Starting in the Autumn of 2018 staff in PCC Katy Bourne's office have been holding focus groups around the county on her behalf.
The aim of these meetings has been to draw out public perceptions and confidence levels about Sussex Police while understanding specific concerns about issues in the local community.
Find out more about the groups held so far underneath the headings below
2020 focus groups: the move online
The PCC's office would normally run local focus groups and invite residents, councillors and businesspeople to give their views; however, due to Covid 19 restrictions this was not possible for the major part of 2020.
Instead, consultations took place with town and parish councils across Sussex in lieu of the focus groups that would normally be held. The areas were chosen to represent a microcosm of the county’s smaller towns and rural areas and the sessions were run with the Sussex & Surrey Association of Local Councils.
By engaging with local councils in these areas, the OSPCC spoke to elected representatives for around 350,000 Sussex residents in:
Billingshurst, Bramber, Broadbridge Heath, Burgess Hill, Chichester, Haywards Heath, Lancing, Littlehampton, Midhurst, Petworth, Pulborough, Rustington, Selsey, Southbourne, Turners Hill, West Wittering and East Wittering & Bracklesham
Barcombe, Battle, Bexhill, Camber, Crowborough, Hailsham, Lewes, Ninfield, Peacehaven, Polegate, Rye, Salehurst & Robertsbridge, Sedlescombe, Telscombe & East Saltdean, Uckfield, Wadhurst
It was agreed that follow-up consultations in the same areas would be held six months later to see whether residents felt there had been any improvements or had seen an increase in police engagement. This set of consultations was held in November and December 2020 over a period of four weeks.
Like our previous focus groups the discussions focused on police engagement with local communities, particularly highlighting: the role of PCSOs; contact with Neighbourhood Policing Teams; and levels of information fed back to local communities by the police.
Additional topics discussed included roads policing, the new rural crime team and the difficulties sometimes experienced in reporting crime.
Focus groups held in 2018 and 2019
Two Meet Your PCC events were held in Autumn 2018; a public meeting in East Grinstead and a drop-in event for young parents in Hailsham.
Eleven focus groups were organised across the county: five in West Sussex (Midhurst, Crawley, Arundel, Burgess Hill, Horsham); four in East Sussex (Ticehurst, Uckfield, Eastbourne, Newhaven); and one in Hove.
Two rural crime roundtables have been held so far, both chaired by PCC Katy Bourne; one in Battle and one in Billingshurst as well as a roundtable discussion with the NFU in Lewes.
A public road safety summit was held in Chichester in November with members of the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership, Senior members of Sussex Police and local council members.
A discussion group on local policing issues was also held in Lewes involving representatives from 10 Parish Councils across Sussex.
We have held the following specialist focus groups:
- St Leonards: with members of a disability forum.
- Brighton & Hove: two groups, one with representatives from the LGBT community and one with members of the Racial Harassment Forum
- Crawley: with members of the Interfaith Network
Other focus groups were held in the following areas:
- Bognor Regis
- Mid Sussex
Issues identified in 2018 & 2019
Complaints at the lack of visible policing
There were frequent comments about a lack of police on the streets (either police officers or PCSOs) and the lack of any consistent presence in the community to give confidence, continuity or a feeling of protection.
Many people voiced their disappointment and frustration that low level crime/anti-social behaviour sometimes goes unchallenged, resulting in communities feeling vulnerable. Some problem areas which were specifically mentioned were Bognor and Littlehampton town centres; Burgess Hill; Hassocks; Seaford; Uckfield’s Ridgewood estate; car parks at night (eg. in Ticehurst and Ditchling Common).
We were given numerous examples were of how people had tried to use the 101 non emergency number and had hung on the line for an unreasonable amount of time or gave up in frustration. There were also many instances of callers feeling let down by the call handler not taking the conversation seriously.
Loss of confidence
Despite the majority of participants being keen to believe in, encourage and support Sussex Police, there was a palpable sense of disappointment and lost confidence. This was linked to funding issues and the lack of visible police on the streets, resulting in a perceived inability by the Force to deal with crimes that matter to people or to keep local communities safe and protected.
Specific issues of concern
These issues were mentioned (without prompting) on a frequent basis at the various events:
- Inability to report a crime – it’s too difficult to get through either via 101 or online (many complaints that the online system doesn’t work properly);
- Lack of confidence that crimes will be investigated. There was a suspicion that the police’s systems may screen out the reported crime and they will not investigate;
- Perception that the police are no longer interested in investigating thefts or burglaries. There was a feeling that some new issues like hate crime or modern slavery are seen as ‘more important’ ;
- No feedback if a crime is reported – there’s a sense that information is passed to police and then disappears into a black hole;
- No local contact point – there’s nowhere for local people to turn to for help, especially now that designated, recognisable PCSOs have disappeared from communities;
- Public lack of motivation/willingness to get involved – people are now more cynical about the police and less willing to help them;
- ASB – drug dealing; intimidating behaviour from groups of young people; aggressive, fast cycling on pavements which endangers the safety of pedestrians;
- Speeding in country lanes was a major issue with people telling us that there’s nowhere people can turn to for help.
- Those living in rural areas voiced their feeling of isolation due to lack of designated PCSOs and visible policing, together with limited opening hours of their nearest police station which was often many miles away.
- Some sections of the community expressed a wish for the police to recruit a more diverse range of Police Constables and PCSOs.
A positive outcome
Without exception, the participants were grateful that the PCC was interested in hearing their concerns. By the end of each event any initial negativity had died down and they were expressing appreciation that they had a forum in which to express their thoughts about policing, having been assured that all information would be fed back to the PCC. Most said they would be willing to pay more for policing so long as they saw tangible results in the areas where they sought improvements: namely a better service on 101 and more visible policing.
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