Examination of Witness (Questions 486-499)|
WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER 2001
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.
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 typesmotor vehicle
crime, burglary, robbery, drug dealingrather 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.
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
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.