I wonder whether the members of the Westgate Residents Association had, in recent times, seen so many police officers squeezed into one place but last week it welcomed a constable, a PCSO, a sergeant and an inspector, all ready to field questions from an often hostile audience which felt that the town had become a waypoint on the map between Birchington and Margate in simple community policing terms.
To be honest, Westgate shares many of the same concerns as other parts of Thanet. People are unhappy with the steady background hum of low intensity anti-social behaviour in their communities; mostly involving teenagers and cheap alcohol. Several well-publicised areas of the island have problems with crime that are orders of magnitude higher than others and the police, with only limited resources, have to sensibly prioritise their efforts but to many local people this can feel like neglect.
Last week, we heard in forceful terms from Mr Bell, the owner an off-license in Station road, that since Westgate had lost its police officer, PC Chris Bungard to new duties at Millmead and its popular warden, Tony Bailey to a new career, that the modern urban curses of anti-social behaviour and under-age drinking were once again the increase. Incidents aren’t being reported, said Mr Bell, simply because it was pointless to do so, as it is commonly believed, that the police, busy elsewhere in Thanet with more important matters, simply aren’t able to respond.
I pointed out, that on one occasion at the end of the summer; I had called the police three times in regard to the same noisy, under-age party on the beach at Westgate. The police, I was told, with their meagre resources committed to an incident in Ramsgate, were unable to respond at all but from my own perspective as a local councillor, that’s not good enough. We live in a democracy or at least the remains of one and in theory at least, the police should give appropriate weight to an attendance request from an elected representative of the community, even if this only means a ‘drive-by’ wave on the way to somewhere else.
We all pay our council taxes and explaining-away a change in our local policing on the basis that an area such as Westgate has a proportionally lower level of crime and anti-social behaviour than elsewhere, fails to recognise the rights of all residents everywhere to receive an identical level of service, the one described in the Government’s so-called ‘policing pledge’, a shiny new promise to the population of a new and ‘transformative’ service level agreement from the police “At a local level to meet the needs of communities.”
Our police do a great job with what they have and mostly with their hands tied with the red-tape of constant Government interference. If there’s a gap between the Home Office statement shown below and what we actually witness at a local level then perhaps it’s the politicians and not the Police Service that we should call to account for the results.
"It's important that neighbourhood policing is locally led. Engaging effectively with local people, and involving them in agreeing and tackling local policing priorities are vital elements of the national neighbourhood policing programme.” (Home Office)