A report was presented to outline the purpose of the meeting, which was to receive further information regarding Neighbourhood Watch and agree the Terms of Reference for the scrutiny investigation.
From the information received to date the Panel had made reference to some fundamental aspects regarding the purpose of Neighbourhood Watch and the following proposed Terms of Reference were presented for the Panels consideration:
· What contribution does Neighbourhood Watch make to actually reducing crime?
· What evidence is there that Neighbourhood Watch actually reduces the fear of crime in residents?
Representatives from Neighbourhood Watch in Stockton, Middlesbrough Police and the Head of Community Protection were in attendance to provide further information to the Panel in respect of Neighbourhood Watch.
Mr Baker, the Problem Solving Co-ordinator (PSC) from Stockton, provided an outline of the operation of Neighbourhood Watch in the Stockton area. When the Co-ordinator took up his post in Stockton there were over 40,000 members registered. However, in 2004 a complete re-registration was undertaken as it was apparent that members details had been entered onto the database more than once. Following this audit it was identified that realistically there were approximately 18,000 active members.
Mr Baker had been in post for nine years and worked closely with Stockton Borough Council, attending residents meetings and seminars to promote Neighbourhood Watch. It was also promoted through the Councils magazine, Neighbourhood Policing Teams and Anti-Social Behaviour Officers. The current membership was approximately 27,500 and the database was updated every two years by a Police volunteer. The membership had increased every year until 2011 when there had been a slight decrease. If Members were not active they were removed from the database.
Mr Baker had been a member of Neighbourhood Watch in Middlesbrough approximately eight years ago and at that time there were about 10,000 members. However a new communication system had been implemented and many members were unhappy with this decision, as they wanted to remain on the Police system. The membership then declined.
In Stockton, the Ringmaster System was in use to pass on messages to members of Neighbourhood Watch. Social Networking sites including Facebook and Twitter were also used. The Neighbourhood Watch Central Committee in Stockton had purchased bluetooth proximity equipment, which provided free messages to mobile phones via bluetooth to anyone walking within range of the control terminal. Stockton Police had also purchased similar equipment. In addition to crime prevention alerts it was useful for promoting Neighbourhood Watch events.
The success of Neighbourhood Watch relied on the residents and how they wanted it to run. The PSC was able to approach Stockton Council for funding and if the Council was unable to help they would suggest alternative funding sources. The PSC worked close with Stocktons Anti-Social Behaviour Teams, Neighbourhood Policing Teams and Councillors to encourage residents to set up their own Neighbourhood Watch schemes. It was generally the case that if one or two people in a street joined, many more would sign up and the Street Co-ordinator would receive information from the Police and disseminate to the rest of the members. The importance of communication was highlighted and often neighbours who had not spoken to each other for a number of years would start to interact through signing up to Neighbourhood Watch schemes.
From speaking to residents, the PSC felt that Neighbourhood Watch did help to reduce the fear of crime. The PSC referred to a covert scheme that had been set up in response to drug dealing taking place in an upstairs flat. Local residents had provided descriptions of people going into the property and car registrations and within six weeks a warrant was obtained and the drug dealers evicted.
Whilst Neighbourhood Watch members were not Police Officers, they could be the eyes and ears of the community and more people were taking responsibility for their own property. Some insurance companies offered a discount for Neighbourhood Watch members. Schemes were also established in areas where crime was very low, in order to ensure that the area remained that way.
It was highlighted that perhaps people might not want to join a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme for fear of reprisals from others. The PSC explained that Neighbourhood Watch could operate covertly as well as overtly. The youngest member in Stockton was seven and the oldest was ninety- seven, with the average age been around forty years old. Some established residents groups in Stockton had renamed themselves as Neighbourhood Watch Schemes as this enabled them to receive the free communications from the Police.
Stockton also had a very successful Junior Neighbourhood Watch, which was run by volunteers. In addition, a Councillor Watch had been developed and all the Councillors were on the messaging system so that they received relevant information.
Inspector Walsh provided a brief history of Neighbourhood Watch in Middlesbrough. Reference was made to the implementation of the communications system that had led to many people leaving Neighbourhood Watch in Middlesbrough. It was also highlighted that there were currently unresolved issues within the Neighbourhood Watch Executive Committee and it was not currently functioning. The Committee had obtained £16,000 in funding through the Safer Homes scheme but the money had not yet been spent. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) had barred Police representatives from having contact with the Executive Committee until an investigation into the Executive had been completed. Efforts were now being made to establish a new Neighbourhood Watch Executive Committee in Middlesbrough.
Middlesbroughs Problem Solving Co-ordinator, who was present at the meeting, had been in post for almost one year. Since the new PSC had taken over approximately three or four new Neighbourhood Watch members were being recruited every day. An audit of the current membership in Middlesbrough was underway and at the present time there were 5957 active members. The PSCs role included promoting Neighbourhood Watch and seeking help from different partner agencies including Erimus, the Council, and Neighbourhood Safety Officers to resolve problems. The PSC had recently set up a Campus Watch for students at Teesside University who were often at risk of unsecure burglaries. Social Networking sites Facebook and Twitter were also being used as a way of raising the profile of Neighbourhood Watch amongst younger people.
There were four PSCs across the Tees Valley and monthly meetings took place to enable information sharing. It was noted that ideas that might work well in one district might not work so well in another. Reference was made to a Neighbourhood Watch scheme in North Yorkshire, where members paid a £10 joining fee to enable the scheme to be self- financing.
It was clarified that Neighbourhood Watch was a registered charity run by volunteers but assisted by the Police. The Council also provided some administrative support and assisted in trying to get people working together. The Police were represented on the Safer Middlesbrough Partnership and each of the Working Groups.
It was emphasised by all representatives present that the key to successful Neighbourhood Watch schemes was communication. The majority of communications were sent via email as there was no cost. It was acknowledged that this did eliminate some people from receiving messages, however text messages were expensive to send. It was agreed that leaflets were probably the best form of contact, however, this was also costly.
AGREED as follows that:
1. the information provided be received and noted.
2. the proposed Terms of Reference be approved.
3. a draft final report would be prepared for consideration by the Panel at a future meeting.