Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 486-499)




  486. Could I welcome you to the Committee, sorry we are running a bit late. Could I ask you to introduce yourself for the record.
  (Mr Baggott) Yes, Chairman. My name is Matthew Baggott, I am the Deputy Chief Constable for West Midlands Police Force. I have 24 years police service. I am the Vice Chairman of the Chief Police Officers' Race and Community Relations Committee and I head national policy for the Chief Officers on social exclusion and approaches to Hate Crime.

  487. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy to go straight into questions?
  (Mr Baggott) Just to say I think this topic has a high degree of relevance for the Police Service, particularly in relation to tackling vulnerability and in linking up our approaches to criminality and reassurance under the Police Reform Programme with the whole business of regeneration. I think there is immense potential to discuss these issues and to join up some of the current structures and practices that are developing as we speak.

Christine Russell

  488. In your memorandum you support the "broken window view" of how problems develop. Obviously not every empty property has a broken window, so we would like to hear your comments on whether the problems are as a result of the emptiness of the property or the dereliction around the property.
  (Mr Baggott) I think the problems are probably one of management of empty homes at a variety of levels. One is the premises themselves and now very rapidly an empty premise can become an attractor of crime or criminality. On a larger scale, a lack of consistency in relation to voids can result in them becoming filled with a high level of criminality and drug dealing. An example of that for me would be an estate that I dealt with when I worked in Brixton —

  489. Is this illegal squatting or turning a blind eye to who is moving in?
  (Mr Baggott) I think it is both, it is turning a blind eye and also illegal squatting. It is not filling voids quickly enough and not making sure that they are managed consistently and in a timely way. An example for me would be an estate in Brixton where I worked as Inspector, where the perceived problem on the estate was robbery, but when it was examined the problem was actually a number of drug dealers who had taken up residence and were attracting people on to the estate, with the result that the confidence of the residents had gone spiralling downhill. I do believe that both in terms of individual management and their collective impact, there is significant room for intervention.

  490. In some of your evidence you seem to suggest that empty properties are symptomatic of the underlying problem in the neighbourhood of poverty. Would you like to expand on that?
  (Mr Baggott) If you start to have voids in an area this should be seen as a trigger that demands further investigation as to the reasons why. That lends itself almost to a strategic approach, both at Local Strategic Partnership level, which is about neighbourhoods that are in decline and what might be done in terms of joint priorities, but also very much at the local level in terms of robust local management, where people from different agencies actually own the problem, why it is happening and what we can do about it. It operates at a variety of levels. At the top level it is about, are these voids symptoms of a greater decline, how do you plot that, how do you predict it, how do you pre-empt it, and that is about strategic decisions. At the housing level, right at the micro level on the estate itself, it can be simply about how are we managing these empty voids at the moment. There is a variety of levels that need to be brought into effect.

  491. In your years of experience working in unpopular neighbourhoods, if we could define them as such, would you like to comment on what type of properties you feel are the most vulnerable? Secondly, could you identify the areas? Is it the large, old council estates? Is it the inner city terraced houses? Give us the benefit of your experience.
  (Mr Baggott) I do not actually think it is the nature of the properties themselves, it is the quality of the management and the quality of the partnership. What we have found over a number of years is partnership between the police and local authorities tends to be around consultation and where we do move ahead against crime it tends to be focused on crime types—motor vehicle crime, burglary, robbery, drug dealing—rather than on why it is that those crime types appear in the first place, in other words an approach towards criminality. Actually I do not think that is driven by whether it is a tower block or a widespread estate. What it is driven by is the quality of the management that actually tackles the people who are causing the misery for others at the location and what I call the visual cues, which are the graffiti, the abandoned cars, the rubbish piled up in people's gardens, simply at that level. I have worked in a number of areas where there have been tower blocks and I have to say my initial perception was that tower blocks must be bad but, in actual fact, when I have had residents' meetings with people who live in the tower blocks often the response is "We actually like living here. It is a great location, we can see for miles. It is a nice place to live but our problem is security, the empty voids that we have got drug dealers living in, the fact that no-one seems to own us as a collective entity, we do not see any police officers here, we do not know who the local officer is" and a whole range of factors that are affecting their quality of life. Once you put those right the tower blocks suddenly become very attractive. The issue of tower blocks may be about the security but it may also be about whether we have got vulnerable people living there who do not know anybody and feel very isolated, so there is a housing policy aspect to it and there is also a security aspect. I do not think it is as simple as Victorian housing in decline versus new widespread estates versus tower blocks, I think it needs much more of a very close identification of what has caused the problem in the first place.

  492. So it is the people and the quality of life issues rather than the actual bricks and mortar and fabric of the housing?
  (Mr Baggott) It is how the criminality has been allowed to flourish in the first place and, secondly, it is about why people living in the area have lost confidence in the ability of mainstream services to deliver.

Miss McIntosh

  493. Can I just ask which comes first, the brick through the window or the empty home in every case?
  (Mr Baggott) I think probably it is the empty home and the way the empty home is seen and advertised as a place where the brick through the window might follow. I have seen some, I think, pretty sad examples of housing management where empty homes, just because they are empty, are immediately given a fascia of hardboard and it sends a signal out "here is a home you can attack" so the brick through the window follows. Where you have an empty home that has proper curtains and proper double glazing that is impenetrable anyway, it follows that the brick through the window does not take place. I think the empty home comes first.

  494. Is there a way that you think empty homes can be more effectively managed that will reduce the crime factor?
  (Mr Baggott) First of all I think it is about the visibility of the empty home, secondly it is the way it is filled and how quickly it can be filled, but thirdly, and more importantly, it is about the confidence that people have in the area to want to make them live there in the first place. That comes down to how quickly residents see interventions taking place with people that are causing misery and, secondly, do they know the people who own that estate, the housing manager and the local police, and do they have confidence in their ability to give them the quality of life that they deserve.

  495. In your memorandum you say that the way forward is to "Reduce the bureaucracy and delay that currently accompanies some of the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act". You do specifically give an example, that I know we have homed in on in Question Time very often in the House to the Home Office, of "the ability to set Anti-Social Behaviour Orders could be given to local police commanders in the same way that they currently have powers to impose searches where there is the anticipation of violence". Do you want to elaborate on that a little bit?
  (Mr Baggott) Yes. I do not want to paint too gloomy a picture about Anti-Social Behaviour Orders because I think for local authorities they are a very radical and a very new concept. I think local authority philosophy has been much more about delivering service rather than tackling criminality. There has to be, and has been, a huge shift in emphasis upon tackling offenders and tackling anti-social behaviour. Where the relationship is good and businesslike between local police commanders and housing officers and chief executives, for example in places like Coventry, the Anti-Social Behaviour Orders are put in place very quickly and very effectively. I do not want to paint too gloomy a picture around that. The problem is they are still seen very much as part of the criminal justice process with all the things that entails around witness statements, judicial delay, solicitors becoming involved, rather than being what I think they were intended to be, a civil process with a balance of probabilities. Some of the things that are helping the process are having solicitors who are dedicated to dealing with Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, better training, and certainly from partnerships a leadership issue that actually we are going to use these because they are part of the armoury that we have to deal with anti-social behaviour. Why I think there is scope to fast track it is there could be a system where, within the proper boundaries and parameters, I see no reason why a superintendent, in consultation with the local authority, should not issue the Anti-Social Behaviour Order him or herself. The route in terms of a breach would be through the judicial process. So if the superintendent did not get it right in the first place that could still be tested through the judicial process once a breach had taken place. What we are doing, in effect, is putting the judicial process post-issue rather than pre-issue. What you would then have is the issue of the Anti-Social Behaviour Order quickly, deal with the behaviour quickly, and if someone wants to appeal that could be built into the process. I think that would streamline it significantly.

  496. If Government was to put more money into crime reduction rather than housing initiatives, do you think that would have a positive impact on reducing the empty homes?
  (Mr Baggott) I think the issue for me at the moment is although resources are necessary and would be welcomed, this is much more about joint priorities and joint structures. I actually think the key issue here is the ability to identify neighbourhoods in decline or neighbourhoods where criminality is being allowed to flourish to make sure that they are resourced properly by all the mainstream services. I give an example in my memorandum where I have walked a number of estates and neighbourhoods this year where the mainstream services simply have not been joined up. I have put 800 police officers in total into the 64 most deprived neighbourhoods in the West Midlands. They work there full-time, they have very clear targets and they are making a significant difference. It annoys me when I walk down the streets to find rubbish still piled high, it takes three to six months to get a window replaced. There is a lack of joining up. I think that is about mainstream priorities, expectation and accountability, and they come before the resourcing issue. That is not to say, of course, to make it work I do not think resourcing is not a necessary part of the equation, but it is the joining up that must come first.

  497. You go on in your memorandum to discuss the custodian concept. Simplistically, is it more than bobbies on the beat in deprived areas? Can you say how and where in specific areas it has worked?
  (Mr Baggott) Yes, certainly. I have a four year evaluation into our neighbourhood teams taking place at the moment paid for by Government office. The initial findings are that when you have a custodian approach which has sufficient resources to make it happen, there are significant quick time wins in terms of criminality, burglary falls, and the police officers there are even acting as brokers between different sections of the community, so there is a lot of gain in that. What the custodian concept is, and we presented it as part of the reform programme, is the idea that you cannot carry on just being reactive. In other words, we respond to investigation, we respond to crime, local authorities respond to contracts, and all you do is just keep on keeping the lid on problems. The custodian concept says you have got to move beyond that and you have to have individual ownership of parts of the community. From the police perspective that means having officers, or enough officers, in vulnerable neighbourhoods who are known, so they are physically known to the residents and they work very vigorously on relationship building, they are knowledgeable about the offenders, the locations, the repeat victims and why crime is being generated, and they are measured on that. We have actually changed our appraisal and promotion systems to measure people on what they deliver in terms of change rather than simply reacting. The third thing they have to be is highly knowledgeable about the causes of crime. That is a very different philosophy, I think, to one that is based on simply responding all the time and it needs some fairy large strategic decisions to create the resourcing to do that. So the custodian concept is about change, an expectation of change, rather than simply an expectation of response and reacting all the time.

  498. You alluded to the fact that you need enough officers. Are you saying there are or there are not enough officers? How much will the concept of the custodian approach cost to implement?
  (Mr Baggott) My belief is that there are some sections of the community that are so vulnerable, and the whole issue of regeneration is so important in terms of reducing crime, that you make it happen anyway. I can wait and try and create resources or I can make the resources happen and then deal with the bits of the business that fail because of that. I am a great believer if something is so right you do it and then you deal with the consequences. What is coming out of this for us is the fact that you can actually still create individual ownership, albeit on a reduced scale from that which you might like. Every officer in the West Midlands is linked to their own geographic area. They do not work there all the time because we have to manage investigations and response and the increasing 999 calls, but what I say to them is "Your job is to own the people as custodian and I expect you to know what is going on here. Even if you cannot be there all the time you are my eyes or ears, or the Police Service's eyes and ears, in terms of those people's well-being".

  499. I am aware that it works in certain areas, like Rawcliffe in my constituency where there was flooding, but can I just press you on this point. Do you believe that neighbourhood and street wardens will work in co-operation with police officers and will not become vigilantes?
  (Mr Baggott) I think it depends on what the expectation is of street wardens. I know that police officers in these locations have the range of powers, the professional expertise to deliver significant interventions in a whole range of areas, whether that is repeat victims, whether it is public confidence because of the uniform that they wear, or whether it is actually taking out significant drug dealers. These are highly skilled issues that also demand a high degree of accountability within the criminal justice system. When you go into a neighbourhood many of the problems are about serious criminality as well as low level anti-social behaviour. The police officer gives you the ability to tackle all of those within a very clear accountability framework. I think we have lost some of the informal social control around park keepers, around concierges, over the years for a variety of reasons. There is certainly scope to replace that with a degree of physical or street presence. What I am more nervous about street wardens is, what would be the inconsistency across the country in terms of their training, pay, expertise and ability to interact with the criminal justice system, what will be the accountability framework within which they operate when powers of arrest start to be given, because under the Human Rights Act there is a much broader dimension to this. In terms of the long-term funding regime, at the moment warden schemes are funded for a year or two years, if you are developing a significant partnership and putting resources into it, knowing it is going to be there for a year or two years really is not sufficient to develop the resilience that you need. That is not to say that I am rejecting wardens out of hand, I do not. We have some very good warden schemes in the West Midlands Police which work very closely with us. I think there needs to be an understanding of where they fit into the framework and I do not see wardens as the answer to a lack of police presence. All the experience and all the research shows that police officers deliver significant value for money, particularly in deprived neighbourhoods when they are acting as custodians.

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