 1,500 historic victims of domestic abuse during the lockdown period and very few offences were discovered. Local commanders can endorse domestic violence protection orders to protect victims and the force continued to work with partners on offender management schemes. The perpetrator programme funded through the PCC office had been through a thorough review process and it was being looked at as to how similar programmes could be funded in the future. The Bucks Family Drug and Alcohol Court was also highlighted as being proactive in dealing with issues where addiction was involved and an additional officer role had been funded to support this and expand the role across Bucks and Milton Keynes.
The Chairman thanked the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, the Chief Constable and the Local Police Area Commanders for their time and contributions.