Policing in Ripon came under a barrage of fire last night at a packed public meeting at the Jack Laugher Leisure and Wellness Centre.
Insp. Alex Langley, who heads Ripon’s neighbourhood policing team, chaired the hour-long meeting and faced a potent mix of concerned residents and newly-elected city councillors.
The councillors came fresh from weeks of pre-election doorstep meetings where thousands of voters put Ripon’s recurring problem of anti-social behaviour top of the agenda.
Among the attendees were residents who have suffered violent attacks at the hands of young thugs and witnessed their property being destroyed in incidents for which nobody appears to have been prosecuted.
A taxi driver, who has both suffered and witnessed violence while on the rank in Market Place East, has also been threatened and seen hooded youths using iron bars to smash cars and house windows in the street where he lives.
He asked Insp. Langley:
“How many people have been identified, arrested and prosecuted after being caught on city centre cctv or reported by somebody who has rung 101?”
When Insp Langley said he did not have that information, the taxi driver responded:
“It is clear to me that the CCTV cameras are not being monitored by anybody. In the past you could see the cameras moving, showing they were in use, but that doesn’t happen any more.”
City centre CCTV failings
The Mayor of Ripon, Councillor Eamon Parkin asked:
“With the CCTV all around Market Square, why has nobody been arrested and prosecuted for any of the four attacks on the Cabmen’s Shelter?”
Insp Langley replied:
“You can have the best quality CCTV images, but if the vandals are wearing hoodies and have their faces covered — it’s difficult to identify them.
“The latest attack on the Cabmen’s Shelter was reported three days after the vandalism was noticed.
“Do you want officers to spend their time looking through three days’ of CCTV footage?”
There was a resounding response of ‘yes’ from the floor.
Cllr Pauline McHardy said:
“The shelter is a rare building that belongs to the city and was refurbished at a cost of £22,000 and we want to catch and prosecute the vandals”
Cllr Andrew Williams said:
“When charges were brought in by Harrogate Borough Council for parking on Market Square, the money raised was supposed to be used to pay for the CCTV cameras and monitoring, so what is happening with that money now?
“It looks as if the cameras covering Market Square are not fit for purpose and footage being captured by them is not being monitored.”
Police and Crime Commissioner did not attend
Cllr Williams said that this and other matters impacting on the effectiveness of policing in Ripon had been raised with North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Zoe Metcalfe, to whom a formal complaint had been made by the city council.
“We are still awaiting a response from her and it is very disappointing to say the least that she is not in attendance tonight to hear the concerns raised by Ripon’s residents.”
Cllr Barbara Brodigan, who is newly-elected to serve on the North Yorkshire unitary authority as well as the city council, said:
“We were told by former commissioner Julia Mulligan that the money raised from selling the police station on North Street would be used to pay for more police officers, but there is no evidence of this and people are not receiving the high visibility policing that they want.”
Unanswered 101 calls
In addition to use of CCTV and police resources, concerns were raised throughout the meeting about the delay in getting a response to 101 calls.
A resident told the meeting:
“When I rang up to report a gang of youths causing trouble near my house, I got no reply and after the same happened on another occasion, I just gave up, thinking that I was wasting my time.”
That feeling of frustration was echoed throughout the meeting and heightened when Councillor Tony Duncan was told by Insp Langley that he would need to submit a Freedom of Information request to find out how many 101 calls to Ripon police go unanswered.
At the start of the meeting when Insp Langley showed a graph indicating a downward trend over the past 22 month of recorded anti-social behaviour incidents in the Minster Ward, his presentation was interrupted by Cllr Williams, who said:
“I’m sorry, but I have to stop you there. These statistics are flawed, by virtue of the fact that so many people who try to get through on 101 give up after being kept waiting for so long.
“Showing a graph like this and presenting it as fact, does not reflect the actual experience of thousands of people that I and other councillors were told about on the doorstep before the election.”
The 101 problem
Insp. Langley accepted that there is a problem with the 101 system that needs to be resolved and throughout the meeting, pointed out that he and fellow officers are doing their best for Ripon, often ‘with their backs against the wall.’
Clllr McHardy said:
“We appreciate you coming here tonight and answering our questions and would like to point out that comments made here are not aimed at you, but are for those senior to you who make the decisions and need to provide you with the resources that you need to do your job.
“There has been a sizeable increase in the precept that we pay through our council tax for policing in Ripon, but the commissioner is nowhere to be seen this evening to tell us what she is going to do to support you and your officers.”
Police: meeting ‘highlighted real challenges’
After the meeting, Insp Langley in an email to the Stray Ferret, said:
“It was a really good meeting and highlighted some of the real challenges that Ripon face. There is a real balance to be had around national type challenges and those wider issues such as 101, recruitment, funding and HBC CCTV that it’s really important that we discuss.
“Equally there is limited scope and control that I have on those topics but it’s good to discuss them.
“I hope at the next meeting that we can spend less time on those wider issues as we have discussed them and focus more on local Ripon issues. I would have liked to have focused more on the today problems and areas that I can direct my teams towards. The next meeting we should be able to get more into that level of detail and discuss other issues.”