The first ‘hybrid’ meeting of the Bridgwater Town Council’s Police Liaison Forum was held on Wednesday 2nd September 2020 with Councillors joining via Zoom with the Police and Town Clerk in physical attendance at the Town Hall.
Councillors present: Smedley (Chairing the meeting) Burrows, Gibson, Leavy, Lerry, Loveridge, Pearce, Redman, Rodrigues and Slocombe,
Town Council Officers present: Town Clerk – David Mears
Police Representatives: Ashley Catlow (Neighbourhood Sergeant) James Brunt (PCSO Supervisor) and new PCSO Sophie
Questions relating to perceived priorities were submitted by members of the public in advance and were presented by the Chair of the meeting to the Police. The Police responded and Councillors asked further questions. The subject of Town Centre anti-social behaviour dominated the meeting and lasted approximately an hour. The next 30 minutes was taken up by discussing the issues of drugs and cars being driven in a fast and aggressive meeting. After one and a half hours the officers were called to attend an emergency and so the meeting ended.
The purpose of the meeting was to identify Police Priorities for the community, seek information about actions to tackle these issues and to urge solutions and suggest further dedication of resources. Crucially this is the start of an ongoing dialogue between the community and the Police through their Town Council.
The full list of contributions from members of the public was not covered but will remain on the rolling agenda to be picked up at the next meeting. Meetings need to be regular and Police and Council need to work together to reassure the community.
TOWN CENTRE ASB
A resident submitted the following observation: “The anti-social behaviour in the town centre is the worst it has been in the 32 years, that I have lived here. I certainly don’t feel safe to go out after dark. There are incidents almost every day and night. Usually drink and drugs related, but also there is a big problem with large groups of youths gathering in the town and causing trouble. There needs to be an increased and regular police presence. The worse areas are Binford Place, Fore street, Town Bridge, Salmon Parade, East Quay, Eastover, King Street and Blake Gardens, which many now consider an unsafe no-go area. The ASB includes drinking, drug dealing, shouting, swearing, publicly urinating, fighting and intimidation.”
Another resident submitted the following observation: “The situation around the Town Bridge from Salmon Parade to Blake Gardens area is currently the worst it has ever been. The drinkers and drug addicts and their dealers seem to have assumed permanent residence. They become emboldened in everything they do as they know full well that THEY CAN with total impunity. A disturbing development is that, within these groups, drug dealers are openly plying their trade. Residents have reported witnessing blatantly obvious drug deals where no attempt has even been made to hide their activity from passers-by.”
Another resident submitted the following observation: “Street drinkers regularly congregate where the bench used to be, starting at around 9 a.m. every day and continues on and off throughout the day and often well into the night. Now, the street drinkers regularly gather there after buying alcohol from nearby off licences. Constant fights and arguments. What are the police going to do to halt this permanently?”
Another resident submitted the following observation: “Druggies, drinkers, drug dealers and drug dealing, on the street day and night. Especially on our street (King Street) which is basically an open toilet for the public. We need CCTV at King Street!! Just today, I was threatened by one of the ‘drunks’’ because he was urinating on King Street and I said to them, that this is disgusting. They chased me. I had to hide in a charity shop. So, who’s got the power? The police or them? How many times do we call the police and the police never come? It happened a day before yesterday AS-20200831-0821. We had to take the swearing, shouting, aggressive behaviour, and rubbish that day for more than an hour! What is next? We also have an ongoing battle with kids, who’re going around, knocking on our doors at night.”
Another resident submitted the following observation: “Drinking also occurs every day on the river wall on Salmon Parade. Empty cans, bottles, empty packets etc. simply get chucked into the river. Supplies for these sessions comes from an identified source.”
Another resident submitted the following observation: “Street drinkers regularly gather by the entrance by the library, then move on to gather in groups around the gardens. The image this gives the town is nothing short of shocking. The Police, Town and District Councils should be all working together to ban drinking in the gardens, sadly, the innocent have to suffer for the guilty here. Blake Gardens is a virtual no-go zone for anyone seeking a bit of peace and quiet. The number of drinkers that gather there, has increased enormously over the past few years, to the point where you can be guaranteed to find at least one group slouching on benches and/or squatting on the grass. These groups invariably comprise many who are there every day, with new faces popping up on a regular basis – some even have small children in tow!”
SGT CATLOW: We are aware of all these locations and maintain regular patrols there. However, reported figures are lower than last year, probably due to Covid as there was a decline of people on the streets, but maybe also because they’re not being reported. Avon and Somerset Police use an app called ‘flick sense’ which identifies demand and response across the whole force area. In terms of crime and ASB there actually has been a decrease. The figures demonstrate this. However, the summer period is the same across the country.
There’s a higher foot-fall, more going on, and so historically you get an increase in the summer and with nicer weather. But we will do all we can to reassure the public. Crucially, we do a lot of problem solving behind the scenes. PSCOs Sophie and James are new in post and dedicated to this behind the scenes work. These problem-solving initiatives are key. We are really busy and under resourced, but I won’t make that excuse, however there is a lot going on.
Licensing issues with certain premises, have been looked at seriously by the Police and District Council. But they still have their licence and the conditions. However, this is on our radar, cause and effect might be an issue. We will respond to evidence. We will monitor the situation if we see an increase we will target even more resources.
Blake Gardens: We understand that the community identifies an issue around street drinkers but from our records it’s not top of the list. However, we will treat it as an absolute priority-with regular patrols and high visibility policing. But in terms of our reported figures it doesn’t feature in top 15 locations. Our list is:
- High street
- YMCA/Friarn Ave
- Fore Street
then 14th is Binford place and 15th is Blake Gardens. Sedgemoor District Council’s logs also demonstrate this.
Cllr Gibson: It might be that this behaviour is becoming a norm and so you’re not getting so many phone calls. We know that you don’t have enough people. And so, people know too and scarper when they know you’re coming. The source needs to be tackled, and that’s the off licences. They buy cheap alcohol, that’s probably all they can afford. These people are regular drinkers.
SGT CATLOW: I can’t deny what you’re witnessing, so providing reassurance to community is our number one priority. We’d love to deploy someone in Town Centre morning till night but it’s not an option for us. Part of our problem-solving work is professional knowledge of the community and the people causing problems. Every reported incident is logged with who’s involved. We keep records of names and issues and the background work means that regular offenders are identified. That’s the goal. Some of the most problematic people in Town Centre are now having injunctions served.
PCSO JAMES: PCSOs have been responding but they have recently been moved around the force area to Cheddar for instance but in last 3-4 weeks, PCSOs Sophie and Ella were on their bikes in Town Centre and were being noticed. There are 2 teams across Bridgwater.
In the Docks for instance large number of kids have been causing trouble. We have been working hard to ID individuals and because of this behind the scenes work we have identified 17. Tonight, they’re being served letters, so a lot of work being done that is not visible. But our focus will be the town centre.
Cllr Lerry: The hotspots for ASB in the Town Centre have been highlighted but your response is data demand led. You say if we had complaints we’ll investigate but in the past a police presence with a van worked well. Can you maybe change your strategy to show you have a presence in these hotspots instead?
SGT CATLOW: You are referring to when Dom Bryant (known as the Sherriff) used to be in the town and this worked really well. But things have moved on since then in terms of demand for policing, across the spectrum. Things which partners have picked up and so we don’t have the ability to go in and patrol as much as we’d like to. We need to engage with the community. But we don’t rely on the data solely. We have a professional overview. That determines where we need to be and how often.
Cllr Rodrigues Are there any more Police coming in and how many? I’m aware that there’s a recruitment drive. In the 5 years I’ve been a councillor, it’s the same issues over and over again. What else can we really do as councillors? What more can the Town Council do? Are there examples of other Town Councils and what they do? Visibility is the main issue. There is simply not enough police about. An issue that concerned me was in Coronation park where a bike marking event was taking place, but 8 officers were in one tent! Are officers being deployed as best as possible?
PSCO JAMES: it was actually a very successful event. At the bike marking we did 80 bikes. We were pleased to offer this service and I knew the numbers in attendance needed to be high. That’s why we committed PCSO resources to assist.
SGT CATLOW: We have worked with Bridgwater Town Council on a recent project before ‘lockdown’ and it worked well. We were running sessions in the Town Hall with Youth Unlimited and this will continue.
Cllr Slocombe: I’m confused that the figures are decreasing. Maybe the public aren’t bothering to ring because the police won’t come. We need a dedicated Town Centre team with an overlap, so when on rest days, another team comes in. It’s a big town with a major problem and it is the worse it’s ever been. In my ward (Wyndham) kids are rampaging through streets, keying cars. The confidence has gone, businesses are trying to get back on their feet, but don’t have confidence. Elderly people feel very worried. We need to show more confidence. We must up the resources for the Police, so they can get the job done. It goes on and on and its doesn’t appear to be dealt with.
SGT CATLOW: if that’s what’s being reported to you then that’s what you should report to us. However, our data doesn’t reflect this. Data doesn’t match the resident’s views. We know the town bridge is a priority and we patrol it with hi-visibility and people have been identified through CCTV and that work also has to be done. We have intervention ready with the parents of the children. Visiting 17 parents is resource intensive and then that takes staff out of the Town Centre. Yes. we do need more officers and PCSOs. Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA) is a new drive for a university qualification, however, it is a 3-year course for new police officers. There are 60 students coming out every 3 months, but we’re losing officers to retirement etc. However, there is an uplift and a desire to increase.
Cllr Loveridge: The former Bridgwater Hospital is somewhere that has its share of ASB . There are people driving in and out. Also, Sainsburys car park there are ‘car meets’ and Bristol Road residents are terrified. You need to take on bad driving and shut off car parks at nights and get gates shut.
SGT CATLOW: Sainsburys car park is private land and they rent their spaces to local residents, so cannot have gates. However, ‘Hot off the press’ Sainsburys will now ticket people 15 minutes after closing time. Regarding the former hospital, it is not an offence for cars to go in and out.
Cllr Gibson: There’s clearly drug running there. People turn up with back packs. I’ve worked in drug resources centres in Bristol in the past and of course, it’s likely that this is what the cars are for too.
SGT CATLOW: We have been working with Sedgemoor District Council’s outreach team under Sarah Stillwell and they have been called out a number of times. There have been foreign nationals living there. Engagement has been made. But people are not taking up offers of support. It’s private land. The Building is unsafe and even we won’t go in. We have done work with Sedgemoor District Council with community safety and also with clean surrounds.
Cllr Pearce: A lot of things relate to the easy accessibility of drugs and alcohol. You need chase around because of the effect of these but instead resources should be devoted to the cause. What additional resources are there to devote to this? Until someone gets control of this it won’t improve. What would make a difference?
SGT CATLOW: It’s a massive drain on our resources. County Lines is a big problem. We have a dedicated team called Operation Remedy set up by Sue Mountstevens. The problem is identifying individuals involved. They will send people from an inner city, stay a few days, sell drugs and then leave. So, ID is difficult. They can ID vulnerable people to exploit and so we do the same to protect them. All towns have the same issues but we have a dedicated team and it’s actually quite successful. We have had successes in disrupting that working alongside regional crime units
Cllr Gibson: What would happen with a drink ban in these areas? Wouldn’t that solve it? The people in Blake Gardens are middle aged men on the end of their alcoholism and about to spiral down into death.
SGT CATLOW: I don’t think it’s a possibility (legally) to have a blanket ban. However, Sedgemoor District Council would be the responsible authority not the police. We do, however have PSPO’s (public space protection orders) which give police powers to intervene. We can seize alcohol and report offenders for breach of PSPO. These are already in place.
Cllr Gibson: Then it’s not working
SGT CATLOW: They are not banned from drinking in Blake gardens, only if they engage in anti-social behaviour then we can take alcohol from them. We are in contact with Sedgemoor District Council with regards to CCTV and they’re our eyes and ears and while you may not see a police response the area is being monitored.
A resident submitted an observation: “Did other priorities takeover during COVID, leading to a lack of action over youths causing trouble around Brewery Fields and Victoria Park? The previous meetings outlined the strategy of gathering information from the public and targeting the ring leaders. During previous spates of this, this approach has worked. Has this approach not been employed with the current problem? Targeting the ring leaders seems to be the way forward. Are the police doing this or not? Listening to concerned residents especially around the Docks, something has clearly not worked.” A second resident stated the following – we have had trouble on a number of occasions since the start of Covid with groups of drunks and drug users congregating in the area between the Docks and Saltlands.
SGT CATLOW: The Docks and Victoria park and also Wembdon park are hot spots for us. We recognise that evenings are a problem and we have taken measures to identify the perpetrators.
A resident submitted the following observation “Can they do anything about the weekly aggro around Penel Orlieu? The drunken aggro outside the bars (they would seem to be serving people already drunk) spills over to Green Dragon Court and the noise, fighting and lack of social distancing cause issues for residents. Many also enjoy urinating and defecating in the garden at Green Dragon. Locals are wondering if any pubs there can be looked at in terms of how they’re operating Covid strategies because once outside the pub their customers are causing issues. They can be hanging round shouting and fighting at one or two o’clock in the morning sometimes. Certainly, using Green Dragon Court as a toilet is a public health issue during Covid or otherwise”
SGT CATLOW: Yes this is on our radar. I can’t talk about specific pubs. But an investigation is in place regarding anti-social behaviour and crime. Covid management however is a licensing issue.
Cllr Slocombe: We should encourage the public to report to licensing officers at Sedgemoor District Council who can then invoke a review. They must write into Sedgemoor District Council as are the responsible authority for licensing.
Cllr Loveridge: I would like to add Cranleigh Gardens to this list
SGT CATLOW: It’s the same group, the same locations
Police Response and some solutions
- Police response
Town Centre resident submitted: Since June 2020, 1 local resident says he has called the police 14 times, I have the ‘Incident Text’ messages to prove this regarding anti-social behaviour and serious incidents, I have witnessed, in and around the town bridge area. This number is actually higher, at least 3 times I’ve not received a text message from the police!
Another Town Centre resident submitted: Many of us here have called the Police about serious anti-social situations on more occasions that I care to remember. I just don’t bother anymore as they either never turned up or sometimes come so late that there was no point in coming.
A Victoria ward resident summitted: I would be interested to know why the police think that break-ins and theft are not important enough to warrant any response.
Can you say something about reporting incidents and expected police response?
SGT CATLOW: In terms of texts – if we can’t offer a level of service, then text is just another means of communicating. We send a brief outline to say thanks we haven’t forgotten about you and we’re doing our best. We have a requirement to keep in touch with victims. But if there are a number of calls relating to 1 incident then the 5 calls will be cross referred to 1 individual call on 1 log.
- How many Criminal Behaviour Orders (CBO) or ASBOs have the police issued to people causing trouble in the town centre area?
SGT CATLOW: People are confused about this. There are different levels of response. First a warning, then a notice, and then a CBO. Recently, the main ringleader has been subject to an injunction (similar to CBO) and also a beggar in the town is subject to one, and another one we’ve applied for a CBO. We have applied to ban him from Bridgwater.
- Can councillors have a copy of the latest Police contact details for ALL town areas
SGT CATLOW will send to Town Clerk
Moving on to the drugs problem in Bridgwater there are a number of places, allegedly, where drugs are being sold and injected, along Victoria Road by the rear of the Maltshovel Pub and along the lane to the canal bridge. Also, under the canal bridge Victoria Road, drugs paraphernalia are to be found many times each week. Often, in the evenings similar people gather for drug purchase and their use, at the area near the canal towpath at the ponds behind Taunton Road. Use of the former hospital, Salmon Parade for drug dealing and other purposes.
Concerns about drug use and county lines activity at the railway station, with 14 to 15 years old smoking drugs.
SGT CATLOW: The problem is of course that locations for drug supply changes because as soon as the Police know they change location. None of these locations are a surprise. Jurisdiction at train station is British Transport Police
Cars being driven in a fast and aggressive manner.
Areas identified for speeding cars on a regular basis included Squibbers Way, Kendale Road, Osborne Road, Eastover, High Street and Durleigh road.
A resident submitted a list of Vehicles Reg numbers and asks “Why have the Police Failed the Public in keeping them safe from these F1 Drivers who are still racing around the streets of Bridgwater and surrounding area’s? Most of the cars have been modified and due to insurance they, should notify the Insurance Company, so I would think that most are driving illegally without Valid Insurance. So, why have the Police Constantly Ignored these F1 Racers some doing around twice the speed limit in Town?”
SGT CATLOW: I am not sure how this member of public knows, whether the drivers have informed their insurance companies or not? If we stop a car, we do undertake checks. We are doing work around Sainsburys, so it’s on our radar and we’re taking action. We will be using community speed watch more. People can get on board with this and volunteer if they have time, i.e. we could set up a group on Kendale Road subject to health and safety. We can identify a site. If the speed watch then caught driver, after driver speeding, we can go back to mobile safety camera team to come down and enforce.
Cllr Redman: But in Hamp we had a number of volunteers but then there’s health and safety, it has to be risk assessed, a safe place. So, it’s not so easy and took the best part of 2 years in Hamp and they also get a lot of abuse. But we can have one in front of town hall as High Street is like a race track.
SGT CATLOW: H&S needs to be a suitable site for everyone not just volunteers, not a quick process. Victoria Road and Kendale Road could be difficult to find a safe spot.
Cllr Slocombe: We tried this in my ward and H&S was dreadful, plus there was lots of abuse. Durleigh Road well known for it, and with more people cycling it’s more dangerous.
AT THIS POINT THE POLICE WERE CALLED AWAY TO AN EMERGENCY
Matters held over to next meeting
- Exhausts and Idling in Eastover
- Stop and Search