Concerns over hundreds of young people gathering in Hanham, the worrying spate of tree arsons in the Kingswood and Warmley area and fears over the turning off of street lights in South Gloucestershire were among a range of issues raised at a public meeting in Kingswood tonight.
People unable to attend Avon & Somerset Police Crime Commissioner’s forum at Kingswood Civic Centre were able to watch it live on Ustream.
The forum gave people the chance to have their say about policing in South Gloucestershire.
On the panel were Commissioner Sue Mountstevens and Chief Constable Nick Gargan, both pictured, and the District Commander, Chief Supt Geoff Spicer.
Other issues discussed included the possible switching on again of speed cameras, concerns over private operators running the new custody suites being built in Avon & Somerset, calls for more support from the police for Neighbourhood Watch schemes and concerns about motorbikes on Siston Common and the Bristol & Bath Railway Path.
One of the people addressing the forum was Mike Openshaw, from Tyler Close in Hanham, who voiced local concern about the use of social media to bring groups of young people together. He highlighted an incident in Greenbank Park last Thursday when as many as 150 young people had turned up, apparently having been encouraged to attend via messages on Twitter and Facebook. He added that there were concerns that things could get out of hand in a situation like that if one or two young people were fuelled by alcohol.
The Chief Constable said that groups of youths meeting up was a “timeless problem” and urged tolerance of both young people and social media, but stressed that when people overstepped the mark it should be taken seriously and the law enforced vigorously.
Another speaker raised concerns about street lighting being switched off in parts of South Gloucestershire after midnight as part of a cost-cutting measure, saying it made places feels intimidating.
The Commissioner said there was a perception that crime might increase as a result of this but that had not actually happened yet. And Chief Supt Spicer said that crime had actually come down in those areas. He also said that offenders had told the police that they found it difficult to operate when it is very dark.
He said there was no link between the 15,000 lights being switched off and the ongoing issue, also raised tonight, of conifers being set alight. He said that last year there were 80 such arson attacks in South Gloucestershire, including in Warmley and Kingswood, and that it was a very concerning trend for the police and fire service with concerns that it could ultimately lead to a homicide.
So far this year there have been 14 tree fires and six people are currently on bail. He urged people to dial 999 if they see youths hanging around conifer trees.
Nick Gargan, who is marking six months in the job, told the forum he was striving to get speed camera cameras in the force area switched on again and was talking to local authorities about it, adding that South Gloucestershire Council had been “very receptive”.
The panel was also asked about the possible involvement of the private sector in the running of custody suites, including the new ones being built in Keynsham and Patchway.
Mr Gargan said that if a company came along and quoted a better price for a better service than the police could provide, it would “reckless” of him not to recommend it to the Commissioner.
In other parts of the country, firms such as G4S and Capita run some services for the police already, routinely saving forces hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.
The decision ultimately rests with the Commissioner who said she would support it if she found evidence that the service would be as good and would save money and keep officers on the front line.
There was a promise of more support for Neighbourhood Watch from the panel after they heard complaints from some scheme volunteers, including in the Kingswood and Rodway areas, that they have not been getting information and statistics they need about local crimes from the police.
And there was good news for Siston ward councillor Ian Adams who told the forum that police cutbacks had meant that there were no off-road police bikes available to apprehend the nuisance motorcyclists who ride over common land and along the Bristol & Bath Railway path. Chief Supt Spicer said that there were some bikes in the Bath & North East Somerset policing district and that such assets could be “moved around” as needed.
If you missed tonight’s forum you can watch it at http://www.avonandsomerset-pcc.gov.uk/Official-site.aspx