A radical solution to helping with Leighton Buzzard’s policing problems was launched in the town at the weekend.
Streetwatch was launched in the High Street on Saturday and aims to address complaints about the perceived lack of a visible police presence by using volunteers.
With 16 members of the public signed up already, the initiative will revolve around groups of volunteers patrolling the streets to spot crime.
The patrols will not have authority to arrest, chase or confront any wrongdoers, but they will be on hand to provide advice and support to members of the public.
The scheme is a joint initiative by Bedfordshire Police and Leighton Buzzard Town Council.
Chairman of Leighton-Linslade police liaison committee Cllr Tony Morris said: “The crime in Leighton Buzzard is serious stuff, there’s a lot of shoplifting and so on and that’s why we’re doing Streetwatch in the town.”
Bedfordshire Police has already launched Streetwatch schemes in other towns in the county. Cllr Morris said: “The patrols are not going to chase after or confront anyone but provide reassurance to the elderly and the vulnerable.
“We’ll all have our yellow hi-vis jackets on and we will be working directly with the police when we go on our patrols.
“The police are having a difficult time, they have a lack of resources and they have a problem with a lack of presence in the town.”
Cllr Morris was critical of the police response to our recent front page exclusive in which officers refused to analyse 17 hours of CCTV footage after store Selections was vandalised.
He said: “That type of thing is considered low priority and it’s the sort of response I don’t like. If you ignore the low priority stuff it will just grow and fester, and turn into a high priority problem affecting the town.”
In nearby Hockliffe, residents have also taken to the streets to deal with a spike in crime which they feel wasn’t been addressed by the thin blue line.
One volunteer said that break-ins had reached “epidemic” levels – although police have disputed this figure stating from September 1 through to February 1 there had been just three house burglaries and a further four at other premises in the village.
The volunteer said: “It became necessary for us to patrol the streets ourselves to prevent the unlawful activity, which we have had a marked influence on the amount of trouble in the area. I personally lobbied the police to patrol the area and take and action to ensure that this stops as it was becoming a case of when we were broken into not if.”
Another said: “Despite our efforts of a selected volunteered group, there have still been incidents! This is largely due to not having enough folk to cover around the clock. So we are calling on anyone that wants to help in our cause. Let’s keep Hockliffe safe. Let’s take Hockliffe back from the people who are stealing from us!”
A Beds Police spokesman said: “Bedfordshire Police allocates officers to incidents depending on the threat, risk and harm that they pose.
“We also have community policing teams which engage with residents across the county, providing reassurance and crime reduction advice, as well as a visible policing presence.
“We work closely with community-led schemes, which promote good citizenship and encourage Bedfordshire residents to take an active interest in local issues and helping to keep their neighbourhoods safe.
“We have liaised with a number of residents in Hockliffe who were interested in setting up a Streetwatch group, and provided them with literature as well as advising them on the support they would receive from the force which includes equipment, training, insurance, and information about reported crime and anti-social behaviour issues.”
The spokesman pointed out that Street Watch “enabled local residents to promote good citizenship, provide visible reassurance and appropriately engage in local issues that matter most to their communities”.
She added: “Street Watch is not a replacement for the police in these areas; Street Watch members work closely with the force to encourage information sharing and partnership working. It’s a way for us to work more closely with our communities.
“We ask our volunteers commit 2 hours every month to patrol, but some do commit more than that. They are offered a number of comprehensive training packages before they start and wear high-vis vests and carry identification.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Kathryn Holloway also made a commitment in her Police & Crime plan to increase visible policing across Bedfordshire.
A total of 196 new officers are to be recruited; 56 are already in training, with another 40 set to start in March. A further 100 officers will be recruited across 2017/18 with six intakes – starting in July this year. The new recruits will see officer numbers going from 1,026 to 1,266 serving the county.