IN THE HOTSEAT: Police chief answers your questions
Q: What is your view on plans to slow people down in their vehicles, with obviously limited manpower? In my opinion, there is a reluctance to tackle this ever-increasing issue.
A: A lot of this is done nowadays through our Community SpeedWatch, which members of the community are involved in. This is about, firstly, identifying the problem – a lot of the time, it can just be people’s perceptions of speeding vehicles, rather than the speed itself being a problem. If it is found that there is a problem with speed in a particular area, we would go down the route of recruiting volunteers and that has proven to be really successful and popular.
Q: My experience of Swindon is that most people are great, but police seem to be so stretched that they cannot respond. I don’t remember the issue being this bad when the station was in town with lots of police moving in and out. Could this have been a deterrent?
A: The town centre police station closed a number of years ago, and what I can say is crime has dropped significantly – that is what I set out to do two-and-a-half years ago, that is what the Home Secretary wants us to do. Clearly all public sectors are being held more accountable and, of course, there is less money. People like to see officers pounding the beat, but I’ve got to make the best use of my resources. I’m really keen for people to report crime – I want to know about it. If I don’t know about it, I can’t target the resources to deal with it, and sooner or later it becomes an issue and that is when it gets out of hand.
We’ve got the town centre police point now and we have a visible policing presence within the town centre. It is all part of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s objective – to strengthen neighbourhood policing by creating Safer Neighbourhood Teams. It is not just about the copper walking down the street in the hope they might see something. It’s about a more effective, targeted use of resources.
Q: Wiltshire Police is on track to dip below 1,000 police officers in the next 12 to 15 months. How do you see the force coping when it’s below this ‘tipping point’ figure?
A: They have set a pretty clear goal as to where they want to be and this is constantly reviewed. There has been a drop in crime but there has been a lot more police responding to issues that were nothing to do with police. What the Spending Review has done is make all public bodies look hard at what they do, so police won’t be responding to things they should never have been responsible for.
It is safe out there, and part of our challenge is to make people feel safer. We know it is safer, but it’s our challenge to make people feel it.
When you look at our shift patterns, they are designed to meet demand. We now have more officers on duty on a Friday evening than a Monday morning, for example, rather than having a blanket of staff at times when they may not be needed.
Q: Which are the three most common crimes committed in Swindon?
A: Theft, shoplifting and minor damage.
Q: Why do you think some people do not report crime?
A: There are a number of issues. I need people to report crimes to us, but there are a number of issues why they might not. The media doesn’t always help us, at times when they are saying about under-recording of crime – we want to record it, we need to know where to target our resources, we don’t know unless the public tell us. Sometimes people won’t report it if it is fairly low-level crime, they just see it as an acceptable loss to them. There will be those individuals who think the police may not be interested, it is fairly trivial and it is unlikely that we will get the offender. Our message is tell us and let us be the judge.
Q: Recently, a chief constable from another force said drugs gangs were able to operate within just two hours of being raided following organised operations, like your recent Op Harness. What is your take on this?
A: I’ve always said we are not complacent about this and I am conscious of the fact that, because of the way the drugs trade works, people will seek to fill the breach. We know the demand in Swindon was significantly affected by our recent raids and we also know that users and dealers do talk to each other. You can compare it to any business with people making money, they will try to exploit any opportunity they can – it can be within a number of hours but we try to keep one step ahead. We rely on members of the public coming forward and being our eyes and ears. We will always act on the information we receive.
Q: Should police officers be required to be fitter? The bar seems to be set quite low.
A: There is a national fitness test which all officers, as of September, will be required to pass. We need to be at a reasonable standard of fitness. I need officers to be fit enough to chase a burglar, thieves and criminals. We expect a reasonable level of fitness and I am content with the level the test requires.
Q: There seems to be a very high number of accidents on Thamesdown Drive due to speeding and, as a resident, I regularly see cars jumping red lights. What is being done?
A: We will target it according to complaints – the Community SpeedWatch scheme enables the local community to take action, but if it becomes an area of serious complaint, we will task it to the roads policing department. The issue we have with Thamesdown Drive is we have a long, straight road, with no traffic calming measures and we will find that people’s speed is creeping up. Having somebody stood on the side of the road in a hi-vis jacket and a speed gun catching drivers and following this up with a warning letter can really work.
SWINDON Women’s Aid director Olwen Kelly will be in the Hotseat next week. Olwen, who heads a team of 15 paid staff and eight volunteers at the women’s refuge, will be answering all your burning questions.
She was born in County Wicklow, Ireland, to a housewife mum and stonemason dad. The family moved to England in the 1970s and Olwen joined the Civil Service on leaving school at 18.
She worked in Bristol, London and other locations, latterly at the Department of Communities and Local Government, and was South West Regional Crime Advisor and South West Regional Drug Advisor.
In 2007 Olwen joined South Gloucestershire Council, heading up the community safety and drug team, and last September came the move to her current job at Swindon’s Women’s Refuge.
If you have a question for Olwen, please get in touch.
Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org under the heading ‘Hotseat’.
Alternatively, post your letters to Hotseat, Swindon Advertiser, Newspaper House, 100 Victoria Road, Swindon, Wiltshire SN1 3BE. You can also send your questions through our Facebook page, or tweet us @swindonadver.
The feature will appear in the Adver on Wednesday.
Send all questions by Saturday, March 15.
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