Home Page When the public complains about the public, what do the police do? 07/06/11

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Consulting the public is a dangerous enterprise, as Haverhill’s police found out again last night, when the public told them something which, I suspect, they didn’t want to hear.


Every three months the Safer Neighbourhood Team, which includes many other agencies, but is led by the police, holds a public meeting to find out what issues people want them to concentrate on.


It used to be a monthly meeting during the day, but has been changed this year to a quarterly meeting in the evenings to get more people to attend.


And sure enough, the dominant issues are beginning to change. There used to be just one – anti-social behaviour by young people, which possibly reflects the age profile of those who can attend daytime meetings.


But another issue is now as prevalent, if not more so, and that is anti-social behaviour by motorists. This manifests itself in various different ways, according to the members of the public who attended last night – speeding, parking inconsiderately and driving where they shouldn’t.


And there is one place where this is most overwhelmingly seen – High Street and Queen Street (well, that’s two places, but you know what I mean).


It seems that the public is absolutely and completely fed up to its back teeth with... well, the public, actually, at least those of them who drive vehicles in Haverhill town centre.


The main thing irritating people in each of the groups into which the meeting divided, and which they want the police to deal with, is drivers, either using the pedestrianised areas when they shouldn’t, or parking all over them, particularly in the evenings, to get their fast food.


Without exception people were desperate to know when on earth the high street is going to be closed off, as has been promised so many times and for so long.


County councillor Tim Marks, who chaired the meeting, explained what most people appeared not to have grasped, despite its appearance in all the town media, that there is going to have to be a costly public inquiry about closing the street, because there are some determined objectors, and no amount of negotiation has managed to get them to remove their objections.


The inquiry will be in the autumn, and at the end of it the inspector appointed by the Secretary of State to hear it, will make a decision as to whether the closure order can go ahead.


This means, I assume, that the objectors will have to give evidence, so we will finally get to know exactly who they are. And, judging by the view of the public expressed at last night’s meeting, they are not going to end up very popular people.


In the meantime, of course, the public wants something done about the problem NOW, which is where the police come in, much to their disappointment, I would guess.


The police are not keen on getting drawn into the issue for a variety of reasons. First, the signs which are currently in place are incorrect, so there is no legal basis for the police to take any action against people driving up the street between the stated hours. New signs are on order, apparently, and when they are in place, that barrier will be removed.


But dishing out tickets to motorists does not help the police in their community work, because for every member of the public who comes to a meeting and complains that they want them to enforce the regulations, there is another member of the public driving the offending car who gets very fed up with the police, as they would put it, ‘wasting their time’ on trivialities and not chasing ‘real’ criminals.


And they have a point. Are offending motorists not ‘real’ criminals? If they aren’t, perhaps the police could find better things to do. But meetings like last night’s think they are ‘real’ criminals and that a policy of zero tolerance should be enforced against them.


The police are caught in the middle and find it difficult to be as matey with both sides as they need to be to get their help on other even more important issues.


It doesn’t help that there are no traffic wardens any more. The name of John Woodgate was mentioned once or twice last night, the town’s last traffic warden. He kept the problem under control, and he was extremely unpopular in doing so, but it didn’t then reflect on the police.


The official view of the police, as expounded by their regional boss to a town council meeting, is that the regulations are unenforceable unless the street can be closed off.


Another issue needs to be considered. The other dominant issue last night was the old chestnut of young people drinking alcohol and becoming involved in anti-social behaviour, this time in two areas – the railway line and the recreation ground, mostly on Friday and Saturday evenings.


The police, who will find it difficult to be in two places at once anyway, cannot deal with late night issues and be around to sort out the town centre during the daytime, because there isn’t enough manpower. So which do we want?

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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