At a public meeting organized by Camden Safer Neighbourhood Board (CSNB) at the Town Hall on May 21, attendees heard an update on Camden policing and community safety from Borough Commander Chief Superintendent Richard Tucker and Head of Camden Community Safety Partnership (CSP) Tom Preest. Chief Supt Tucker was able to report an overall reduction in crime over the last year but admitted major challenges arising from the impact of some 500,00 visitors per month to Camden’s Night Time Economy (NTE), largely in the Camden Town area, which he sees as a driver for rising Violence With Injury (VWI) figures. At he same time he was able to report increased joint working with Islington in combating moped/scooter-enabled crime. A further impact on police resources was the large number of callouts to Camden police concerning mental health issues on occasions where police were the only available responding agency.
For CSNB, Miles Seaman then presented the CSNB’s own report on the MOPAC (Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime) data for Camden, noting that while it was true that most categories of crime were showing an overall reduction year on year, recent trends were showing an uptick, while Sanctioned Detections (defined as outcomes following arrest, charge and process) were showing a downward trend for many categories, but a strong upward trend for drug-related arrests. Miles Seaman also raised the issue of ‘white-collar crime’, including fraud and deception, telephone frauds etc, none of which is recorded under the MOPAC protocols.
Tom Preest confirmed Camden’s continuing commitment to tackling the main strategic community safety priorities: domestic and sexual violence and sexual exploitation; youth violence; reducing the impact of the Night-Time Economy on local communities, and antisocial behaviour, to which is added a new priority addressing so-called ‘hate crime’, defined as any abuse or aggression directed on grounds of faith, race or sexual orientation.
A lively 45-minute Q&A session covered a wide range of issues and concerns, including the effect of substantial cuts to police budgets, with more to come, the increasing abstraction of Camden officers to deal with events and incidents elsewhere in London, and the seemingly unstoppable transfer/promotion of officers of all ranks in Camden to other boroughs, all of which were felt to threaten continuity of policing in the borough. There were concerns, too, about the phasing out of ASBOs and the possible reappearance of individuals previously banned from key areas of the Night Time Economy; the disproportionate number of BME individuals approached under police Stop and Search procedures; the state of mental health provision in Camden, and the effectiveness of reporting abuse/discrimination directed towards individuals in the LGBT community.
In terms of budget cuts, Ch Supt Tucker felt able to claim that proactive management over the last year had been able to sharply reduce costs without any loss of overall effectiveness, but that Camden police had little option than to respond to central management, whether over budgets or personnel movement. But he went on to state clearly that the future of crime management in Camden depended crucially on an open, active partnership between police, council, the community and community representatives, whereby police might fairly claim to be seen acting in support of community values. He agreed that Stop and Search was potentially a divisive issue, but said that he was always prepared to ask officers to visit schools and colleges to explain why Stop and Search was effective in controlling weapons and A-list drugs. Peter Ward, of CSNB, pointed out that there exists a Stop and Search Monitoring Group, to which anyone can volunteer, while also highlighting the Youth Independent Advisors (YIA) scheme run by CSNB. It is made up of young volunteers aged from 15 to 19 years from whom the police, council and other agencies can seek advice on matters relating to crime and community safety.
Tom Preest, for Camden CSP, gave assurances that Camden would not hesitate to use legislation to prevent individuals previously banned by ASBOs from re-entering the areas from which they had been banned. He felt able to report that processes for reporting abuse towards individuals in the LGBT community were robust from both a Council and police perspective, but there was always a case for ongoing and effective publicity and networking. Ch Supt Tucker confirmed that Camden police took the issue extremely seriously.
On the subject of mental health provision in Camden it was agreed that this was a major concern. From the police perspective, Ch Supt Tucker put it very high on the London-wide police agenda: police routinely found themselves called out to deal with very vulnerable and disturbed individuals without specialist mental health assistance, and without appropriate facilities to which to take individuals should that be necessary. Camden itself has the second highest proportion of people in England with a serious mental illness, with over 36,000 residents living with common mental health problems.
For Camden, Tom Preest highlighted that Camden Council, Camden Clinical Commissioning Group and Camden & Islington NHS Foundation Trust have joined forces to develop a new £750,000 mental health prevention fund – to help ensure more people get more support to manage mental health problems early on, and that active discussions are ongoing as to the best way of directing resources.
After the meeting closed, Ch Supt Tucker made himself available for personal discussions, an offer eagerly taken up by a number of those present.