Saturday, November 14, 2009
And all for just £3.50 a week...
Plenty of food for thought around the Darlo blogosphere at the moment on the subject of crime and anti-social behaviour. My fellow blogger and LibDem supremo Mike Barker ended a recent post on the subject with the taunt that "we have yet to hear from any Council or Labour politicians in the town." You might think that all we need now is for Harry Hill to jump on his desk and bellow, "Fight!!"
Except that I'm in no mood to take Mike on over this issue - I thought his observations posted after accompanying the police on a Friday night around the north end of the town were restrained and sensible. I'd encourage you to read what he had to say. The surest note he struck was the complexity of the issues facing the police and confronted by youths and young adults with scant respect for authority, often after having consumed a skinful of alcohol.
As someone who has seen the various policy levers being tugged over the years on this issue, I'm aware there is no "quick fix" to deal with this problem. As a ward councillor in the North East of the town, there have been periods when Springfield Park, or the area around Nightingale Avenue shops, or the old primary school have been inundated with problems - we'd then have a police crackdown, and the difficulties would go away for a while.
It does frustrate me, however, when opposition councillors simplify the issues to make a cheap political point. Over at HarrowgateHill Future, Gill Cartwright claims that the Labour Council has "buried its head in the sand" over the issue of anti-social behaviour and that reconfiguring the warden service has made residents less safe. She only grudgingly mentions the actual reason the "warden" model was abandoned - as portfolio holder Bill Dixon stated in Council, for all their commitment, wardens were little better than "Keystone Cops" with no actual powers to tackle unrest. I'm not sure, having listened to some of my residents' experiences and views, how far they were able to consistently provide a 'rapid response' service that reassured the community.
That brings me onto Sparta. Gill believes that a warden service should be provided by the Council free-of-charge. I appreciate the irony of our traditional political stances being reversed here, but I would question why local councils should be providing a Borough-wide security team when that is clearly the role of the Police? Does Gill also believe there should be Town Hall paramedics around the Borough, or should the council be committed to putting out, say, smaller fires? Of course not.
Although you wouldn't realise it reading opposition material, the council still does have an ASB team, but now it has a fresh focus. On Thursday I attended a very instructive meeting with councillor colleagues from the North Eastern side of the Borough, hosted by the Police, and which incorporated the Council's ASB team. The meeting showcased the new ways of working being adopted to tackle crime and disorder in our area, and how the community is central to the approach.
A case in point are some ASB problems we've had near the river. Prior to the PACT meeting last week, a resident who couldn't make the meeting asked me to raise some chronic ASB problems in the Inglewood Close area. That issue was then acknowledged at the PACT. As a result, members of the ASB team immediately leafletted the area pointing out to parents the problems some young people were causing to residents. As the police undertake patrols to try and flush out the problems, the ASB team will consider whether Acceptable Behaviour Orders, Parenting Orders, ASBO's or injunctions might be necessary. The team are also perfectly placed to liaise directly with Social Services, where necessary.
To me, that seems a much more sensible use of scarce resources than the "Keystone Cops" model favoured by Darlington Tories.
As for Sparta - well, we'll see. They've had a publicity boost from the regional and national press that would have cost tens of thousands ordinarily, so the company have certainly been given a fair wind. My view is that once patrols come up against some of the youths and young adults described by Mike in his blog, and are powerless to intervene, then residents will soon tire of handing over £3.50 a week.
The advice I'll be giving residents, if I'm asked, is to give the new approach a chance. I think the model can deliver safer communities for the people of Darlington, and still has a long way to develop and improve.