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About par for the course

Justin Holding does his civic duty for once

Last night I attended my first-ever police liaison group meeting.

I had better explain. About a year ago I was coming out of my car park when a couple of guys about my age (60 plus) stopped me for a chat. They were ‘public’ members of the local police liaison group and were ‘walking the ward’ to check and take a view upon the problems of noise by the river, including amplified buskers.

As a local resident, did I notice it? Well, yes, of course I noticed the noise of people by the river when – e.g. on weekends – thousands of outside visitors made day visits come to my town to chill out, have fun and enjoy the atmosphere.

Was I bothered by it? That was a different issue. I don’t go out much and frankly, although I noticed the ‘buzz’ of conversation etc. on the far bank of the river – it’s rather like the hum of thirty hives-worth of bees milling about – I didn’t personally feel it was too loud or too intrusive.

They invited me to attend the next quarterly meeting of their group and – because I said I might do, more out of courtesy than true intent – they took my name and email address. Since then I’ve received regular emails with agendas, minutes etc. … but missed the next two police group liaison meetings held, simply out of inertia and also partly – it must be admitted – because they take place on Tuesday evenings, when I am habitually committed to watching the BBC’s soap Holby City at 8.00pm.

However. Last night the next quarterly meeting was taking place and, out of devilment leavened with “Oh what the heck? Why not go along, it might be interesting and/or you might get a National Rust blog post out of it …” I decided to attend, just for the hell of it.

police2It was all pretty much as I’d expected.

There were four policemen and a female ‘whatever those community police staffers are called’ on hand, along with about twenty local residents – the vast majority of them relentlessly public-spirited (or busybody-types if you’d prefer), all of them middle-class and middle-to-old-aged.

In all the meeting, which began shortly after 7.00pm, lasted very nearly two and a half hours.

In a masochistic sort of way I quite enjoyed the experience. Normally I hate big meetings – especially when chairing them myself – because, to the extent that their purpose is to take and record decisions, the waste of everyone’s time spent listening to those who cannot resist contributing upon every single item simply because they love the sound of their own voice, and/or regard such gatherings primarily as talking shops, is excessively irritating and counter-productive in terms of getting things done.

In my business career I chaired a lot of management meetings and prided myself on the number that, by careful but skilful ‘chairmanship’, I could complete within 60 minutes. The key art was cutting off the burblings of the ‘hot air’ merchants as soon as they’d delivered their basic point the first … rather than the third or fourth … time they made it. That, plus (of course) the supplementary skill of halting in mid-flow those who were obviously just speaking for the sake of it without actually having anything to contribute to the debate.

There were plenty of both last night – which caused me to have sympathy for the police in the meeting, including our borough commander, who basically had to field all sorts of minor issues from concerned residents with an axe to grind, e.g. about pissed revellers – hanging about and urinating on their garden walls in the wee hours – and keeping them awake.

Some interesting facts emerged.

Overall, we live in a low crime area. That said, Barnes and Mortlake have a preponderance of organised vehicle theft (high value 4 x 4s mainly) which usually end up in the Congo.

A large proportion of the crime and anti-social behaviour issues occurs down by the river in the summer months, on days when huge numbers of tourists and others from outside the borough come here for recreational reasons.

police3The borough commander has just 300 police under his command, 30 of whom are detectives. Overall, across the eighteen boroughs, the Metropolitan area has now nearly completed making its first tranche of ‘austerity’ cuts (target £500 million per annum). Once that is done, they’ll begin their second tranche (amounting to a further cut of £750 million per annum).

I was surprised that the borough commander didn’t deploy what to me was an obvious response to an avalanche of demands from the floor for (effectively) tens more ‘Bobbies’ on the beat outside particular resident’s houses, in the style of the halcyon days of Dixon of Dock Green from the 1950s/1960s television series, viz:

“Look, I’ve got 300 police maximum under my commander, split into two different shifts, operating 24/7. If you all seriously want another 50 policemen or women patrolling the residential streets or areas where you in particular live – which I may point out, in the overall scheme of things, is where relatively little crime actually takes place – then which crimes of the following categories would you like me to take them off: Assault (further split into grievous bodily harm, actual bodily harm and common assault); Robbery; Vehicle Crime; Burglary; Shoplifting; or that relating to Cycles? Because that is what I shall have to do …”

What did make me smile, towards the end of proceedings, was a proposal from the floor that – since assault crimes had been going up slightly – greater priority should be given to combatting this development.

Our chairman huffily pointed out that, at out last meeting, the police liaison group had already demanded that top priority should be given to anti-social behaviour in general, cycling on pavements, theft from motor vehicles and burglaries.

On a show of hands (I was in favour of assault crimes replacing ‘cycling on pavements’ as a borough priority) the meeting was tied at 7 in favour and 7 against. This left the chairman with the casting vote and he cast it in favour of retaining ‘cycling on pavements’ as receiving priority over assault crimes!

[Mind you, I was much taken with the news that, following previous prompting from our group, the police were now going to operate a ‘no tolerance’ blitz on vehicles and cyclists going through red lights. Sadly, my suggestion – in respect of the latter – that (accepting that public hangings were unfortunately out of the question because of public policy) summary public floggings might be carried out upon offenders was not adopted.]