Crime may be on the up in Adur and Worthing – but local policing must focus on the crimes and areas most at risk, the area’s police chief told councillors.
Divisional commander Chief Inspector Miles Ockwell made the comments as he appeared before Adur & Worthing Councils’ Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee last week (February 15, 2018).
Committee members expressed their frustration that Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne cancelled her appearance in front of the committee at late notice.
But they thanked the divisional commander for his comprehensive explanations on operational issues across both areas.
Crime up 15%
Among the topics discussed at the public meeting in Worthing Town Hall included the visibility of officers, drug dealing, domestic abuse, the reporting of crimes and the role of PCSOs.
In giving an overview of the state of policing in Adur and Worthing, Ch Insp Ockwell said that crime was up 15% across both areas.
The commander also revealed that half of all drug lines in West Sussex came into Adur and Worthing while one sexual offence was committed in the area every day.
However, he reminded councillors of a reduction in police funding in the last five years, as well as cuts to other services, meant he had fewer resources to call on.
Ch Insp Ockwell also explained that the nature of policing was changing – with many crimes now taking place out of sight, such as online or in their own homes.
In response to councillors’ questions, Ch Insp Ockwell said: “There is one sexual offence across Adur and Worthing every day, we receive more reports of domestic abuse than criminal damage – I do not think the public understand the scale of it. We have to prioritise the work and do have to make difficult decisions. I appreciate the public will want us to do everything, they have the right to expect that as they pay their taxes.
“We could be better at publicising what we do and explaining the challenges but we do not want to terrorise the public as in the grand scheme of things Adur and Worthing are pretty safe places to live and we’ve got really good officers and staff working hard to keep you safe.”
In speaking to the panel, Ch Insp Ockwell said there were a number of challenging issues in Adur and Worthing which his team was working on.
This included drug dealing, with nearly half of all drug lines into West Sussex coming into Adur and Worthing.
To combat this, the commander said his officers were working with local partners as well as The Met Police.
Central to this is gathering intelligence and proactive action on the streets. He explained that Worthing and Adur accounts for 20% stop and searches across Sussex which leads to a one in four arrest rate (compared to 21% across the county).
Ch Insp Ockwell and Inspector Allan Lowe, of the Adur and Worthing Neighbourhood Policing Team, also praised the local authority for supporting its work, particularly through the community safety team which are based in Worthing Police Station
Some members also raised concerns about the time it took to report incidents to the police.
In response, Ch Insp Ockwell said 40% of all calls to Sussex Police were not crime related and a third related to mental health services.
He did urge councillors and members of the public to continue reporting crimes though, adding: “We can’t do something about problem if we do not know about it.”
The divisional commander also said he understood people’s frustrations over the visibility of police.
Ch Insp Ockwell said: “I am really passionate about the value of officers patrolling in the street. If they can’t hear and smell what’s going on, they can’t get the knowledge that comes with being out there; but also it means they will not engage with normal members of the public outside of moments of conflict.”
Ch Insp Ockwell said he was looking to increase visibility which is why he was launching a district wide operation next month in the areas most in need.
Councillor Stephen Chipp, Adur District Council’s joint chairman of the Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said: “While it was extremely disappointing that the Police and Crime Commissioner did not attend, I want to thank Ch Insp Ockwell and Insp Lowe for their time in answering a range of topics about policing across our area. It was extremely informative and certainly helps members from all sides understand the challenges faced by our local police force.”
Councillor Roy Barraclough, Worthing Borough Council’s joint chairman of the Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said: “The session shows that policing really is an issue that matters to everyone in our community. As a committee we will continue to look into such topics to ensure that our communities are receiving the best possible support from the public and private sector that they need to thrive.”