Cultural Conference, 17th - 18th February 2011

24th February 2011

On 17th - 18th February SLIG took 60 Suffolk and Lenadoon residents on a residential with the Local PSNI Neighbourhood Team. On Friday morning we had a frank and open question and answer session, this is the result:

Q: Why do we not know who our local community police person is? Those of us here at the conference now know who you are, but what about the rest of the community? None of us have ever seen your faces before.

A: One of the barriers is that we’re constantly being pulled in different directions. Policing is a dynamic job in that we’re always prioritising, and might have planned to do something but at the last minute be pulled away somewhere else. For example some of the team here this morning had planned to stay for lunch but we’ve just been told that unfortunately they have to leave shortly to deal with something else.

Q: What’s being done about on-street drinking in Lenadoon Court? Eight years ago the no-drinking signs were taken down by vandals and never replaced; there doesn’t seem to be any control of the situation.

A: Lenadoon Court is not covered under by-laws as a designated no-drinking area. Even with the signs up, individuals have to be within a certain distance of the sign in order for police to apprehend them. Under-age youths in possession of alcohol will have the alcohol removed from them and may or may not be taken home to their parents. However this also requires parental buy-in, and unfortunately there have been incidences of parents coming to the station complaining that we’ve have taken alcohol off their child and asking for it back – parents also have a role to play in this.

The PSNI has identified certain areas for recommendation to the Council to be made into designated no-drinking areas, Lenadoon Court being one of them. However this is dependent upon the Council actioning it and so far they haven’t done so.

If youths are apprehended with alcohol they may be referred to a Liaison Officer. (Resident - Liaison Offers are ineffective – ‘A slap on the wrist)’. However this is the process we have in place – young people need to go through the process of working with a Liaison Officer then going to court, if it gets that far. It is important to give kids the opportunity to change, otherwise they could be left with a criminal record, which is never a desirable outcome. If the young person can receive intervention and change their behaviour then that is much more effective.

The PSNI also sit on a multi-agency forum in West Belfast looking at issues with youth. Each offending child is referred to a Diversionary Officer and their name shared with all agencies on the Forum.

Q: (From a member of SLIG’s Youth Forum) Why do you give us such a hard time? We meet up and we’re not even doing anything but you turn up in three big tanks and tell us to move on but there’s nowhere to go and we’re not even doing anything bad in the first place.

A: You have to understand that when we turn up we’re responding to calls. The area you’re hanging about in with your mates is a residential area and the residents have called us to complain and move you. (Another resident interjects: You’re hanging about outside people’s front door, large gangs of you, and people are trying to sleep and you’re being noisy. Elderly and individuals are intimidated to leave their houses because there are large gangs of teenagers outside their front doors, so we ring the police).

SLYC Member: But the police turn up and they’re cheeky to us. Why do they need three big trucks just for us?

A: We always go out in vehicles for our own personal safety. There is no excuse for being rude to you, that shouldn’t happen. However, even if you aren’t committing crime, there are large numbers of you and you’re being noisy and intimidating the residents, you can’t hang around there. And often there is under-age drinking and anti-social behaviour taking place, which we need to deal with.

Q: What is being done about ‘drinking dens’ – young single men are being allocated free flats or houses by the NIHE and turn them into party houses. Often neighbours are reluctant to report them for fear of retaliation.

A: The PSNI are not able to enter private property and remove alcohol. Residents are advised to keep a log of all incidences and go through the NIHE or local community forums, who are often able to do more in these circumstances.

Q: Why are you not doing more to prosecute retailers who sell alcohol to minors?

A: We did a test last year whereby a 16-year old, working with us, went into four different local retailers and attempted to buy alcohol. Out of the four, three passed and one failed. The shop that failed was given a caution and we prepared a file that went to the PPS who unfortunately did not take any action. Unfortunately once we’ve sent evidence to the PPS is out of our hands, but if the PPS don’t take action the police get the blame.

So perhaps there should be clearer explanation of the process involved so that people are less frustrated with the police, this could take place when statements are being taken.

The PSNI are also working with the Council to run regular programmes for license-holders informing them of the law and advising on selling to minors. Unfortunately the retailers aren’t obliged to attend and therefore there isn’t a good up-take on these courses.

The community has a strong voice here. The Police are only one element in the fight against under-age drinking and anti-social behaviour caused by alcohol miss-use. Parents are also responsible, and unfortunately in the majority of cases it is an adult buying alcohol to give to a minor. If someone is caught doing this they can be prosecuted but there needs to be strong evidence for it.

People can also buy alcohol online...

Home delivery services are supposed to ask for ID on delivery.

Q: A common problem these days is burglars breaking into houses and stealing car keys and stealing the car. If the car is later found it is then retained by police to check for evidence, at a cost to the owner. Why are cars taken into possession at a cost to the owner, why can they not be fingerprinted at the owner’s home? One resident had an experience where she brought her car home, only to be told that it could not be tested for evidence because it was a frosty day..

A: Vehicles are taken to the SOCO (Scene of Crime Officers) garage to be tested for evidence. If it is a wet or frosty day they have to be professionally dried out to be checked. Police do pay expenses for retaining cars. In order to send a crime to the PPS, Police have to comply with very strict evidence standards, and in order to get it the car needs to be seized – SOCO will not look at a vehicle until it has been dried out.

There is a difference between a crime scene, and owner responsibility – if a car is seized because it is inappropriately parked and is causing a blockage for example, that is owner-responsibility and no expenses will be paid. However if a car is seized because it has been stolen etc then they will be.

Q: Do the CCTV cameras attached to the Woodbourne station work and does anyone monitor them? There is huge frustration at the amount of crime and anti-social behaviour committed on your doorstep – in the immediate vicinity of the station that you don’t see or deal with.

The cameras work and are turned on but are not always manned due to limited manpower. They monitor real time for station security, and only some of them have the ability to record.

The Woodbourne typically has two vehicles and six officers responding to calls. They might also go to Divis or other areas covered under ‘A’ District. In the evenings it would be three or possibly four vehicles. Unfortunately therefore it is not possible to constantly monitor the situation outside the station.

Q: What happened to the Youth work the police used to do? It was hugely successful and local kids enjoyed it, but it seems to have disappeared.

A: Unfortunately that department has ceased and staff have been relocated to the Neighbourhood Team. Police staff have huge remits and relations with the community is an important part of that, however we no longer have the resources to commit staff members to it full time.

Q: Why is there a delay in completing demilitarisation of the station? Why is there still a need for the huge fences and reinforcements?

A: We protect both society and ourselves. Unfortunately there is still a huge threat to the PSNI as well as to the public, and we have an obligation to protect both the community and ourselves. There has been some progress; both the grills on the front window and the dragon’s teeth have been removed.

Q: Is there a recommended response time for 999 calls? Several residents present had examples of ringing 999 and having to wait several hours for a response despite being very close to the station. Once they arrive their attitude is generally unhelpful, and no explanation is given for the delay.

The PSNI is a very accountable organisation, one of the most accountable police services in the world. Therefore residents are encouraged to report back any problems and if necessary follow the complaints procedure by phoning the station and asking to speak to the duty Sergeant. But it is important to do this at the time of the event, as it’s pointless complaining months later – by that stage nothing can be done about it. (Resident – most people now just log their complaints with the local forums, unfortunately the local community groups seem to hold more weight with the police than ordinary residents do).

Q: Do you work with local statutory bodies regarding the opening hours of facilities such as the youth club, because at present they aren’t open at weekends or late enough in the evenings and this is contributing to the anti-social behaviour problem.

A: Sgt Robinson sits on the West Belfast Children and Young Persons Fourm and whole-heartedly agrees there are not enough facilities open for young people at weekends and evenings. He is feeding into their strategy.

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