CRIME-FIGHTING came to the fore in Morpeth as the area’s new Police and Crime Commissioner took a tour of the town.
Vera Baird, who was elected to the new role for the Northumbria force last month, called into Morpeth on Tuesday to meet local police officers and support staff and find out more about the issues and initiatives of the sector.
Mrs Baird was joined by her deputy, former Police Chief Superintendent Mark Dennett.
The pair set out from Morpeth Police Station and were shown around the town centre, while local officers explained the particular concerns of the area and talked about policing successes.
Chief Inspector Aidan Sloan, who is responsible for the area covering Morpeth, Alnwick and Berwick, said: “The Morpeth sector has a combination of a big market town, with issues around the night-time economy, and a very large rural part of the county with unique rural issues. It is a real mix of urban and rural problems.
“However, the local neighbourhood officers have really good links with the businesses and the farmers, and the people who live in the community.
“There is a small element, like any large town, of anti-social behaviour and youth disorder, but there has been a lot of work done with the schools and off-licences, and the young people themselves, to try to encourage them not to start misusing alcohol.
“With regard to rural crime there are isolated communities, but there is a Farmwatch scheme where officers go out to visit farms and give crime prevention advice.
“If there are any issues they can feed that back to the farmers, but the rural residents are also our eyes and ears. There is a really strong link between us supporting and helping the residents and the residents helping and supporting us.
“We have achieved some good results in Morpeth in bringing down crime and anti-social behaviour.”
Chief Insp Sloan also spoke of initiatives to tackle speeding drivers, such as training Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) to use speed trap devices and working with schools and colleges to educate young people about driving safely, and he said there was also a focus on stopping nuisance drivers from gathering in car parks and causing disturbance.
He said a scheme with Northumberland County Council to raise awareness of motorcycle safety on rural roads was a success, and the partnership was also having an impact on retail crime through the Shopwatch programme.
“At this time of year shoplifting can be a problem, but there is a really vibrant Shopwatch scheme in Morpeth, which has come about through funding from the local authority,” he said.
“For example, charity shops at one point were having problems with people’s handbags being dipped into and their purses stolen. These charities don’t have a lot of money so we got some funding through the council to equip the shops with Shopwatch radios. It means they can easily report crime, warn others and it gives the staff more confidence.”
PCSO Paul Moorhead, who helps to organise the project, said: “Shopwatch is a very successful scheme. All of the major businesses and a lot of the independent retailers are involved, there are about 39 members at the moment.
“It is very effective and works really well for information sharing. We have regular meetings at Sanderson Arcade, which are very well attended. It gets a lot of positive results.”
He said the system is linked to CCTV cameras, while the arcade’s Beadles are also supportive.
Another part of the PCSOs’ work is monitoring behaviour at Morpeth bus station to ensure there is no disorder.
PCSO Moorhead said: “The bus station just gets very busy, especially when the schools come out, and there are a lot of elderly people coming through so our presence helps to make them feel secure. The kids are generally very well behaved, but there are a lot of them and us being there helps to keep them calm.”
Community Beat Manager Dean Rowell was responsible for showing the visitors around the town and highlighted one particularly successful initiative, Operation Gabriel.
He said: “We have Operation Gabriel running at the moment to tackle things like theft from shops. It is putting officers into the town centre at the peak times for Christmas shopping, with a high-visibility presence.
“It has been very successful in other years where we have had no thefts from shops and it is also looking very good so far this year.
“The public like seeing the police on the streets. We have increased high-visibility patrols in other operations throughout the year and the public always recognise it and appreciate it.”
Northumberland County Council Executive Member for Public Protection Anita Romer also joined the group and spoke to Mrs Baird about the importance of maintaining funding for the Safer Northumberland Partnership.
She said the budget was halved last year and services around young people’s substance misuse and reducing re-offending were in jeopardy.
However, she was told funding may be available to support other community safety initiatives, such as Farmwatch, Coastal Watch and the motorcycle safety campaign.
Mrs Baird said part of her role will be to work with local authorities on such issues.
She said: “The purpose of my visit to Morpeth was for the police officers to show me how the town centre is policed and I have found a really interesting combination of response and neighbourhood policing.
“I have been in the Police and Crime Commissioner’s job now for three weeks and it is important to get out into Northumberland. I need to know what is going on here.
“It would be easy for people to think that I will only be focused on Newcastle, but not at all.
“I have a responsibility to work with everybody from everywhere in the area and I’m taking the first step to that now.”
The Police and Crime Commissioner plans to visit other parts of the county, including Alnwick, Berwick and Hexham.