I began my Community Day in Rutland in Oakham. I popped into Strays Coffee Shop overlooking the market place, where I had a Commissioner’s Breakfast consisting of a nice pot of tea and a cracking bacon bap.
Suitably fortified against the chilly wind whipping through the streets of Oakham, I walked through the church yard and up Church Street to the police station. There I met PCSO Ryall, who looks after the town centre beat. We started with a chat about recent issues in the town, then set off on foot to pound the pavements in traditional mode.
The Easter school holidays have brought the usual friction between residents and teenagers who want to hang around chatting with their mates, playing loud music and larking about.
“They’re not bad kids,” PCSO Ryall told me, “but a group of a dozen teenagers can be intimidating to older folk, or parents with very young children. Especially when they are being loud and running about.” As we walk across Cutts Close she bent down to pick up a bottle from the grass. “The teenagers get blamed for this sort of thing. And they can be thoughtless. But a few days ago, I went to have a word with them about littering. Next time I saw the same group they had a plastic bag with them that they were putting their rubbish into. Like I say they’re not bad kids, but they can be a bit of a handful.”
We wandered up the High Street, then down Gaol Street before cutting back up Crown Street and the little alley of shops to emerge into Mill Street.
PCSO Ryall was telling me about a rise in shoplifting in the town. “Its been a bit worrying,” she said, “but I think we are making inroads now.” She pointed out the CCTV cameras in some of the shops and those in the street [some funded by my office]. “These are red hot. We’ve been able to identify a couple of the culprits. Some of the others come here from out of town. They come by train, work their way around some shops to steal small but high-value items that they have already identified, then leave again. What we really need is for the shopkeepers to report these incidents straight away. Then, if an officer is available, we can make an arrest while the shoplifters have still got the goods on them and before they leave town.”
We are now outside the library. A team of ladies in high-vis jackets are at work on the floral peacock. Their jackets proclaim them to be from “Oakham in Bloom”. We have a chat. Chris, the Chair, says that they are preparing the display for the Coronation. “We hope to have some red, white and blue flowers in by then,” she says. “Very patriotic.”
As we walk on PCSO Ryall tells me how much she enjoys being a PCSO in Oakham. She loves the people and the town. And she has the flexibility to carry out a range of different sorts of duties. “Never a dull moment,” she smiles.
Back at the station, I pop my head into the new front desk that for the first time in years offers the people of Rutland the chance to simply walk into a police station – a facility that the people of Leicester and Leicestershire never lost. The lady behind the desk smiles “Hello Mr Commissioner” she grins. How are things going I ask. The people who come in really appreciate the new facility she tells me. Word is spreading that the front desk is open again.
I thank PCSO Ryall for her time, impressed by her dedication to the town of Oakham, and leave her to her duties. I walk on to Oakham Castle. I stop to chat to the custodian on the till who I know from a previous visit. “Have you heard about the shoplifting?” he asks. “Not good in a town like Oakham.” I’m able to pass on the news from PCSO Ryall that the police are getting on top of it.
I then head into the Castle café for a cuppah while I catch up on some official emails on my laptop.
Then I’m off to Ryhall to meet the Chair of the parish council.
Cllr Nebel meets me in the Green Dragon pub in the heart of the village. Very civilized. He tells me that the village is generally not plagued by serious crime, but when something does happen word spreads quickly and the villagers become concerned. He recounts an incident a couple of weeks ago when a resident was woken up at 4am by a noise in his front garden. He opened the front door to see two burly men on the driveway, with a third under his parked car. The two men shouted obscenities and threats at him. When the householder asked what they were doing, they ran at him swearing and waving tools. The man slammed the front door, but the intruders smashed the door window and kicked the door so hard it later had to be rehung. When they had gone, the resident found that they had taken the catalytic converter from his car. It later turned out that the men had been stealing catalytic converters from cars in nearby villages all night. The police intercepted them – but neither Cllr Nebel nor the household concerned knew what had happened next.
Cllr Nebel’s main concern was about the response times of police to Ryhall. “On that night it took over an hour for the police to get here,” he said. “I know that the police are busy with knife crime and drugs and serious things like that, but we do feel very isolated out here in Ryhall.” He suggested that a number plate reading CCTV camera on the A6121 might help reassure villagers that they weren’t abandoned. I gave him reassurance about the fact that Leicestershire Police and Lincolnshire Police co-operate closely when it comes to policing villages on the border between the two counties and gave him contact details for our Rural Policing Team.
Then I was off to Manton to meet the Neighbourhood Watch coordinator and the Parish Council. It was road safety that was the main concern here. The long straight road from Stamford encourages motorists to speed, then they reach Manton and don’t slow down much. The problem is made more dangerous by the fact that the park and children’s playground is at that end of the village. Plus the cycle route around Rutland Water leaves the shoreline at this point and goes along the main road for a stretch.
“There is a real conflict between speeding cars, pedestrians, children and cyclists,” Cllr Blinch explained. We went to have a look at the problem stretch of road. The traffic was thundering past, including some large goods vehicles. Cyclists emerged on to the road, following the signs for the Rutland Water circuit. One of them came to a juddering halt – obviously not expecting to encounter such a busy road. A father with young children came along the pavement, which in places is barely wide enough for one person at time. Obviously there are problems here. Some of the solution will lie with the road layout – which is beyond my remit.
I then head into Uppingham to meet with a couple of the local shop owners. They had been a bit mysterious saying only that they wanted a word next time I was in the area. It turned out that they wanted to tell me how much they appreciate the new police office in the town hall. "Everyone really likes it” one lady told me. The office is not a front desk, but locals can make an appointment to meet an officer there if they want to do so. I asked if either of the business owners had used the facility. “Oh no,” comes the answer. But we all know it is there. And it is much better for the officers than that dreadful old broom cupboard that they used to have.”
I move on to Braunston in Rutland to speak to a local farmer. Once again, it turns out to be what might be termed “an easy meeting”. He wants to tell me about the Rural Policing Team. Apparently he and his fellow farmers think they are great. He especially appreciates the fact that they come from farming families themselves, and have four wheel drive vans. “It really inspires confidence,” he says. “Do pass on our thanks, won’t you?” I promise to do so.
By this time it is 10 hours since I entered the county. I head off home.