Figures showing the number of unsolved crimes in Blackpool raised eyebrows and concerns across the Fylde coast.
The undetected crime figures for the last year, which came as a result of a Freedom of Information request by The Gazette, include 63 rapes, 77 robberies, 72 cases of arson and more than 1,800 burglaries from homes and businesses.
Out of 19,688 reported crimes in Lancashire Police’s Western Division – between November 1, 2010 and October 31, this year – 13,141 remained undetected at the start of November.
There are fears by those who represent rank and file officers the situation could get worse after £42m of cuts are made to policing budgets, while some Gazette readers branded the figures “unacceptable”.
However, those who lead policing in Blackpool and Fylde are adamant they are on the right track and are doing everything within their powers to keep communities safe.
They today re-iterated Western Division is in the top quarter of all policing divisions in the country in terms of its success in detecting crime.
We asked for your questions to put to Blackpool Police chiefs. Many readers, who responded through our website, letters, Facebook and Twitter raised the same issues over drugs, tactics used by officers and community safety.
Here, Supt Bill McMahon, Blackpool Police’s head of operations, candidly answers your questions.
If there were 13,000 unsolved crimes when Lancashire Police had enough officers, how will they cope with fewer officers?
And in view of the cuts, would the police classify or prioritise cases to cope with their workload? For example, would hate crimes or domestic disputes be accorded a lower priority than robberies or burglaries?
The Constabulary has to save in the region of £42m by 2015 and this means we will have to re-shape the way we deliver policing across the county and of course, this does affect Blackpool. We have already redefined our neighbourhood policing teams to make sure there are more officers where there is more demand, and we have also changed the way in which we respond to calls and incidents. We believe these changes will make us more efficient, not less.
We have always prioritised how we respond to calls from the public, and this is based on the immediate threat to the caller, or their vulnerability, and whether a crime is actually in progress at the time of the call. But I want to make it clear, all crimes are and will continue to be investigated and whether a crime is ever detected will depend on the evidence we can secure to bring about a prosecution. Sometimes there is just no evidence, and sometimes victims or witnesses do not want to attend court.
We do not underestimate the challenges ahead of us, but I want to reassure readers we are totally committed to delivering a high quality service to those who need our help and assistance, and to those who come into contact with us during their daily business.
What additional or new measures are to be implemented to solve the outstanding cases and clear the existing backlog?
I think there has to be an acceptance that a proportion of crimes will never be solved and there will always be crimes that remain ‘undetected’ for a variety of reasons, including victims not wanting to support a criminal investigation. This is the same wherever you are in the country and whilst it is not palatable, it is reality.
However, where there is evidence we will do all we can to pursue offenders and detect more crimes, working closely with other partner agencies to target those individuals who we believe are prolific offenders and those that cause the most harm. We will continue to do all we can to prevent crime as well as detect it.
In addition the division uses restorative justice in a sizeable number of cases where it is in the best interests of the victim not to go through the court system. This will always mean these offences will remain ‘unsolved’ although in reality they have been positively dealt with.
While the message two thirds of crime may never be solved is never going to be a positive one, Blackpool is in fact, in the top quarter of all divisions in the country in terms of its success in detecting crime.
When will the police tackle the problem of the many undesirable or suspicious looking people roaming the streets of Blackpool, especially around Queen Street and near Blackpool North Station?
We have been aware through previous PACT (Police and Communities Together) priorities of concerns raised regarding activities of some individuals in this area. As a result there has been regular patrolling by the neighbourhood policing team for Claremont who have worked in partnership with Blackpool Council to address some of the issues raised which has led to an improvement in the area.
People who are still concerned about this issue can come along to the local PACT meetings which are held at St Paul’s Worship Centre, Egerton Road at 2pm on the first Tuesday of every month. We would welcome their support and want to hear their views.
What are the police doing to clamp down on drug offences?
Arresting drug dealers and bringing them before the courts is one of our top priorities in Blackpool. Since January this year, there have been 140 drugs warrants executed in the Blackpool area and almost 1,000 people arrested in connection with drugs offences. You may remember reading in The Gazette that during September we carried out Operation Total, targeting drug dealing in Blackpool’s clubs. In a series of early morning raids we arrested and charged five people for drugs offences and in November we raided a property in Blackpool and discovered a £20,000 cannabis factory.
We rely heavily on communities coming forward with information to help us make these arrests and if people have concerns we would ask them to either come along to their local PACT (police and community together) meetings or to contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555111. Details of PACT meetings can be found on our website – www.lancashire.police.uk
We completely understand the devastation controlled drugs can have on families and communities, and we will continue to target offenders who sell drugs on our streets. We also know there is a link between drugs and other crime, such as shoplifting, burglary and robbery, and we work with other agencies – such as Addaction, J2R, Drugline and Community Drug Teams – to offer support to users and offenders to try and prevent these crimes happening in the first place.
In fact the Revolution Team, which is a police team that works closely with other agencies such as Probation and drug treatment providers to prevent re-offending, is currently working with more than 100 individuals who we believe have been responsible for committing the majority of our burglaries and car crime in the division. Steering these people away from their drugs addictions is key to reducing these types of crime.
Will there be more undercover officers used to infiltrate hostels, digs, bed and breakfasts, local streets and pubs and address crime? The public say the police can catch these criminals but you have to be among them.
There are many ways to target crime and using undercover officers is one of them. However, because of the very nature of being undercover, it is very difficult for us to talk openly about how and where they are used. I want to reassure people in Blackpool we use the full range of policing tactics available to us to target criminals and will continue to do so.
Why do your officers patrol Blackpool in single crewed expensive vans and why do your officers regularly drive through the main shopping pedestrian areas in the town centre when they should be walking or on cycles?
Why do your constables (and PCSOs) walk round in pairs during the daytime hours patrolling the business premises of Boots, Debenhams, M&S and other stores who have their own security staff?
This appears to be a poor use of resources.
One of our aims is to prevent crime and disorder and the presence of a police vehicle or officers on foot patrol in the town centre helps to reassure shoppers and prevent crime. We work closely with security staff from local shops but it is important to build good relationships with both store managers and their staff in order to do all we can to prevent offences such as shoplifting.
How many of the 13,000 cases have been passed to the Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS)?
The CPS is consulted for advice and direction about certain offences and they will make a decision about whether there is enough evidence to charge or whether it is in the public interest to charge. They also prosecute all our criminal cases. However, where a case is ‘unsolved’ as in no offender is identified or there is clearly insufficient evidence to consider a charge, the case will not be referred to them.
Do you feel the Criminal Justice System (ie the courts and CPS) are letting you down in any way, and could their service be improved?
The criminal justice system is complex and the police are just one part of it. We work very closely with other partners, such as courts and the CPS, to make sure we can be as effective as possible. We are always looking for ways to improve our own service, as well as how we work with others.
Traffic officers are sat at the side of the road waiting to prosecute someone for doing 31mph in a 30 zone
That in itself is a waste of police time... surely this could be used more wisely on the streets of Blackpool making their presence felt?
It is a misconception road policing officers sit waiting at the roadside to prosecute motorists who only just break the speed limit. It is of course true there are civilian speed enforcement officers who use mobile vans to set up speed checks on roads where there is an identified speeding problem.
As well as looking at accident data to determine where the mobile cameras are sited, we also respond to residents’ concerns. People complain to us very regularly that motorists speed up and down their streets putting them and their children at risk and we have a duty to do something about it, alongside our other partners including the Lancashire Road Safety Partnership. We have to reduce the number of people seriously injured or killed on our roads and we know excess speed plays a huge part in some of these collisions.
What support is being rendered by the police to the victims of these unsolved crimes?
Supporting and keeping victims up to date with the progress of their case is a real priority for the constabulary and all victims of crime will receive a minimum standard of service from the police which includes a crime reference number within seven days and a regular update about their crime from the officer who is investigating their case. If and when there are no new lines of enquiry and the case remains unsolved, we will always tell the victim. This is the minimum we will do and each victim will be supported according to their needs.
Once a crime is detected and goes to court then supporting a victim becomes a joint approach between the police, the CPS and the witness care unit, with support and advice being tailored to each individual case. The national charity Victim Support, is also there for anyone to access if they have been a victim of crime.
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