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Public Forum APRIL  2004

Not a bad turnout for the Police Forum on Tuesday. Around 50 people. Word is slowly getting out that these are valuable sessions. The fact that Nick Deacon (left) and his team are prepared to sit there and take general flak and answer questions for a couple of hours is a commitment which we should all be grateful for. Last time the whole discussion seemed to be about late night opening and rowdyism � linked with complaints about police visibility in the centre of town at night. This problem has all but gone away. Its gone away because following that forum Nick Deacon went to very great lengths to get some action. He re-organised shift patterns to get a greater police presence at key times, he got alongside the pub landlords and made it clear what he expected from them, he drafted in hit squads at various times � and the "lads" got the message. Nobody said thankyou for all that during this Forum which is a pity. But then nobody asked questions about rowdyism either. Mind you the long lazy days of Summer and Europe 2004 are still ahead! So lets all keep our fingers crossed.

This time there were three big topics. The first was about the new Parking arrangements and specifically the "chicanes" which have been created in West Street and West End. The politicians present talked at length about the amount of consultation that had taken place. The Mayor said it was four years since discussions first started. The OCC policy of using parked vehicles as a kind of traffic calming device was explained. But one resident of West Street was having none of this. What had been created was downright dangerous. There was going to be a head-on collision sometime soon. This was a safety matter and therefore surely now a responsibility of the Police. The Police have in fact taken the lead over the last few weeks in getting the Traffic Order revised (although everyone was moaning about what an incredibly long process this is - to which surely the response is "Why the hell should it be". We�re talking a can of paint and a few lines on the road here. The Local Authorities seem to be able to make a meal of anything � given the chance) Nick Deacon cut to the chase and said he�d get a couple of warning signs up in the hope that this would offer a temporary solution. Hopefully the message will get through quickly to the Highways Department. The Chairman of the Traffic Advisory Committee was also present and he�s usually pretty effective at getting a big stick out when required.

Since the meeting County Councillor Rob Evans has been at work. He writes�.
Consultation is imminent - ready to go ahead within next few weeks - so look out for the yellow notices on the following four issues
[a] removal of yellow lines at West End opposite Music Shop
[b] removal of parking bays between Leys and Cross Leys discussed Tues night
[c] extension of parking in Green at weekends
[d] repositioning of New St parking outside the former Recording Studios
The consultation will be for the statutory 28 days. If there are no objections received then the changes can be executed - Paul Wilson (OCC Traffic Engineer) hopes within 6-8 weeks from end of consultation.

The second big topic at the Forum was about vandalism and the third about more serious crime � like drugs. An account of those discussions will follow.

Public Forum OCT 14th  2003

Your editor must make a confession. He is turning into a big fan of Inspector Nick Deacon (pictured left) and his team. They handled this meeting at the Town Hall on Oct 14th with great skill and sensitivity and had most people won over. Those who had come to carp had the wind gently taken from their sails and found themselves signed up for the new "partnership". The Police  refused to criticise the easy targets.....there was no point in condemning the kids on the Town Hall steps without providing them with the amenities they actually wanted. "They are not just going to go away". "They have their rights too". You couldn't just assume that all petty crime in the town was caused by drunken youths. That was not what the evidence showed. What some people interpreted as malicious hooliganism was often down to the fact that kids - being kids - simply didn't think about the mayhem they were causing. And as for inconsistent Parking policies - the police were trying to be flexible. Which created its own problems. It was also clear that the Police are as frustrated as everyone else by the traffic chaos (and danger) which has been created in West Street. They are left with the problem of reconciling the conflicting demands of obstruction at inadequate bus stops with keeping the traffic moving. Like with the HGV problem, the Police - along with the rest of us - are just willing the local authorities to come up with some imaginative thinking and action. There was an enormous sense of fairness about it all....which generated a lot of confidence that our policing is in good hands. We're all in this together. The audience were the usual suspects - the do-gooding Middle Class contingent plus the Town Councillors. ("We find that we usually get the same kind of people at our Forums wherever we hold them" - one sergeant said afterwards.) Mayor Jo in the chair made sure that dissent never became uncouth. Trouble makers, people under 50 (Matt the Youth Leader being an important exception), criminals - even your average blue collar dads - were not much in evidence. Which made the Police stance even more impressive - they were representing the whole community not just a small section of it. This prompts a second confession from your editor. Two weeks ago he was invited to go and visit Inspector Deacon to discuss some of the comments he had been making on this website's message board - about how people in town had simply stopped reporting petty crime to the police because they had lost all confidence that anything would be done about it. The Inspector skilfully allowed your Editor a good half hour doing his Mr Angry bit before settling down to a very measured three hour discussion of some key policing issues. Among which was a pitch to the Inspector that attitudes and perceptions among Town Centre residents could be radically changed for the better if only a Police presence - on foot - was apparent in the town at the predictable times of disruption. Like closing time on Fridays and Saturdays. Not to chase after troublemakers but to try and head off problems before they started. At this Public Forum the Inspector announced that the previous weekend (to be repeated this coming weekend) they had implemented "Operation Red Card" which had five police officers in and around West Street between eleven and two am. "We didn't make any arrests because there was no actual criminal behaviour". Which sounded like a big success - nobody wants arrests. Your editor found himself protesting loudly on the inspector's behalf when one over-cynical member of the audience suggested that the operation had probably only been mounted so that the Police could talk about it at this forum. But much more importantly - Inspector Deacon promised that in future - after completely reworking their shift rotas -  there would be two police officers on foot in the Town Centre at the critical times either side of Midnight on most Friday and Saturday evenings. This is an extremely important step forward and will be hugely beneficial - particularly in the new late-night drinking environment. The Inspector suggested that this new approach was in response to his consultations - but your editor doesn't believe it. The Inspector already had it sussed for himself. This guy knows what he's doing and where he's heading. He and his team deserve the support of all of us. The message seems fairly clear. The Police will do their bit to help stamp on disruptive anti-social behaviour. But its up to the town to do theirs as well - council, parents, pub owners. It would be really great if this Police team could move on and meet a more representative cross section of the town  population. They really are the kind of people who could talk about firmness and fairness and actually be believed. It would be time and effort well invested.

Strange really that there was not a single word about burglary, assault or drug dealing. But hopefully no one - particularly the police - will misunderstand this. Because these things seem so well under control in this town the Chippy public don't worry too much or feel the need to talk about them. They take their safety for granted and feel able to moan at length  instead about the infuriating things in life - like parking, young people and noise. In a real sense this is an expression of confidence that the Police will never actually lose sight of the bigger picture and the real priorities. But looking back on the Forum, somebody really should have said loud and clear just how much the work of the Police in preventing and tackling serious crime is appreciated. So let's say it here now.