Questions for the Police and Crime Commissioner.
Members of the Police and Crime Panel questioned the Commissioner on a wide range of issues, including:
Councillor Jan Davidson:
Sought the Commissioner’s view on a scheme in operation in Wales where those who used cannabis for medicinal purposes, but who purchased the drug illicitly, were given a card by a charity which explained their medical need for cannabis. Having consulted with staff in Warrington Council, Councillor Davidson saw some potential drawbacks in the scheme.
The Commissioner indicated that he was aware of the Scheme from conversations with the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner. His favoured approach would be a national one, he indicated that he would be happy discuss the issue with the Chief Constable and to be involved in a national debate on this issue. He reaffirmed his commitment to working with those with addictions.
Councillor Paul Findlow:
Noted media coverage about a national shortage in Detectives, asking the Commissioner how this was impacting on Cheshire. He also referred to Cheshire Constabulary’s adoption of a fast track scheme for the recruitment of Detectives, which could see 18-year olds with two A Levels joining the Constabulary. The Commissioner agreed that there was a national shortage and it was an issue that he had discussed with the Police Federation. He noted the contribution that the direct entry scheme could make, but also highlighted the need to make the role of a Detective more attractive and the important contribution that non warranted Police staff could make to detection, although he recognised that reductions in national funding over the years had significantly impacted the number of Police staff.
At Councillor Findlow’s request the Commissioner agreed to provide information, in writing, on the current position over the number of Detectives in Cheshire.
Councillor Mick Warren:
Asked for the Commissioner’s views on Police Officers receiving Covid 19 vaccinations. The Commissioner indicated that he had discussed this issue with the Chief Constable. He supported the principle of Police Officers receiving Covid vaccinations, noting that this was a national issue. He said he would continue to push for a change in national policy.
Mr Bob Fousert:
Asked why enforcement levels relating to the “fatal five” (careless driving, drink and drug driving, not wearing a seatbelt, using a mobile phone and speeding) were as low as they were in Cheshire. The Commissioner indicated that this was an issue where he constantly scrutinised the Chief Constable. He indicated that he wanted the Constabulary to focus on these issues, recognising also the impact on the Fire and Rescue Service and paramedics. His budget for 2021/22 allocated additional resources to address these issues.
Councillor Norman Plumpton Walsh:
Sought clarification over the balance between sending warning letters and enforcement over issues such as speeding. The Commissioner indicated that he saw Community Speed Watch schemes as playing an important role in road safety, but that they did have their limitations, especially when it came to enforcement. He could not comment on operational policing issues such as who received warnings and who was prosecuted. He saw the way forward as changing the overall culture and habits in relation to such things as speeding. He informed the Panel that he was proposing the introduction of a number of average speed camera areas in Cheshire over the coming year.
Councillor Lynn Riley:
Commented on the important role played of Police staff. The Commissioner agreed that these staff were key to the overall ability of the Constabulary to respond effectively.
Asked for information on the Constabulary’s current capacity and the number of suitability qualified staff available to address issues such as cyber-crime. The Commissioner recognised that cyber-crime and cyber enabled crime were major international issues, whilst Cheshire Constabulary had its own unit, he was also working through the National Association of Police and Crime Commissioners to improve overall standards. Locally he saw that the best way forward was to educate people and businesses. Councillor Riley indicated that she would be happy to receive a written response in relation to the number of staff working on cyber-crime in the Constabulary.
Sought information on the availability of Covid testing in Custody Suites. The Commissioner indicated that testing was available, but committed to speaking to the Chief Constable to get more information. An operational briefing would be provided in writing. Councillor Riley also sought information on Covid testing across the Constabulary. The Commissioner indicted that there was a policy, but would provide more information in writing.
Mr Evan Morris:
Congratulated the Commissioner on his success in 2020 in gaining funding from the Government’s Safer Streets Fund, noting that a further round of funding was now available. The Commissioner indicated that his staff were working on a submission for funding. However, he did note that the criteria had changed, with 20 percent funding needing to be provided locally. Councillor Findlow hoped that the Commissioner would work with the four Cheshire Local Authorities to build partnerships.
Councillor Dave Thompson:
Expressed concerns that in the year up to March 2020 there had been a 276 percent increase in the use of Section 60 “Stop and Search” powers. The number of people of colour stopped had very significantly higher than could have been expected from a cross section of the Cheshire community. He saw the powers as being very ineffective. The Commissioner clarified the detailed figures quoted by Councillor Thompson, but recognised the overall issues raised by him were very valid. The Commissioner indicated that this was an area where he regularly scrutinised the Chief Constable. He offered to ask the Constabulary to provide further information which could be shared with the Panel. Councillor Findlow clarified that Section 60 powers were exceptional powers which could only be exercised in exceptional circumstances and following approval by a Police Superintendent, or more senior officer.
Councillor Laura Jeuda:
Sought clarification on the status of the Constabulary’s Integrated Anti-Stalking Unit. The Commissioner indicated that the Unit had undertaken some excellent work. Covid had led to some delays with partner organisations in 2020, but he reassured the Panel that there was funding for the Unit in the 2021/22 budget.
Asked the Commissioner what was being done to support the mental health of young people in custody. The Commissioner responded by saying some issues had been brought to his attention and that he was about to undertake a review.
Asked the Commissioner if he thought that the protracted periods of lockdown were contributing to social unrest across Cheshire communities. The Commissioner responded by saying that lockdown was having an impact and that he had concerns about many people’s mental health.