Agenda item

Update from Avon and Somerset Police

Chief Inspector Justin French and Inspector Mike Griffiths have been invited by the Chair to update the Committee on the work of Avon and Somerset Police.


Unparished Area Crime Statistics for the unparished part of Taunton were read out by Insp. Mike Griffths for the last 3 months. This consisted of 844 crimes broken down as follows:- 


  • 232 offences of violence against the person 
  • 271 offences of theft 
  • 139 public order offences 
  • 78 arson and criminal damage type offences 
  • 30 vehicle offences 
  • 19 sexual offences 
  • 26 burglaries 
  • 16 robberies 
  • 9 drug related offences 
  • 5 fraud offences 
  • 2 carrying/possession of weapons (knives) 


It was stated that this was typical for a town centre which included a high street (daytime) and night-time economy as well as some residential areas. Crime had reduced in these areas during the pandemic but was returning to pre-pandemic levels. 


During the debate the following points were raised:  


Offences against the person – violence. Is this centred around the night-time economy and is alcohol a contributing factor? Does it escalate around the weekend when there are more people in the town centre. For example, historically Thursday night when there was a concentration of marines in the town, there was known to be a lot of fighting at kicking out time. 

  • The night-time economy has slowed down and police have thus scaled back operational resources. There are no longer the mass congregations of people outside nightclubs on Saturday nights. Also, partnership working through CCTV and street pastors has helped in reducing crime.  The culture of the marines has changed and there is less participation in the Thursday evening drinking activity, unless it is a public holiday or shore leave. (Most of the marines, live locally and have integrated with their families into their communities so they return home rather than go out in the town). That being said, a high proportion of violence against the person offences will be alcohol related. (This includes drinking in the PSPO areas, shoplifting and other anti-social behaviour). 
  • Violent crime is now being subjected to “Hot Spot policing” which is known to be a pro-active way of reducing crime. The police target areas that have a high incidence of VAP and are highly visible for about 15mins. Their patrolling and visibility mean that there have been noticeable reductions in crime and greater confidence in the police. This has managed to reduce crime in these areas by as much as 30%. 


Communication channels 

How can this be improved, especially in the rural areas? How can Councillors help with relaying messages about crime prevention and other statistics in their ward areas? 

  • Covid hit policing in a variety of ways, not least that there were a new cohort of police recruits who joined in the middle of the pandemic and had to find new ways of engagement. (They had never experienced the night-time economy or face-to face policing because of the restrictions). Online Facebook Live surgeries were innovative, and ASP were the first to undertake them. As communities re-open there has been a return to face-to-face beat surgeries, visible policing at schools and community events, newsletters and live-streaming webinars. 
  • Although it is difficult for beat officers and PCSOs to attend every parish meeting, they will try to attend as often as possible and, in their absence, submit a crime stats report. Their attendance is dependent on meeting the demands of crime, and they are extremely busy. Can parish councils please be welcoming of young officers and PCSOs when they come along to parish meetings. Some of them are new recruits and want to work with local agencies. They cannot be answerable for operational matters or decide how resources are allocated. Please can this be viewed as an exercise in how to work together for the benefit of residents. 
  • Councillors can assist with this via their own local communication channels providing they have the information. It would be useful if a link could be established that would be mutually beneficial. They also tap into local networks such as neighbourhood watch and community groups which are a good way of sharing intelligence. Insp. Griffiths acknowledged that this was a valuable resource which he would be following up. 
  • Parish Council attendance will be encouraged but it likely to not be more than once or twice a year at most. In the absence of an officer a crime sheet will be submitted with latest statistics.  


Rural Crime 

Accepting of the fact that resources need to be allocated where there is the greatest concentration of people, (Taunton), but can more be sent to the rural areas such as Exmoor, Minehead and Watchet which seem largely forgotten.  


It was noted that there had been an improvement in the level of patrolling in the rural areas particularly in Porlock, but it would be preferable if there was active engagement/patrolling for 15mins or so, rather than just driving through the village. 

  • Resources are allocated using the Threat, Harm, Risk assessment. Risk or harm, threat to life will always take priority over other crimes. Nevertheless, if a crime is in progress, it should always be reported via the 999-emergency number. 
  • Resource is sparse but the police are concentrating heavily on prevention and education to reduce crime. A greater priority is now being given to high value agricultural crime which is looking to tackle organised cross border theft of quad bikes and farm machinery. Previously this was assigned a crime number in the Communications Centre at Portishead, assessed and filed with no further action. Due to changes in the processing system, it is now devolved back to the Rural Affairs Policing team to investigate and follow up the lines of enquiry, increasing the chances of recovery and arrest. 
  • Recently two county line networks were taken out in Minehead. The police are using the Threat, Harm, Risk assessment to prioritise their casework. These types of crimes do take a lot of police time but the PCSOs will try and be more accessible to their local communities and improve engagement. 



Has the removal of an established police base in Minehead resulted in any variation to the crime figures in that area? 

  • Remained consistent. A fantastic team of officers who have managed to adjust to the changing environment by altering their working methods. PCSOs are embedded in their local communities and are finding innovative ways to prevent crime and work with residents. Examples of recent initiatives in Minehead: 
  • An officer identified that there were a growing number of distraction type burglaries. They used camera doorbell technology from neighbours to identify an offender and subsequently make an arrest, which resulted in a prison sentence.  
  • The PCSOs have also undertaken youth activities with young people, to paint and locate bird nesting boxes on Seaward Way in Minehead. This is in preparation for the new housing scheme that is being built and to welcome new residents to the neighbourhood. By engaging young people to have a pride in their local area, it will reduce ASB, vandalism and encourage community cohesion. 
  • A group of approximately 20 young people had disconnected from school and were in danger of falling into crime. A PCSO worked with local partner agencies to secure them employment and take them off the streets. 
  • Currently there is still a police presence in the Minehead Police Station, and it is hoped that this will be maintained once the station is closed. There are plans for the team to be based in an alternative location. ASP recognise that a great deal of good work goes on as part of the West Somerset One Team, and wider multi-agency working which is seen as “trail-blazing” across the force area and demonstrates good practice. 


Did Covid contribute to rising ASB, neighbour disputes and vandalism? Did this escalate these types of issues? 

  • Yes – This was apparent across the whole country, not just in Avon and Somerset. There are now a cohort of young people who have “found their freedom” and are acting out to kick back against the perceived restraints they had over the last two years. A lot of work is being done with the CPS and education providers to work on prevention and reduce criminal behaviour. Unfortunately, due to the delays in processing and court proceedings, there have been backlogs in bringing perpetrators to justice.  
  • The emphasis now is on multi-agency working to intervene early and prevent these types of situations. It is important to recognise the signs and take steps to ensure young people do not engage in ASB or low-level criminal activity. 
  • There also seems to be a greater incidence in lack of parental responsibility. Social Services seem to be engaging a lot earlier in the process than they have in the past. Parents need to take accountability for their children. Unfortunately, a small number of young people tie up a lot of resources in what is usually complex casework. Parents need to be pro-active about engaging with support services if needed and know where and what their children are doing. 


Wellington Town Council – Well served by the local beat team. Regular attendance at the Town Council meetings, or if absent a submitted report. Mini police in the primary schools are well supported. The local neighbourhood beat team are efficient, visible and provide a good service.  


Recruitment and retention 

  • There is a lengthy 3-year process to recruit new police officers, who come in at degree level entry. The most recent recruits did their training through Covid and are adjusting to the new patterns of working and engagement. 
  • It is hard to retain good PCSO’s because the most successful ones quickly move on to other opportunities within ASP, and as such there is quite a high turnover in certain areas. 



What are the police doing to tackle such issues as speeding through the villages? 

  • The police are trying to re-ignite local community speed watch initiatives, and can assist with this, but it is a volunteer led activity, not a police responsibility. 


Gang culture – is it growing? 

  • Young children are being heavily influenced bysocial media, which is contributing to a “gang culture mentality”, in some parts of Taunton. These “gangs” are not directly drug related and dealing county lines, but some children have been arrested for carrying knives, and are trying to imitate the gang behaviour they perceive via media channels. It is not as serious as some of the gang related incidents that take place in the cities such as London or Bristol and the police are aware and are dealing with it. Various operations are taking place to tackle this issue although the process is complex and drawn out. Fortunately, despite local perceptions it is confined to a small minority of young people. 
  • Current plans include a multi-agency approach to tackling and preventing youth crime during the school summer holidays. Activities are being planned that will reduce ASB, and communication strategies are being developed to ensure that these activities are well publicised. 


West Monkton – No police presence at a parish meeting in 10 years, and no visible police presence anywhere in the parish, since a very pro-active police officer was moved to a different area. A crime was being committed, and a local businessman rang 101 and tried to get through for 2 hours. There was no response! 

  • Always ring 999 when a crime is in progress. The operator will assess the situation and decide how to allocate resources. 
  • Inspector Mike Griffiths arranged to follow up with individual councillors on how the police could work with them. All parishes should receive a newsletter or have some way of communicating with their local beat officers.  
  • Insp Griffiths has been signposted to the SWT website where all information on Cllrs and parish/town contacts is available. 


The Chair thanked the police for attending.