Wednesday, 9 June 2010

An evening with Chief Superintendent Nick Ephgrave - KOV Meeting Part 1

Today's offering is divided into two parts, on account of the fact that last night's Kennington, Oval, Vauxhall forum meeting was very long.

The first section of the meeting was an introduction and Q&A section with Nick Ephgrave, who is the Chief Superintendent for the Borough of Lambeth and who has been in place now for nearly a year.

Ephgrave's 3 aims for the Lambeth Police force are:
1.  Reduce crime and disorder
2.  Build public confidence in policing service
3.  Make sure the police working environment is healthy and effective.

There were 3 issues, concerning north Lambeth citizens, that had been drawn to the Chief superintendent's attention.  These were sirens, gang involvement and dangerous dogs.  The chair added the visibility of Safer Neighbourhood Teams (henceforth known as SNTs) in Oval/Vauxhall to the list, and Ephgrave promised to look into trying to base the team further south (as opposed to Waterloo, where they're currently based).

Q:  A woman suggested that directional sirens for police cars have been produced, but the manufacturer said they'd not been tested by any police authority.  Apparently, as they have to be mounted outside of a vehicle, a Home Office official felt their use would affect fleet re-sale value, and that was the end of the matter.  The question asker suggested that, since directional sirens are used in reversing vehicles, on vehicles at the Olympic site and on Heathrow buggies, that the police might consider their use.

A: NE was very sympathetic and said he wouldn't want to live next door to a police station.  He promised to go and look at the police's position on directional sirens, but noted that it would be a central, rather than a Lambeth decision.  Ephgrave also noted that there had been 10 serious collisions this year and officers had to make a personal choice about when to use sirens to avoid accidents.  Finally, he said that there are a number of different units that might need to pass through SE11 to reach their destination; the bomb squad and armed response unit to name a few, and so it's likely that the trunk roads here might experience more noise than other areas.  (That's hardly a comfort to those of us that live here, but it's an interesting observation).

Police Communication:
Q:  A man asked Ephgrave what he was doing about enabling the police to talk to one another, and whether there were issues with intelligence not being shared.  It transpired that the mugging incident which I blogged about in Hotspur Street had been preceded by two nights of disturbances on Vauxhall Gardens Estate.  When the man had telephoned the SNTs on the Monday after the weekend, they knew nothing of any of the events.

A:  NE responded that the Borough had so much police activity that they needed 3 radio channels, so not everybody knew everything that went on in the area.  Despite that, the units are all briefed before they go out, but not everybody's experience is perfect.

Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs):
Q:  (This was more of a ramble than a question, but one man was concerned that two passing female PCSOs were talking to one another, instead of stopping a crazed/drugged man, when he'd asked them to intervene.  He wanted to know why the PCSOs didn't stop to talk to people like him (probably because they'd be stuck all afternoon) and finally he concluded that the PCSOs were making themselves look stupid on account of the fact that the grammar on their leaflets was not very good.  Said chap then volunteered to check their material before it hit the press.  (Anybody listening might have thought that we Lambeth was free from significant criminal elements, and that the most serious crime in the area concerned apostrophe misappropriation).

A: NE responded by admitting that he was a strong fan of police offiers patrolling alone (so that they didn't chat, and would be fully cognisant of their surroundings), and that he too was also an apostrophe freak (he didn't quite put it like that).

Incident response times:
Q:  One man said that he lived on Vauxhall Gardens Estate and that he and his neighbours had experience a number of violent incidents where the response times from police amounted to about 20 minutes (long after perpetrators had fled).  He also thought that people didn't report crime on account of the fact that they were scared, or thought that nothing would be done about it.

A: NE said that there was a police commitment to a 12 minute response time, which included the time taken to make the phone call, by which the police should be on the site of the crime.  That target is hit about 85% of the time.  People can report crime online, by phone or to their local SNT, if they're too scared to report it any other way.

Q: One person noted that they'd asked for more resources at night, but had been told by police that it could not be done.

A: NE said 3pm-6pm, and 12pm-2am were crime peaks in which police resources were focused on the places that they felt incidents might take place.  He added that he felt that there are resourcing issues.

Police response to crime:
Q: One man noted that he couldn't get hold of the SNT and that they didn't respond to messages.  In the last few months, he'd experienced a knifing, a car jacking and the mugging of a close relative and that he'd still received no response, to the point that he felt that there was no point in reporting crime.

A: NE said that robbery was a huge priority for him (as well as statistics, and gangs) and that he was disappointed that the police response did not happen in the incidents described by the man.  He said that he'd take the man's details (which he did) to look into the matter.

Dangerous dogs:
Q:  One woman described her situation in which she has a particularly gentle dog, and she felt that she was safer to walk alone, on the basis that this didn't attract dangerous dogs.  This particular individual felt that the dangerous dog problem had diminished somewhat, but wondered whether it was possible to attach ASBOs to persistent offenders.

A: NE said that 20 dogs had been seized in the last operation.  Some of them had been microchipped, but had to be given back, on the basis that they weren't prohibited breeds.  One condition that is sometimes applied is that the dog must be made to wear a muzzle in public.  The superintendent advised trying to get information about dogs and their owners eg. a name/address, if possible, as it's not possible to report rumours to the police.  ("I saw a nasty dog in Kennington Park and it looked as though it would eat my puppy" is not acceptable, but "The man that lives at 3 Smith Street, SE11, has a dog that looks dangerous" is information that can be acted upon).  At that point, things became farcical with the woman asking if it were possible to issue ASBOs to children with large dogs, when the dogs weren't badly behaving and the children were in control of them.  NE erred on the side of, erm, human freedom, and pointed out that this would probably constitute harassment!
Gang crime:
Q: One local estate secretary said that they'd experienced a spate of gun crimes recently, and what could NE do?

A: NE launched into an answer about gun crime, and how it was up on the basis of commercial armed robberies, before it became apparent that the chap had actually asked about /gang/ crime.  NE said that there was an operation in progress to disrupt gang crime using online material and use of ASBOs, which could be issued, even if it could not be proven that somebody had committed a crime.  ASBOs can have conditions of association and place attached to them, which can disrupt people from meeting together.  A number of guns had been recovered from people posing on Youtube with their guns, and a lot of work was co-ordinated by the intelligence unit, working mostly in Tulse Hill and Brixton.  Finally, the police are trying to work with children on the cusp of primary/secondary school about the consequences of gang membership by the age of 30 (killing somebody, being killed or in prison for an offence).  NE added, "Ultimately, the solution lies within the communities themselves.  I worry about the future of young people in this borough because I don't have the answer."

Community solutions:
Q: On a related note, one woman asked, what exactly the community could do to prevent crime in the area(something readers will know is close to my own heart), and whether NE could cite any effective community initiatives that had been put in place elsewhere?

A:  NE mentioned a pastor who ran a youth group had found a way of connecting with young gang members, and suggested that faith might be an answer.  There's also Kid's Company, for those who are in Southwark.  Finally, he suggested that Lambeth Council's program, Young and Safe, working with high risk people, offering them a way out of a criminal lifestyle was quite effective.  When it was pointed out that Lambeth Council's program wasn't really a community initiative, NE said that it did have a number of 3rd parties associated with it, but ultimately commented, "I will have to go and think about that.  I don't know what the answer is."  (Perhaps it's not a police priority to think up community initiatives, but his answer is indicative that perhaps the police and the community could still work more closely together.)

Police stations:
Q: One man, who identified himself with a local planning forum, pointed out that there's a ring of police stations in Lambeth, with a hole in the middle where Vauxhall falls, and pointed out that there was perhaps an opportunity (with the new developments being erected) to get the police a space in Vauxhall.

A: NE felt that the place for PCSOs is on the streets, and not in buildings.  On a related note, he made it clear that he was not aware that a "Welwyn Garden City" sized development (a reference to the Nine Elms Development plan) would lead to any further police resouces.  (Something that I'd imagine will have to be part of the masterplan).

Police harassment:
Q:  One woman felt that there's a lot of persistent youth crime in the area, but that a number of youth receive unjustified harassment from the police, who will disperse them, even when they've done nothing wrong.  The woman lived on China Walk Estate, and noted that there's nothing there for boys (who hang around together, having been to primary school together), to do.  4 or 5 times in one day, she had noticed the police "persecuting" young boys for hanging around together.  She suggested that it would be more productive to find the boys something to do eg. music/sport.  (This then descended into a bit of a battle about BME representation at the KOV meeting, and how she felt that the BME Community was not really present (which was true). 

A:  NE didn't really get a chance to get a word in edgeways.  It was pointed out by the Chair that everybody was welcome to attend KOV meetings, since they are open to the public.  A BME individual stood up and said that she had been pushing for BME representation for a long time in Vauxhall, but that people could not be forced to come to meetings, and that much local community action in her group involved the same 5 old people (quite true, for a lot of organisations, really).  (It seems to me that there's room for a larger debate about how to encourage wider community participation, but I'm fast coming to the belief that this is a London-wide problem, and not really a Lambeth problem.  If anything, North Lambeth seems to be oddly community-minded (what with all of the tenants' associations, and community organisations), but it is true that many public meetings lack racial balance, being predominatly attended by retired, upper middle-class white people.  (I wonder if this is due to the times meetings are held, lack of childcare provision and more class than race driven, but I'd be curious to know what others think).


Mark L said...

Do you mean Vauxhall Estate (SW8) or Vauxhall Gardens Estate (SE11)? They're two different estates, and reading the descriptions, I think you mean Vauxhall Gardens?

I live on the (imaginatively named) former, and I have to be honest, the worst that I've ever seen, or even heard of, was a bunch of kids smoking pot in my stairwell -once-, who promptly scarpered, presumably under fear of the police being called.

It also seems strange to suggest that they don't expect more police officers as a result of the developments in the area - all of that extra council tax income has to go somewhere... the only problem might be that the majority will go to Wandsworth council, not Lambeth.

SE11 Lurker said...

Mark L, thanks for that, I didn't realise that there were two! I've changed the name to "Vauxhall Gardens Estate" as I believe that that was what was referred to.

Interesting point about council tax going to Wandsworth... Presumably, St George Wharf Tower, Vauxhall Island Site and Vauxhall Tower (to name only a few ) ought to generate enough people to require additional officers?

Anonymous said...

My partner and I were beaten up and robbed by a gang of black youths near Spring Gardens at Easter. The Police were good about it but from speaking to other locals about since, it's worth avoiding using Spring Gardens as a short cut after dark. The Police said they have no resources for patrols at night.

A few days later we witnessed from our flat an elderly guy being beaten up but didn't bother reporting it as the Police take so long to turn up (from many previous experiences) - by which time the perpetrators are long gone. I did mention it to two local police officers a few days later but they were rather uninterested.

A few weeks back I reported (to BTP) having youths pointing a gun at me at Vauxhall Station (I was going down the escalator, they down) but unfortunately the CCTV footage had been overwritten.

An elderly lady who has lived in the area (VSG) for 20 years reported seeing youths rob a guy at gunpoint in Spring Gardens a couple of months back. She's too scared to report it.

There have been other incidents, but I've lost confidence in the Policing of our local area. If it was Cleaver Square then I'm sure residents complaints would be taken more seriously.

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