Questions for the Police and Crime Comissioner.
Mr Evan Morris asked the Commissioner what impact the slower than expected rise in the Council Tax base would have on the Constabulary’s budget. The Commissioner indicated that this was a complex issue which would also have an impact on the four Cheshire local authorities, noting that a number of scenarios were being examined and that the ongoing situation would be very carefully monitored, but that it was too soon to determine what the impact would be on the proposed precept for 2021/22.
Councillor Paul Findlow asked the Commissioner for his view on the Government’s possible agenda of broadening the role of Police and Crime Commissioners, particularly in the area of Fire and Rescue Services. The Commissioner noted the timetable for the Home Secretary’s ongoing review, saying that he was of the view that any Commissioner should have an electoral mandate for the work that they undertake. He noted the excellent collaborative work that was already undertaken between the Constabulary and the Fire and Rescue Service.
Mrs Sally Hardwick asked for further information on the breakdown, by gender and ethnicity of the 90 newly recruited Officers. She also asked for assurance that those PCSOs who had been successful in being appointed at Police Officers would be replaced. The Commissioner indicated that he had requested diversity information from the Chief Constable and that plans were in place to “backfill” PCSOs where necessary. He stressed the importance of having a workforce that reflected the community that it served. He hoped that by the November meeting of the Panel he would have more detailed information which he would be able to share.
Councillor Andrew Dawson asked for clarification over the position with Mr Francis Kwateng, who had spoken at the previous meeting of the Panel (15th June 2020) when he had outlined an issue of alleged racial profiling which had affected both him and his family. The Commissioner indicated that he had written to Mr Kwateng inviting him to a meeting but was yet to receive a reply. His Office would follow up the issue.
Councillor Martyn Delaney congratulated the Commissioner on his successful bid for funding of £550,000 from the Safer Streets Fund. He noted that strict rules applied to how the money could be used. The Commissioner explained that he had been successful in attracting additional funding in a number of areas and explained how the Safer Streets funding would be used.
Mr Bob Fousert noted that nationally there had been a very significant increase in the number of assaults on Police Officers and Police Community Support Officers, he asked the Commissioner what steps were being taken in Cheshire to address this issue. The Commissioner responded by saying this was an issue in which he had taken a very close personal interest. He indicated that it was vital Officers received appropriate training and had the correct equipment, including body warn cameras and where appropriate, tasers. He noted that over the previous twelve months (up to August 2020) 750 assaults had been recorded against emergency service workers in Cheshire, 637 had been assaults on Police Officers.
The Commissioner noted that the issue of assaults on Police was currently being addressed nationally by the Police Chiefs Council, training was likely to be improved and other measures taken. At the local level he was working closely with partners on the Criminal Justice Board to address the issue. The Commissioner recognised that there was still much to do. He hoped that an increase in the sentences received by offenders would help, but recognised that on its own this was not the solution.
On a related issue the Commissioner noted the tragically high number of Police Officers nationally who committed suicide. In Cheshire the Constabulary’s Occupational Health team were refocusing activity to concentrate on both prevention and the wider mental health agenda. Mr Evan Morris noted the importance of Police Officers receiving training in conflict management. The Commissioner thanked the Panel for its support.
Councillor Norman Plumpton Walsh asked the Commissioner what proportion of calls received by the Constabulary related to mental health issues and in particular missing persons. He also asked how many such calls resulted in repeated Police interventions and what steps were being taken to address this issue? He noted that his question had been prompted by the BBC TV programme “Missing”, some of which had been filmed in Cheshire.
The Commissioner indicated that due to the way in which the Home Office required calls to be recorded, it was impossible to provide accurate information and that the figures available were likely to under record the scale of the problem. He outlined that in August 2020, 1,689 mental health related calls had been received by the Constabulary, 117 calls related to missing persons. In his view the problem was a wider societal one and required a collaborative, inter agency approach. He informed the Panel that a considerable amount of work was taking place within the Constabulary to train staff.
Councillor Dave Thompson stressed the importance of the Commissioner lobbying Government for changes to legislation and regulations. He used the issue of modern slavery as an example, saying that he thought the Commissioner should lobby for the licensing of nail bars, which national research indicated were not infrequently linked to modern slavery. A second example he gave was the theft of family pets. He noted that the Constabulary had not been able to give him information on the scale of the problem in Cheshire as the theft of pets was not recorded as a separate category.
The Commissioner indicated that he saw himself as a voice for the people of Cheshire and that he did lobby on a wide range of issues and also worked closely with the National Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. With reference to the theft of family pets the Commissioner committed to taking the issue further with the Constabulary, but would welcome support from the Panel in lobbying for tougher penalties for such crimes.
As time did not permit the issue to be discussed, Mr Evan Morris committed to raising the issue highlighted by Mr Chris Le during public speaking (relating to Fox Hunting) with the Commissioner. He would ensure that Mr Le received a reply.