Q&A with Wiltshire Police Supt Gavin Williams
YOU’VE been sending us your questions all week, and today we put them to Swindon Superintendent for Wiltshire Police Gavin Williams, as he took to the Hotseat.
Here’s what he had to say to your burning 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 - often 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 cannoy 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 PCC’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. What is being done about untaxed cars/vans in the town?
A. As of October 2014, the government is changing to an electronic system, but wherever we see untaxed vehicles at the moment we do report it to the DVLA - it is for them to deal with, not us.
Q. What is being done about the number of people driving while using their phones and not wearing seatbelts?
A. Wherever we see it, we will deal with is robustly. It is a road safety issue, and we would much rather deal with it at this stage rather than deal with the consequences. It is not acceptable, there are reasons why it is against the law, it is very dangerous.
Q. After the 2010 election, the chief constable at the time said one area to be looked at to save money was the huge murder squad we had when Wiltshire had relatively few murders. He said the murder squad could be hired out to other forces or diverted to other duties. Have any of these options been implemented?
A. What we have now is the Major Incident Team under the Brunel Collaboration, which is a Tri-Force collaboration and the advantage to this is we don’t have a permanent murder squad or major incident team, we have a team that is flexible and when we do have a major incident to deal with, we can count on these people turning up and dealing with it. They may or may not be Wiltshire Police staff, that collaboration will task wherever the need is and that saves on resouces. Traditionally, what used to happen is there would be a murder come in and the whole division was on it, all your detectives were out, everybody. But now we don’t even notice it, the team comes in, sets up an incident room and it doesn’t disrupt local policing at all.
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. Salisbury police station has been closed and officers will have a two to three hour journey to process a prisoner in Melksham. With Melksham custody full, will further prisoners be sent to Swindon? If Swindon is full, what happens next?
A. Firstly, this is a short term measure to enable a new custody centre to be built at Salisbury, so it’s a holding position. Yes, an overflow would be Swindon, but also we’ve got surrounding forces and they are all subject to the same laws and procedures when we take people into custody. But for now, this is just a holding position while we build a purpose built facility at Salisbury.
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 of that.
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 and 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 of fitness 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 to tackle this problem?
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 speeding, and following this up with a warning letter can really work, and it has been really popular.