To consider a report on the operation of the new Bracknell and Wokingham policing arrangements following the merging of the Bracknell and Wokingham forces.
Superintendent Rob France, Bracknell and Wokingham LPA Commander, delivered a verbal report on the merging of the Bracknell and Wokingham forces, covering the following points:
· Streamlined administrative processes had resulted in officers being freed up to focus on their key roles.
· Re-organisation of teams had allowed the creation of a force of 8 officers plus a sergeant focussing on high risk areas and working with vulnerable drug users.
· Amalgamation of investigative teams had allowed more effective deployment and higher resistance. Whilst there had been some teething problems initially as the new system bedded in, reaction times had now been seen to rise.
· Good practice had been shared between the two parts of the new force. For example, the work on reducing domestic abuse repeats that had been carried out in Wokingham had been shared with the Bracknell force.
· Better resilience to budgetary constraints. For example, the increase in armed response officers had impacted on frontline policing but the merged force was better able to deal with these pressures.
· Changes to funding meant that the force needed to focus on things that made a difference. Staffing numbers might be lower in these areas but they were better protected.
In response to a Member’s question regarding Beat Officers, Superintendent France stated that evidence showed that the presence of police on the beat did not catch criminals or prevent crime unless they were stationed in places where crime happened. For example, Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) had been circulated widely on the Norrey’s Estate and this had led to a reduction in crime due to their accessibility and visibility. As PCSOs were attached to an area, engagement and reassurance was greater. He clarified the fact that police from the Bracknell and Wokingham Force were not, in general, called to London to assist in large operations but were more likely to be called to assist with public order in the Thames Valley Police area. He agreed that officers needed to be better at talking to people and listed a number of methods that had been used, such as local meetings and surgeries.
In response to Member’s questions about the impact of the closure of the Public Counter at Wokingham Police station and the general trends in crime in the last 12 months, Superintendent France explained that the use of the Public Counter did not justify the expense of staffing it. Reports at the Counter averaged 15 per week, of which all bar 3 or 4 were lost property related. He stated that there had been a rise in overall crime over the 2015-16 year of approximately 5% and then went on to provide a breakdown of this figure. He explained that some crimes had fallen in occurrence whilst others had increased. For example, occurrences of violence with injury were down and burglaries were up, although the clear up rate for this crime in Bracknell and Wokingham was the highest in the Thames Valley area. He stated that figures on low level acquisitive crime were up but that there were currently no identifiable patterns, but sexual assaults, robberies and theft from vehicles had dropped.
In response to a Member’s question about the impact of the European Referendum on hate crime, Superintendent France reported that, whilst not directly attributable to the European Referendum and possibly due to a range of circumstances, there had been a significant rise in reported incidents, that of 200%. He clarified that all reports that fell into one of the five categories of hate crime cited by the Home Office had to be recorded but that only a small percentage then went on to be recorded as crime as this required a duty of proof.
In relation to a question regarding a possible move of the Wokingham Police Station to the fire station, Superintendent France indicated that this was one possible option and that the matter was open to discussion. He went on to state that Members were welcome to join the police on a ‘ride-along’ or ‘walk-along’, to gain a better idea of the work being done. Councillor Mirfin stated that he had taken up the opportunity on more than one occasion and that it had been a very valuable experience.
1) Superintendent Rob France be thanked for attending the meeting and providing a detailed update on the merging of the Bracknell and Wokingham Forces; and
2) a report be presented to the Committee each January to update Members on crime statistics and the impact of changes in policing/emergency services.