A report of the Scrutiny Support Officer was presented to provide Members of the Community Safety and Leisure Scrutiny Panel with an outline of the purpose of the meeting. The issue for consideration was the effectiveness of Neighbourhood Watch and its relationship to the Police. Inspector Maddison of Cleveland Police was in attendance and gave a presentation.
Neighbourhood Watch (NHW) was originally introduced to the UK in the 1980s and had been established in the Cleveland area for some years. A co-ordinated network with national, regional and county level bodies was in place and the central body, 'Our Watch', was Government funded and provided some funding to regional and local schemes.
Neighbourhood Watch Schemes were designed to be run by members of the public and any individual, business or group of residents could set up a scheme. Schemes were intended to bring communities together with a shared aim of making areas safe, friendly and pleasant places to live. They were also intended to assist the Police with community engagement through giving and receiving information and community intelligence. There were currently 124 Schemes in Middlesbrough, however the membership, at 1824 members, was relatively low in relation to neighbouring authorities, such as Stockton, which had 28,000 members.
Within each of the four Cleveland Police Force areas, the NHW Schemes were managed by a District Co-ordinator. Policy and strategic direction of NHW was under the remit of Community Justice under the Partnerships and Communities Inspector. Approximately a year ago, Cleveland Police Force amalgamated its Neighbourhood Watch Liaison Officer role with that of the Problem Orientated Policing Co-ordinator to create a new role of Neighbourhood Problem Solving Co-ordinator (NPSC).
The aim of amalgamating the roles was that each individual would be more closely aligned to the Community Safety Partnership and help use NHW to help resolve problems in the Community. The Force was currently running a programme to include details of NHW members on the iMap system. The iMap system provided visual and text detail on an area map so that Police could easily identify where a NHW Co-ordinator was, where schemes were in place and where they were not. Although the iMap system was quite a costly way of working it was already in place for other purposes such as identifying where community safety cameras were situated.
The NPSCs were now taking on issues through the Community Safety Partnerships to identify problems within an area and implement solutions with assistance from NHW Co-ordinators and volunteers. Each NPSC had a database of NHW contacts, to whom they sent information via the Ringmaster system. Ringmaster allowed the user to send out information via email, voicemails and text messages.
Each District had a NHW Executive Committee and one Chair represented the whole County. It was highlighted that there had been some problems in Middlesbrough with the Chair of the NHW Committee Executive. The membership of the Committee had reduced significantly and although it had recently been awarded £10,000 from the Big Lottery, the Committee itself was not currently functional. The Neighbourhood Policing Team Chief Inspector was working with the Executive Committee to come to a solution as to a way forward for the Committee to work in partnership with the Police. An update of the individual District Schemes was provided in a report tabled by the Inspector at the meeting.
It was also noted that the Cleveland Police Force was currently undergoing a thematic review of the way in which it did business. Until the review was concluded it was not clear whether individual Districts within the area would have more than one NHW Executive Committee.
It was highlighted that the image of NHW was in need of an upgrade as it currently had a low profile within Cleveland Police literature and publicity and generally membership was from an older demographic.
The Safe in Tees Valley organisation had submitted an outline bid for £500,000 of funding to enhance NHW in Cleveland by involving all primary schools, targeting hard to reach communities and addressing diversity gaps in membership of NHW. It was intended that a Junior Neighbourhood Watch scheme which operated successfully in neighbouring authorities, would be extended to all four Districts. It was hoped that by engaging with children from a young age they could be diverted from committing crime and anti-social behaviour and also act as a means of engaging with their parents and families to relay crime prevention messages. Funding would also be provided to each NPSC to go towards community engagement schemes.
Other future developments included expanding the use of social media. Feedback to scheme members who had provided information on incidents had been identified as an area that could be improved. It was also acknowledged however that the information flow generally was from the Police to the NHW, with little information provided back to the Police.
Facebook and Twitter sites had been established which could potentially widen the number of people with whom NHW engaged. A particular focus would be on further involvement of young people.
Campus Watch, aimed at University students was being implemented in Middlesbrough. Using the Student Union and social media, messages were relayed to students about crime and anti-social behaviour. There was generally an increase in theft of mobile phones, purses and occasional assaults during term-time. The importance of balancing the information sent out was stressed, as crime was relatively low.
It was noted by a Panel Member that recently the number of messages sent out to NW members had dropped dramatically. It was explained that the decision as to what messages were sent out was made between the Neighbourhood Teams and the Problem Solving Co-ordinator. Previously, NHW members had complained of receiving too many messages and it was a delicate balance between sending too much information or not enough. Details of all the crimes committed in every neighbourhood were listed on the Police UK website.
Going forward, it was recognised that NHW was in need of expansion, quality improvement, contact link improvement, age and other diversity demographic gap analysis, strategic management of the NHW Executive Committees and development of the communications strategy. It was stressed that the Police would only deal with officially elected and constituted NHW organisations and would support them in any way they could. Although the database and messaging systems were held by the Police, ultimately the operation of NHW was
determined by its members.
In conclusion, whilst there were some issues with the NHW Executive Committee in Middlesbrough, there were also many successes within local NHW Schemes and many individual members who were very committed. The Inspector confirmed that where gaps had been identified, they were being addressed.
1. the information provided be noted.
2. the Scrutiny Support Officer would make arrangements to invite several Neighbourhood Watch members to a future meeting.