Improvements to the Police presence in Hungerford, June 2023

Hungerford Mayor Helen Simpson summarises various discussions she has had in May and June 2023 regarding policing in Hungerford. Some of these have led to immediate improvements while others are set to be put in place before the end of the year.

“Many of you are aware of a meeting I held on 3 May 2023 with the Police & Crime Commissioner, District Councillors, key stakeholders and the Thames Valley Police (TVP) Superintendent (Area Commander – West Berkshire Local Police Area). As I mentioned previously, this was very productive. A summary can be found in the HTC Update for April/May 2023.

“I followed this with a communication outlining key points raised at the meeting and any required actions.”

Summary of the current TVP challenges and actions needed

  • Recruitment: two new officers, hopefully by November 2023.
  • Vehicles: shortage of parts and replacements because of a national supply issues and high servicing requirements for police vehicles.
  • Hungerford and Downlands Neighbourhood Policing Team’s (NPT) patch covers a large area, making it almost impossible for the team to be informed of local intelligence around crime.

I spent much of 24 May addressing the many concerns of residents in relation to police attendance/presence within the town.

For instance, a burglary at a pub in Hungerford (its second recent break-in) was reported to the police and sent to the AIU (Assessment & Investigation Unit) system. This then sat waiting for assessment and any required action. I know that attending a crime after it has occurred wouldn’t be seen as urgent.

Sadly, what the police fail to appreciate is the anger, frustration and vulnerability felt by residents who are desperate for someone to reassure them they are important, safe, and kept informed. Instead, social media becomes explosive and I am left to address residents’ reactions.

That said, I am sympathetic to TVP’s current challenges. The force is understaffed, underfunded, and working under extremely difficult constraints. I cannot, however, ignore the residents of Hungerford whom I serve. TVP must address the issues around neighbourhood policing policies.

Because of its location, Hungerford isn’t currently being policed effectively. I’m asking TVP to consider the allocation of the neighbourhood team, perhaps splitting the team to get real presence within the town.

Summary of the response received from the TVP Superintendent

Since our meeting, I have instructed that two PCSOs be based permanently at Hungerford’s Tri-station. This avoids the need for them to book on at Newbury Police Station and saves two hours of travel time each day. They can therefore spend more time on their area. A dedicated Police vehicle has also been allocated to the Hungerford Team.

Changes have already been implemented to the NPT to increase presence and engagement. Two new officers are being allocated to the team (hopefully by late 2023) to bolster police numbers for enforcement and problem-solving. I’m also exploring how I can base the whole team, rather than just two PCSOs, at Hungerford to provide a better service to the west of the LPA.

I would also like to reassure you that crime and incidents in the area are monitored by the LPA and are suitably reallocated where opportunities exist to detect offenders, alongside providing crime prevention and problem solving.

Summary of the response from the AIU team

Thank you for raising these concerns and giving me the opportunity to address them. I feel that there may be some misunderstanding of TVP’s new Assessment and Investigation Unit (AIU) and I would like to provide reassurance about the robustness of our processes.

I should start with a brief explanation as to why the AIU was set up in the first place. Following the force’s HMICFRS inspection of 2021 and our own internal reviews, it was found that front-line teams were becoming overwhelmed with demand. We were also not satisfied with the quality of service that the Force was able to provide to victims of volume crime.

We sought to address that through the creation of a new force-wide (but locally delivered) AIU to make best use of resources and technology to improve our victim service. This function was separated from our traditional local policing delivery model so that we could develop our expertise and standards consistently across the force.

I know everyone recognises that the demand on police forces far exceeds the capacity to respond. It was critical that we freed up front-line response teams to focus on those jobs with the most threat, harm and risk. At the same time, we were confident that the AIU could deliver a better standard of victim service and investigation through a more sophisticated prioritisation process.

We have probably gone some way further than other forces by focussing this prioritisation system on the impact that a crime has had on the victim and community, rather than a broad-brush approach of prioritising purely based on crime type. Our intention was to be targeting our response at those crimes where residents would feel anger, frustration, and vulnerability.

There are several steps to this process that it is probably worth detailing:

  1. If a call taker, having undertaken the appropriate risk assessment, decides a crime does not require an officer to be deployed in the first instance, they send the crime to the AIU.
  2. This crime will have an initial review from the AIU within a couple of hours to ensure it is appropriate to be dealt with by the AIU. If it is found to have threat, harm, risk or be particularly serious then it may either be sent back to our control room or placed higher in our triage queue for a quicker response.
  3. This is followed by our triage process that involves contacting the victim and better understanding the crime, lines of enquiry, threat, harm, risk, the impact that crime has had on the victim and the victim’s expectations. Our aim is to do this within 24 hours. As we are a new unit and resourcing is still being put in place, we have some delays in our triage queue: however, we will see this come down significantly over the next couple of weeks.
  4. Where there is deemed to be a reasonable line of enquiry we can pursue, a crime will be sent for investigation and prioritised based on threat, harm, risk and victim impact.
  5. Whether or not there is a line of enquiry, we will also task the local policing area resources with reassurance, safeguarding or crime prevention where appropriate. We work with local policing teams to ensure that offenders who require an arrest are brought into custody at the earliest opportunity.
  6. In addition to our triage process, we have a small team of analysts who will seek to find crime series and hotspots which require an enhanced response.

Although the AIU is still in its infancy, the early signs are very positive. Victim satisfaction for crimes coming to AIU has risen by 16 percentage points compared to the months prior to AIU being introduced. We are seeing some excellent results in bringing offenders to justice through joint working of all our local teams. Increases in crime and the complexity of crime continues to challenge us: however, we are always striving to improve and I am confident that we will do that over the coming months.

A visit to Abingdon

One of Hungerford’s PCSOs was kind enough to accompany me to visit Abingdon’s police call centre. I found this visit helpful as I’m now better able to understand the process. I was able to follow a call from start to conclusion and witness how many calls were coming in on both 999 and 101 (despite it being a a busy rush hour there were only five calls waiting on 101). It was good to see how the calls are prioritised to either an immediate despatch of officers or further triage to determine if it goes to AIU or urgent follow-up. Throughout, this process is overseen by senior officers or supervisors.

I’d like to thank the team at Abingdon for their time on my visit.

In conclusion

“Hungerford’s concerns have been taken on board,” Helen Simpson said, “and real steps are currently being explored to provide the town with more police resource. My thanks to the Superintendent for his detailed reply and actions following our meeting.”

Image above, left to right: Hungerford and Kintbury District Councillor Dennis Benneyworth; Hungerford Chamber of Commerce Chair Karen Salmon; Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Barber; Hungerford Mayor Helen Simpson; the then Hungerford and Kintbury District Councillor and current Hungerford Town Councillor James Cole.

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