Report by Mark Healey
Yesterday (20th Sept) was the first time I attended the Westminster Community/Police Engagement Group since the former three Westminster CPEG groups (North, Central and South) were merged together. The meeting took place in the Council Chamber, Westminster Council House on Marylebone Road.
It was good to recognise some familiar faces from Westminster Central, the group that had previously been responsible for Soho including Julie Etheridge who is now the Administrator under the Sandra Rennie (the chair).
As meetings go the Agenda is fairly straight forward; Introductions, chair’s welcome to the newly elected Vice-chairmen and Executive Board members, Apologies for Absence, Minutes and Matters Arising.
New business includes; Launch of Street Pastors, General Crime Report (covering Public Order Policing, Policing of the Riots and the aftermath, Safer Neighbourhood Team – update, crime report and Future re-shaping of Westminster police), followed by Strategic questions from the floor, Any other Business and date of next meeting.
The chairman states clearly at the beginning of the meeting that the purpose of this meeting is to focus on strategic thinking, and that neighbourhood issues should ideally be taken up through the local ward panels.
Looking at the Crime figures for Westminster BOCU the total number of reported offences is up by 6.18% with a 24.59% detection rate (that’s a rise from 26,818 to 28,476 offences reported across Westminster). Out of 31 categories 10 show rises, whilst 21 show reductions. What we need to be aware of is the rise in Robbery (personal property +59.81%), pick pockets +23.42% and snatches +107.22%.
I’m concerned to see no statistics for hate crime in Westminster listed on the crime report, which is a worrying over-sight if you consider that this meeting influences the strategy of policing in the Borough. I flagged this up asking why data on Homophobic, Transphobic, Racist and Domestic Violence hate crimes are not provided (after-all what is the point of asking our communities to report hate crime, and the police to flag it on their system if the data is not included in these reports at these meetings – this should be standard practice and I wonder what is happening across the other London Borough CPEGs).
Commander Bray responds stating that these statistics will be included in future. I think that this alone highlights why it is important to have LGBT representation at these meetings!
Another thing that is new in Westminster is the arrival of the Street Pastor(to see their website click here), a new initiative that involves volunteers from local churches who are trained up (12 day course – Home Office approved) and who are now patrolling the streets to offer help/care to those who need it. They currently have a team of 15 people and are focussing on Victoria and Trafalgar Square, although their co-ordinator Matthew hopes to recruit a team of 50+ street pastors so they can start patrolling the West End and Soho.
I asked if volunteers need to be part of a church to take part and if there are any plans to involve non-religious volunteers – thinking of members of the LGBT community, other faiths and local residents who may wish to join them on their patrols. However, it is stated that non-christians are excluded from participating as it is a “Christian driven movement”. The criteria is that volunteers need to declare openly as Christian for at least a year and be nominated by their local church.
Personally I think that it is good to see people working together to tackle local crime although I have reservations about the scheme not being open to all groups. The Street Pastors have no powers, and wear blue uniforms so that they are easily identified. I think that the two forums that represent the LGBT businesses and the LGBT community in Soho need to be consulted. It will be interesting to see how this will impact on policing in Soho, and whether the local communities will want to see faith and policing mixed together in this way.
The police seem really keen to support this initiative stating that since Rev Les Issac Director of the Ascension Trust started the Street Paster initiative in Jan 2003. It is now working in 30 boroughs and 200 towns and cities around the Uk, apparently having a positive effect and reducing street crime.
Discussions about the aftermath of the Riots and impact on local police teams and communities follow. It is stated that there were only 65 recorded incidents in Westminster. Concerns are expressed about the effect of cuts on local youth services, with residents stating that they expect a rise in youth related crime.
Gordon Peat, known to many for his numerous objections towards the late-licenses of Soho’s gay venues and complaints about street drinking (which is why many bars now have to pen their customers outside their venues) raises yet another complaint about noise – which one of the Councillors offered to speak to him about at the end of the meeting.
Any other business – and I take the opportunity to update those present about plans for this years Vigil against Hate Crime (Friday 28th Oct 7.30pm to 9pm) and the work we are doing with 17-24-30. In particular asking for people to take the idea back to their own groups and organisations and consider joining us for the 2 minute silence at 8pm for all victims/survivors and those affected by hate crime.
All considered, it was a good meeting and I got the opportunity to speak to Commander Bray afterwards. I want to get a police outreach van for the 28th if possible so the LGBT and other Police liaison Officers have a base to operate from on the night. We also plan to help promote the new Safe travel for all (STFA) which is being spearheaded by Transport for London in partnership with the Metropolitan Police.
Finally, as the meeting draws to a close there are two requests for volunteers (a) the Met are looking for volunteers to help cover their station reception desks and (b) there is an opportunity for volunteers to join the team who monitor Westminster CCTV, based down near Piccadilly Circus.
Further details about Westminster CPEG can be obtained by contacting:
Julie Etheridge, Po Box 240, Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QP
- Metropolitan Police Authority
- Metropolitan Police Crime Mapping – Westminster
- Metropolitan Police Crime Figures TY vs LY
- Westminster City Council
- Street Pastors Website