Focus groups and Meet Your PCC events 2018/19
Three Meet Your PCC events were held between October 2018 and January 2019. One public meeting in East Grinstead as well as smaller groups in Hailsham (a drop-in event for young parents) and Battle (by invitation only, a round-table discussion focusing specifically on rural crime).
Eleven focus groups were organised across the county: five in West Sussex (Midhurst, Crawley, Arundel, Burgess Hill, Horsham); four in East Sussex (Ticehurst, Uckfield, Eastbourne, Newhaven); and one in Hove, plus a discussion group with the committee of a disability forum in St Leonards.
A focus group has been set up with some members of the LGBT community in Brighton & Hove and will take place on Wednesday 6 February 2019.
An interfaith focus group in Crawley is also being set up, along with a rural crime round table discussion in West Sussex (details will be confirmed at a later date).
The aim of these meetings has been to draw out public perceptions and confidence levels about Sussex Police while understanding specific concerns about issues in the local community. At all events, the topics brought up by participants have been inevitably the same ones:
Complaints at the lack of visible policing
There were frequent comments about a lack of police on the streets (either police officers or PCSOs) and the lack of any consistent presence in the community to give confidence, continuity or a feeling of protection.
Many people voiced their disappointment and frustration that low level crime/anti-social behaviour sometimes goes unchallenged, resulting in communities feeling vulnerable. Some problem areas which were specifically mentioned were Bognor and Littlehampton town centres; Burgess Hill; Hassocks; Seaford; Uckfield’s Ridgewood estate; car parks at night (eg. in Ticehurst and Ditchling Common).
We were given numerous examples were of how people had tried to use the 101 non emergency number and had hung on the line for an unreasonable amount of time or gave up in frustration. There were also many instances of callers feeling let down by the call handler not taking the conversation seriously.
Loss of confidence
Despite the majority of participants being keen to believe in, encourage and support Sussex Police, there was a palpable sense of disappointment and lost confidence. This was linked to funding issues and the lack of visible police on the streets, resulting in a perceived inability by the Force to deal with crimes that matter to people or to keep local communities safe and protected.
Specific issues of concern
These issues were mentioned (without prompting) on a frequent basis at the various events:
- Inability to report a crime – it’s too difficult to get through either via 101 or online (many complaints that the online system doesn’t work properly);
- Lack of confidence that crimes will be investigated. There was a suspicion that the police’s systems may screen out the reported crime and they will not investigate;
- Perception that the police are no longer interested in investigating thefts or burglaries. There was a feeling that some new issues like hate crime or modern slavery are seen as ‘more important’ ;
- No feedback if a crime is reported – there’s a sense that information is passed to police and then disappears into a black hole;
- No local contact point – there’s nowhere for local people to turn to for help, especially now that designated, recognisable PCSOs have disappeared from communities;
- Public lack of motivation/willingness to get involved – people are now more cynical about the police and less willing to help them;
- ASB – drug dealing; intimidating behaviour from groups of young people; aggressive, fast cycling on pavements which endangers the safety of pedestrians;
- Speeding in country lanes was a major issue with people telling us that there’s nowhere people can turn to for help.
A positive outcome
Without exception, the participants were grateful that the PCC was interested in hearing their concerns. By the end of each event any initial negativity had died down and they were expressing appreciation that they had a forum in which to express their thoughts about policing, having been assured that all information would be fed back to the PCC. Most said they would be willing to pay more for policing so long as they saw tangible results in the areas where they sought improvements: namely a better service on 101 and more visible policing.