Under fire PCC Kathryn Holloway to meet Leighton Buzzard residents in public meeting this month

PCC Kathryn Holloway and her crime plan
PCC Kathryn Holloway and her crime plan

Under fire Beds PCC Kathryn Holloway is to address concerns over policing in Leighton Buzzard at a public meeting at the end of the month.

She has agreed to face the public following an online petition to Parliament launched in June demanding Mrs Holloway’s resignation and accusing her of ‘broken promises’ and failure to rectify concerns over policing in the town.

The petition was rejected on grounds that Parliament has no say in the matter and Mrs Holloway has declined to comment on the issue.

But concerned residents can now put their questions to her when her roadshow visits town on Monday, July 30.

Mrs Holloway’s last public meeting in Leighton Buzzard took place two years ago with the announcement of the community policing hub.

Cllr Amanda Dodwell said: “Whilst I am of course pleased that the PCC is going to bring her ‘roadshow’ to the town, I can’t help but wonder if it is too little too late.

“This meeting is in the middle of the summer holidays when many people will be away. It is little more than a token gesture towards the town.”

Two weeks ago, South West Beds MP Andrew Selous stated crime in Leighton Buzzard has increased by two thirds since October 2012 and he called for Beds Police restore its coverage of the town.

In her response to Mr Selous, Mrs Holloway explained policing has changed “immeasurably” in recent years and she is laboured with the task of finding an additional £2.236million savings in the next year alone – totalling to £9.8million over the next four years.

The PCC described a £10million shortfall in government funding to the force and that she had been able to secure funding for just 130 of the extra 300 frontline officers needed.

Mrs Holloway stated she plans to use the July 30 meeting to explain the priorities of the force across the county, what had been done during her tenure as PCC, and also to give local residents the second opportunity in as many months to raise issues about policing.

Mrs Holloway was on annual leave at the time a previous meeting was held at Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre on June 16.

Cllr Dodwell added: “The public meeting last month with senior officers and the local policing team was well attended, and they made great strides towards rebuilding trust with the town’s residents.

“The officers of Bedfordshire Police were left to field many questions that really should have been answered by the political lead of Bedfordshire Police rather than the operational team. I think they ably demonstrated that Bedfordshire Police can function perfectly well without a PCC.

“The PCC made many promises about local policing in her election campaign which have not been delivered, or at least have not been delivered to the full satisfaction of residents.

“She promised an enquiry desk and we got a tea room.

“We were promised dedicated officers but the same team cover a patch extending to Whipsnade, Toddington and Bafton-le-Clay.

“She told us she was ‘pushing at an open door’ regarding police funding, but that door is yet to open.

“I would again stress however that the officers in Leighton Buzzard are doing a fantastic job despite the lack of resources. They work incredibly hard for our community and their efforts should be commended.”

The PCC’s ‘roadshow’ will stop by at Astral Park Community Centre, Johnson Drive, on Monday, July 30, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm.

> We have published PCC Kathryn Holloway’s letter to MP Andrew Selous in full below.

Thank you for your email dated 19 June 2018 including an ‘open’ letter to the residents of your South West Bedfordshire constituency.

I would like to begin this reply by restating my genuine thanks to you, personally, for the level of support which you have offered the Chief Constable, Jon Boutcher, and myself over the past year by addressing Government and the Policing Minister, Nick Hurd, in particular, within parliamentary questions and by holding an Adjournment Debate, highlighting the inadequate funding level of Bedfordshire Police from within the National Funding Formula.

You came to our aid as a powerful ally and were able to articulate the very real and urgent requirement for a fairer funding settlement for the Force to deal with the very complex crime issues it faces in this county.

You will be aware that, while our joint efforts have widely been regarded as successful in terms of an improved settlement for Policing as a whole (which has allowed me, as Police and Crime Commissioner, to extend the council tax policing precept in a limited way to maintain recruitment) the financial benefit of this uplift, whilst welcome, will fall significantly short of what Bedfordshire Police genuinely requires to fully populate frontline policing against the demand we face today.

To date, I have been able to budget for only 130 of the 300 additional frontline police officers I demonstrated that I required and for 32 of the 80 additional detectives constables who are needed to investigate serious and life-changing crimes occurring on a county-wide basis.

Last year, you read and reviewed my office’s Demand and Finance Report 2017/18 for Bedfordshire Police, produced for the Policing Minister, and I know that you are well aware of the case that exists for a £10 million uplift to the Government Grant for our Force.

Therefore, I know that you will share my concern that, despite what appears to have been acceptance of this case by the Minister, the requirement for me to find some £2.236 million in additional savings next year currently remains Bedfordshire Police’s savings’ requirement and, within the next four years, savings Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire must be found totalling some £9.8 million, in order to continue to deliver the policing currently provided.

I both recognise and share your objecive for Leighton Buzzard and the neighbouring towns of Houghton Regis and Dunstable to receive a fair and adequate proportion of Community Policing resources.

It is for precisely this reason that I have campaigned and tirelessly supported the reintroduction and repopulation of Community Policing across Bedfordshire, via a sustainable Community Hub model of teams of officers based in our largest towns and dedicated to problem-solving in these towns and their immediate surrounding areas, including those in your constituency.

Indeed, I am proud of the progress of the Force in this area (as is the police watchdog, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire and Rescue Services - HMICFRS - which has recognised the proven and positive trajectory of progress over the past year in this area and removed Bedfordshire Police from its enhanced scrutiny process - the Policing Performance Oversight Group - for this very reason (along with significant improvements in protecting the most vulnerable, to which I will return).

With the unwavering support of the Chief Constable, we were able to achieve full population and police officer strength within the seven planned Community Hubs last November, some three months ahead of our target date, and added an eighth at Luton Airport, given the proven demand at this location.

For an absolutely up to date briefing, the number of police officers within the Community Policing Team for Dunstable and Houghton Regis is, currently, one Sergeant, four Police Constables and four PCSOs.

This will be supplemented shortly by an additional police officer on completion of his training. In addition, Bedfordshire Police has two PCSO vacancies for this area and is currently running a recruitment process to fill these roles.

The number of police officers allocated to cover Leighton Buzzard, Barton, Toddington and the villages in the immediate area is now one Sergeant, seven Police Constables and two PCSOs.

It is absolutely the case that the residents of these towns and villages also benefit from 24 hour round the clock policing. A prime example of this service came within the last fortnight. I was made aware of a deployment in your area following the report of a residential burglary in the early hours of the morning.

In this case, two officers were initially deployed at 02:51am, followed by further officers as well as dog units and the police helicopter. I am pleased to report that four men suspected of burglary were apprehended, arrested and processed as a result. Police officers will always be sent to incidents anywhere Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire in the county when a fast response is required and the assessed threat of risk to the public is high. Delays only occur in your area, as elsewhere, when incidents of even higher risk and threat to life are occurring at that very same moment.

In response to the comparisons that you have made to towns of a similar size to Leighton Buzzard, I need to stress that Sussex, Lincolnshire, Warwickshire and Avon and Somerset forces do not face challenges that begin to be comparable to the demand, threat and risk profile that Bedfordshire Police is required to manage within the envelope of its resources.

We can also prove that this threat has grown substantially since 2012.

However, if we attempt comparison, current figures indicate that Avon and Somerset’s frontline is more than three times that of Bedfordshire Police, with a headcount of 2,758 police officers, 331 PCSOs and 404 Special Constables, which is 3,493 in total. Bedfordshire Police currently has 1,126 officers, 53 PCSOs and 174 Special Constables.

While it is the case - as in Bedfordshire - that Avon and Somerset’s Chief Constable, Andy Marsh, loses 40% of his resource to his largest urban area - Bristol - and faces some gang, gun and ‘county lines’ drug dealing issues, it is also true that he polices them with over three times the resource that we have available in Bedfordshire. This allows him the capacity to both deploy to Community Policing more generously and also to target specialist investigative and technical policing requirements.

Lincolnshire Police has had only three quarters of the number of recorded incidents per 1,000 population that Bedfordshire experienced last year. It has not been deemed similar enough in demand profile to warrant inclusion within the ‘family of forces’ used by the inspectorate of constabularies, HMICFRS, as a result. Lincolnshire’s establishment number - the planned frontline - (for police officers, staff and G4S contractors) is 2,086. The Force Operating Model is also very different.

Lincolnshire has a large, outsourced, back and middle office function arrangement with G4S and I must make it clear that such an arrangement would not enhance Community Policing for Bedfordshire, or provide more officers to Leighton Buzzard, Toddington, Dunstable, Houghton Regis and the surrounding villages as Bedfordshire has already collaborated its back room functions with Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Police to make maximum savings and my office has fully examined - and rejected - the Lincolnshire model as unable to provide appreciable further efficiencies beyond this.

The protection of the public is of paramount importance to me, as it is to you. Terrorism and radicalisation within Bedfordshire’s communities, exploitation of vulnerable young people via the organised ‘county line’ drug trade from London and other cities and some of the entrenched gang, gun and knife issues that we now face daily are - and must be - priority concerns for Bedfordshire Police.

The decision making associated with operational deployment of resources to target the Force’s highest harm crimes, most serious criminals and the prevailing threat to the public falls to the Chief Constable. However, I appreciate fully as I am confident you will too, that these decisions must be taken on the basis of detailed threat analysis and will always be one of the most challenging aspects of operational leadership. This has never been more true than within the current UK policing context.

The increase in crime that you have highlighted within your letter concerns me greatly. However, regrettably, this is a national issue and a pan-Bedfordshire problem rather than the local trend within your communities as described.

The investigation of often complex, life changing and violent crimes such as child exploitation, serious sexual offences and domestic abuse have been critically assessed as the foremost priority for Bedfordshire Police and these are all areas in which increased reporting has driven up demand dramatically since 2012, which is the benchmark year which you have referenced in your letter, with work yet to deliver to improve reporting rates for these crimes.

While I recognise fully the concerns you have raised, evidence has been provided to me by the Chief Constable at my monthly Strategic Governance Board - where I raised the specific issues of your letter this month Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire scrutiny or kept pace with the genuine changes and improvements in Community Policing in the south west Bedfordshire towns.

I fully accept, however, that any poor experience of policing response whatsoever to someone who was, understandably, deeply upset or they would not have called police in the first place, on either 999 or 101, can be so traumatic to the resident that their perception of the force responsible will be damning in the long term, and possibly forever, as a consequence.

Coming from a Communications background myself, I absolutely acknowledge that there has been a distance between the perception and evidenced reality of crime levels and those of Community Policing in south west Bedfordshire and Leighton Buzzard, in particular.

I know that you are aware that Bedfordshire Police has been making substantial efforts to improve communication and policing advice and support to the residents of Leighton Buzzard and surrounding villages and that these have been building over recent weeks and months under the Chief Inspector now dedicated to Community Policing in the south of the county, Chief Insp. Hob Hoque.

The Community Policing Team established a new Facebook site to link with residents and to provide genuine fact-based information. It was clear that there was a real appetite for this since there are now 1,379 online followers of the Leighton Buzzard Community Policing Facebook group (@leightonbuzzardcommunitypolicing) at the time of writing.

This social media group is one of many methods used by the Force to provide crime prevention advice to the public in relation to incidents and provide reassurance where required which have included, in just the last fortnight, responses live on air to a BBC Three Counties’ breakfast show in the town from the Assistant Chief Constable Jackie Sebire, Chief Superintendent in charge of Community Policing, David Boyle, and myself.

The Force staged a weekend ‘roadshow’ in the town and the ACC returned to Leighton Buzzard to meet residents on a walkabout in the town centre and outside supermarkets less than a week after a public meeting which you chaired.

I am told this public meeting was attended by approximately 30 residents and had been widely advertised.

Senior, and Community, Bedfordshire Police officers were present to answer questions and provide a factual response.

In addition to this, on 30 July, I will host a public roadshow meeting in Leighton Buzzard, alongside the Community Policing Team at Astral Park Community Centre, Leighton Buzzard, commencing at 7pm and will explain the priorities of the Force on a countywide basis, what has been being done and why over my last year in the role as PCC and also give local residents the second opportunity in as many months to speak directly to those who police their area from the Community Policing Team.

I want to do more; at my Strategic Board - and in direct response to your letter - I have asked Bedfordshire Police to provide monthly surgeries for the public to access the Community Policing Hub Teams in Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable and Houghton Regis to facilitate face to face intelligence sharing and to build relationships with residents in these towns.

I have gone further; I want to see parity in the policing of the south and north of the county, of course, and have asked for such surgeries to be established with the same regularity with the corresponding Community Hub Teams in towns such as Biggleswade, Sandy and Shefford. This has now been agreed with the Chief Constable and his Executive Team. I sincerely hope that you will welcome this move.

The Chief Constable and I share the same dilemma, although our roles are different - directing day to day deployments of Bedfordshire Police in Mr Boutcher’s case and holding him to account for these and ensuring the budget is both balanced and goes as far as is humanly possible, in my own.

As Leighton Buzzard’s residents said in the recent BBC Three Counties broadcast, they would prefer a return to 1970s policing and, in particular, the visible patrol levels of those times in their town. However, policing has changed dramatically since those days.

The highest crime risks any of us face are now committed online, and not in our streets, and did not exist in the Seventies.

The police watchdog, HMICFRS, has insisted that Bedfordshire Police prioritise protection of the most vulnerable in Bedfordshire - often children who are looked after by local authorities who run away frequently and who are preyed on both sexually and by ‘county lines’ gangs seeking assistance to run drugs and carry weapons on their behalf.

Nationwide, we see a current rise in the willingness of children to carry and use knives.

While young people are dying and being seriously injured on the streets of Bedfordshire - thankfully outside the south west Bedfordshire towns - they absolutely must be the Force’s priority and mine over matters raised with me and by residents in the recent BBC radio broadcast from Leighton Buzzard, such as the enforcement of bus lanes and riding bicycles without lights.

This does not mean to say, of course, that such issues do not genuinely upset residents or that if a single resident calls

Bedfordshire Police for service in a life-threatening incident, or during an active burglary, they should not receive an immediate response, whatever the time of day.

I do not suggest for a moment either that more serious crimes do not occur in the town of south west Bedfordshire, but they occur at a level which is comparable with other areas, receiving the same police resource. The world has changed immeasurably since the 1970s of my childhood and also, sadly, since 2012.

It is not as simple as recognising that I have supported the Force back to the 2012 strength and that, therefore, 2012 can be recreated in policing Bedfordshire in terms of the allocation of officers. I wish that it was. All the changes I have described, which represent a spiralling demand for service, have to be reflected in the Chief Constable’s deployment of his limited resources.

I know that you are also receiving a response to your letter from Chief Constable, Jon Boutcher. It is my hope that our collective explanations to you can go some way towards providing the reassurance you seek around 24 hour policing for your constituents.

I hope they also demonstrate the appetite we all share to ensure effective Community Policing for the residents of south west Bedfordshire, to deliver a fair share of the Force’s available resource and to further enhance the opportunities for your residents to meet and work with their Community Policing Team to increase safety in the neighbourhoods in which they live and work.