Nothing beats having a copper on the beat. This is why I am delighted that Roger Hirst, Essex Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC), has announced another five police officers to join the dedicated Southend town centre police team by summer. Something the town sorely needs to help tackle the increase we have experienced in crime and anti-social behaviour both on and around the High Street.
Job done? Not by half! These officers are great and will make a difference, but we need more and in specific areas. Back in October last year I commissioned the council’s own community safety team – working across the borough (but starting in the High Street), a seven-days a week, six strong team of uniformed officers, who have started to patrol and tidy up our high street, dealing with the anti-social behaviour, rough sleeping and aggressive begging that we have experienced. They really have worked well, in partnership with the police and BID rangers to significantly improve the experience of visitors.
But in recent months there have been stabbings and other violent crimes, which understandably makes residents feel unsafe. We need more high-visibility, uniformed police officers out on the street in so that criminals can see them and shoppers and night-time revellers can feel safe once again.
This is why I pressed the PFCC to do more. When it came to setting the police’s share of this year’s council tax the Conservatives supported him increasing it by the maximum amount, to give the resources required to provide more police officers for Southend. I’ve also argued that we need our officers sooner – Essex Police are conscious of the pressure we are feeling in Southend and the busy summer period we have each year – therefore the extra police officers will be joining us by the summer.
This means there will be a vast difference in the uniformed presence in Southend compared to last summer. Not only do we have the six strong community safety team, boosted with an additional £100,000 investment in our recent council budget, but extra police officers in Southend. They will be on the beat, in their patrol cars answering 999 calls and in dedicated specialist teams dealing with domestic violence, gang crime and child exploitation, to name but a few.
It is important that those of us in public office or service, use our resources wisely. It isn’t for the police to deal with homelessness, but nor is it for the council to deal with class A drug issues or stabbings. By working together in partnership with each other, we are able to have the right people in the right place and the right time – quickly.
This extra police officers for the High Street, along with everything the council is doing will support it moving forward, adapting for the 21st century. It’s an exciting time for our High Street as we work to bring in new businesses and tens of millions of pounds of private investment to increase the number of people coming to the town; the introduction of cheap short stay car parking (from just 20p for a half hour stay); spending £100,000 on giving the area a spring clean and freshen up; and providing Southend residents with truly affordable homes just a stone’s throw away with the Better Queensway development.
Our High Street has to move with the times, away from the retail fuelled boom of the 80s and 90s, into a vibrant, multi-functional community resource where people feel safe to be. With the recent investment, extra resource and additional officers, I have every faith that it will do so.