Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former councillor in Suffolk.
Suffolk is a beautiful county, popular with tourists as well as second home owners and retirees, and generally regarded as a safe place, with low crime rates. However, a series of events in recent months are unsettling communities. Whilst dogs are being stolen (possibly for illegal fights) from some villages – with thieves brazenly knocking on doors to enquire who has a dog – some sheep were also ‘professionally butchered’ in the fields. A spate of attempted, and successful, cash machine thefts and local stores’ windows smashed for thieves to gain access, add to security concerns.
But recent research indicates that crime is increasingly focused in and around the county town, Ipswich, because of its easy accessibility to London; the problem has grown in recent years leading to some no-go areas, despite considerable investment in public zones.
A couple of weeks ago I was woken by a loud bang and a car alarm going off outside my house; as I went to the window I heard someone running away and saw a neighbour’s car window had been smashed. The owner later told me that he had left a couple of pound coins for parking visible – as most of us do – which were stolen. Days later, another victim’s car was similarly damaged in the same road.
Increasing numbers of people, especially women, claim not to feel safe when walking around Ipswich in the evening, returning from the theatre or cinema, or dinner with friends at a restaurant. Having been followed several times, myself, on the short walk from the film theatre to the car park, I know how they feel and increasingly use taxis. I also avoid what used to be a popular park near the university during the daytime because of rumoured drug dealing.
Security has tightened at nightclubs, and volunteers work with the Police to protect the most vulnerable youngsters as well as the homeless. Following a couple of serious attacks on young women, there is a case for encouraging a greater use of personal alarms, as happened a decade ago in the wake of a series of murders in the town. At the same time, it is important not to alarm residents, which would negatively impact on town centre businesses and entertainment.
A recent major evaluation identified 24 drug-dealing operations across Suffolk, with 13 focused on Ipswich, eight in West Suffolk and three in East Suffolk.
Tim Passmore, the Police and Crime Commissioner for the country says:
“This is probably an under-estimate, with evidence of activity in Bury St Edmunds, Lowestoft, Newmarket, Haverhill, and other areas,” explains Tim Passmore, the Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC). “It is a serious threat to the county, with an impact across every single district and borough.”
Unlike neighbouring Essex and Norfolk where the PCCs survived one term, Tim is in his second term as PCC, working closely with the Chief Constable and oozing a strong community commitment. As a farmer and Mid-Suffolk councillor, he understands the importance of regular communication with all the Suffolk local authorities, as well as business and the general public.
This engagement enables the Police to develop effective strategies supported by local authorities, which have pledged to invest £500,000 jointly in a pilot scheme to combat drug dealing. “Having identified what needs to be done, we agreed that it is essential to act quickly to tackle the problem, preventing it simply being pushed out of Ipswich and further into the surrounding areas. Alongside targeting specialist police activity, we are focusing on early intervention and education.”
Another concern is the newly released figures noting a 34 per cent rise in the number of serious sexual assaults in the last year, and a 37 per cent increase in domestic abuse over the same period, which may be linked to gangs, with the local Constabulary spending more than £2 million in the last few years. Schools, hospitals, local charities and business groups are all briefed to be alert to potential cases.
Suffolk’s public sector leaders all recognise that the key to keeping people safe is working together. They have pioneered greater integration of services, something which Tim Passmore and the County Council have pursued since 2015, when joint police/fire stations were first introduced; there are now nine, with a further four due to be completed by the end of the year. The ambulance service now shares another station and is open to more cooperation.
Suffolk County Council Leader, Colin Noble says:
“We have a fantastic track record of innovation, investment and collaboration to improve efficiency and effectiveness in our blue light services. Tim’s experience as a council leader means he has a greater understanding of the public sector, and the need to dissolve the silo mentality, which has prevented change in the past.
“Closer working makes sense at all levels, releasing funds for the front line, and building stronger relationships across the services. We are currently exploring the potential for joint workshops to service public sector vehicles, and for the control rooms to come together, as well as ways to improve joint prevention messages and improve procurement to ensure best value.”
“Partnership working speeds up decision-making, supporting everyone to be responsive as circumstances change, aiding emergency planning. We have to be ready for the next incident, whatever that may be, enabling our highly skilled committed teams to do what they have spent their lives training for, without unnecessary bureaucratic interference.
“In the wake of Lord Kerslake’s report into the emergency services’ response to the horrific Manchester bombing, it is imperative that lessons are learnt by us all.”