Saturday, November 14, 2009

Spartan Fare

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.


Anonymous said...

You know dear Councillor the sure deterrent to anti social behaviour is rain. If it pours the little sods will not come out.

Anonymous said...

The solution is to have more sever punishments not ones that are looked at as badges of honour we need to make them badges of shame!

Anonymous said...

I hear what you are saying Nick, but do you not think it an appauling situation that the residents feel the need to fork out £3.50 a week to a private security firm?
They must feel very let down by the Police and equally so the Police must feel to some part embarassed that despite all the means at their disposal a "local lad" is seen as a better alternative!
What these feral youngsters want is teaching a lesson and if they need to get that lesson in a different way than the Police can provide bring on the vigilantes!
This behaviour can only be tollerated for so long and parents are as much to blame for letting their kids out not knowing what they are upto.
Perhaps the drinking age should be lowered to 16 and lets see how they survive in the real world when they make thier mouths work in a real pub!
I don't know what the answer is we all drank underage but never caused the hassle these thugs do, lets untie the Polices hands and sort this out with a short sharp shock for these trouble makers.
Nmae and shame them inthe Echo or the town liar in full colour!
Decent honest people should not have to put up with this problem from kids.
I wish Sparta well, personally I don't think they should be having to do it but if the police can't it's better than mob rules.

Jack said...

Yes I agree

ianw said...

I certainly do not think people should have to fork out an extra £3.50 a week for something they already payfor indirectly through their council tax's.

Especially those who are less well off in the first place, this only shows how bad things are in certain areas and must be with these "untouchable" youngsters.

Each household is forking out approx £180 a year for this security firm and if as they allegde there are 300 families signed up thats £54K a year surely that would pay for two maybe three more Police "proper" men?

But I agree with Nick what next special Paramedics and Firemen, NO lets hold to account those we already pay for and ask why people have lost faith in them.

Personally if last weeks episode was typical, I too would have lost faith in the Police, funny what a complaint can do, my phone has never stopped trying to resolve what should never have happened in the first place and I am sure words will be had with the officer involved.

A resident told me they never bother with the 0845 number and will always ring 999 with youths and always say "they think they saw something shiney" in one's hand possibly a knife...they said you will get vans, dogs and maybe the helicopter that soon shifts them!

And while I cannot condone this approach it certainly if their story is true gets results.

I do not know what the answer is but it is not just to let them off with a few harsh words to add to their "street cred" perhaps extending community service to have a teenage branch and force them to work their precious weekends off will stop them, fining their parents etc etc. There must be more we can do.

I say this as someone trying to set up a youth club and have first hand knowledge of just how ungratefull these little thugs are, they have every possible games machine and gadget yet still cause trouble and if it shut they would be the first to say "we have nowhere to go". A big THANKS to DBC youth team!!!

Perhaps if the offenders parents were forced to do 5 weeks help at the local youth club they might start to see just what little angels their darlings are!

Rant over (for now)

james said...

Really the world has turned upside down. Surely the Tories should be welcoming privatisation...

More seriously, there will be moves to contract out police services to private companies should the logic of privatisation continue - especially if the Tories get back in office. Just as private healthcare companies are getting NHS work, won't the private security firms be hoping that they get some profits by government guarantee?

Armchair Sceptic said...

It amazes me, as a trade unionist, that in Darlington of all places the local council and police cannot provide security and safety to people on council estates - resulting in a private security firm, rightly, filling the gap left by Labour police and justice policy failure.

The people of Skerne Park can rely on Fearless Francis; they can no longer rely on Labour.

james said...

I find it hard to believe that any self-respecting trade unionist would welcome a step towards privatisation of police services...

The private sector is marred by higher staff turnover, lower levels of trade union density, a drive to maximise profits, etc - moves towards private police forces are bad for working people, if you have to pay for a vital service like this how can there be justice?

Issues about service delivery should be dealt with through democratic action, not the free-for-all of the market where access to services is rationed by ability to pay.

We should hope that problems can be resolved by better communication between the police and members of the community.

Anonymous said...

I say, the very best of luck to Francis Jones. The trend of security companies offering protective services to gated communities and neighbourhoods has been developing for some time now in the USA and Canada. Why should people be so surprised that this is now emerging in the UK? The ONLY reason that we see this sort of thing happening is due to one thing – crime.

Coppers spent most of their time in the nick filling out four hours of paperwork per crime and attending “diversity” courses. So who is on the streets? PCSO’s – plastic Bobbies with limited or no police powers at all. And they don't work at night. Thanks to 12 years of political correctness and social engineerring by Britain's pseudo-Marxist Labour government, no police presence on the streets, agonisingly slow response times and liberal judges who let violent thugs go with a slap on the wrist, ordinary folks are getting desperate for help. If the police and the local council cannot or will not help, then they will look elsewhere.

I am an ex-pat Brit and own a security service here in Calgary, Alberta. We often deal with drug dealers, pimps, yobs and other assorted morons. The difference here is, we wear kevlar vests and carry batons and handcuffs. The police here are actually happy to let us get on with keeping the apartment buildings, housing estates and gated communities safe by dealing with most problems ourselves. We only call the cops when we want them to take somebody away (after we’ve handcuffed them and filed a report). It works well here, and it WILL work in the UK if some kind of sensible partnership can be established between private security and the police to ensure that people are kept safe. Private security cannot and should not replace professional law enforcement. But, if things continue the way they are in the UK, then the police may find themselves increasingly marginalized in neighbourhoods that will be calling other (private) services to help keep them safe. So far, Francis Jones and his team have made significant progress in keeping the community that they patrol, much safer. They are obviously doing something right. And they are doing it while the police continue to criticize them, yet remain absent from the streets where they are most needed.

Bill Gibbons

ianw said...


So why are we paying tax's to the Police if we then need to "pay again" I have no knowledge of the time police paperwork takes that susiquently takes an officer off the street. Perhaps it is time for a rethink in these days of ever increasing technology.

For example make the paperwork less time consuming and very basic and then equip each officer with a small video camera and at court just play the tape for the judge.

I do agree that PCSO's should have more powers and a carry the right equiptment baton, handcuffs etc, fortunately where we live we have a really good one.

I also agree with "untieing" the Polices hands every officer should at least carry a taser these days and trouble would be over faster and they could move onto the next job faster.

But no... political correctness means they must mess around difusing a situation for hours that could be done in minutes with 800 volts, the right gear and a change in proceedural practices.

The thugs run the estates this is a clear fact or why else would these private company's be popping up?

The question is why are the Police not doing what the public expect and indeed pay for?

We live in a village where we have taken a retrograde step and taken the bobbie off his bike and given him a bus pass, so now if a crime is commited he has to wait for the next #37 bus to get to it...that's why response times are down.

I know the Police have a hard job to do but they need to adapt and change with the times to nip these problems in the bud, yes punishments need to actually be a deterant also not just a few hours sweeping up leaves.

I don't know what the answer is but to leave things as they are is not it.