The county’s top policeman announced two major initiatives to tackle rising crime in Melton at a packed public meeting in the town last night (Thursday).
Leicestershire Chief Constable Simon Cole said a local investigations team had started up this week and there will also be a move to get more officers out on the streets of the borough from next month.
He took part in a number of passionate exchanges with members of the public who had questioned whether police were doing enough to combat a major spike in offences and even faced one call for his resignation.
The chief constable defended the sizeable resources deployed to police hunting meets in the borough and the extensive time spent on fighting cyber crime and he shot down a popular misconception that Melton police station closed down in the evening and no officers were on duty.
He said it was a challenge to maintain policing services across the county with government budget cuts leading to the loss of 547 policemen and women since 2010 and warned that a future planned cut could result in a further 250 officers being lost.
But Chief Constable Cole told the meeting: “There are two things happening which I hope will make a real difference to policing in Melton and criminal activity here.
“A neighbourhood investigations unit began work on Monday and they will be responsible for investigating crimes locally.
“We are also going to decentralise some of our operations and push more officers out to different parts of the force area, including Melton.
“I absolutely accept that we need to be more visible and I am sure this will help.”
He was challenged about the decision this year not to allocate officers to marshall the annual Remembrance parade through Melton, which has caused outrage in the town with the Royal British Legion forced to raise £800 to pay for professional help to close roads so the event can go ahead safely.
Tom Kingston, a trumpeter who plays in the parade, told him: “I was disappointed to read that you can’t spare officers for that and yet you can find 10 to 20 to police the local hunts.”
The chief constable replied: “It’s real shame this has caused such a ruckus and so much heartache here because it is a really important day.
“There is nothing I take more pride in in this job as when I lay a wreath on behalf of the police force.
“We will be policing remembrance events but we won’t be doing the road closures and marshalling as we have in the past because we have to maintain police resources across the force area on Sunday.”
He said hunt meets were becoming more inflammatory with members and supporters often squaring up to protestors.
“We are often stood in the middle refereeing with both sides making allegations about the other,” the chief constable explained.
“There is a culture of people on both sides masking themselves up for whatever reason and getting involved in disputes.
“The hunting season starts in two weeks and I have already received a letter from both sides saying that the other will be wearing balaclavas and they should be made to take them off.”
He said cyber crime was also well resourced because it was an area where children were groomed by sexual predators and much of the information picked up was often used to prevent that and other criminal activity taking place.
Also taking questions at the meeting was Insp Gavin Drummond, head of the local neighbourhood policing force, and he joined the chief constable in refuting local accusations that the police station closed at 7pm and officers went home for the night.
Insp Drummond told the meeting: “I can assure residents that we work 24/7 at Melton police station.
“We have 20 officers who work around the clock and who are based at Melton and we also have these six brand new officers working in the new neighbourhood investigations unit.”
Pubwatch member Sam Ellis, who runs the Kings Head in Nottingham Street, was critical of the way police officers were deployed in the town.
He said the recent knife arch initiative at the Black Swan was in the wrong place because it was a pub which attracted older drinkers.
And he told the meeting: “There are more police in town on a Friday when it is quieter. There should be more out on Saturdays when it is much busier.
“No-one from the police communicates with me and I could really help you with how you use your resources.”
Bottesford resident Alan O’Dell, who said he represented a group of 20 householders, called for people at the top of the Leicestershire force to resign because of the inadquate way they had managed resources and responded to increasing crime.
Police and Crime Commissioner, Lord Bach, argued that he thought the police were doing a good job with dwindling finances.
“This force is under-resourced and we will find out what the new police budget is just before Christmas,” he told the audience.
“I would ask people to please lobby your MP and the government about the funding for this force because it isn’t fair.
“We are in real danger of losing the secure, well balanced police force we currently have in Leicestershire.”
Fears were expressed at the meeting about the declining number of neighbourhood watch groups across the town.
Glynn Cartwright said it only really existed online through Facebook and Eric Tindle, who used to co-ordinate more than 400 schemes in Melton, called for more to be done to recover the diminishing number of groups.
Rural crime was also highlighted as a major concern by police officers at the meeting and by farmers, who said they had been hit hard by burglaries and thefts from their land.
Some at the meeting were unhappy that Melton MP, Sir Alan Duncan, did not attend such an important meeting but Melton Council leader, Councillor Joe Orson, read out a letter from him expressing concern over rising crime in the borough and explaining that he needed to be in London on official government business on Thursdays.
Sir Alan told the Melton Times after the meeting: “It is quite clear that the police have witnessed the full strength of opinion locally.
“We have all got to work together and I really welcome their commitment to put more resources into the Melton area.”