Blackburn leads the way on local accountability

Wasting police time is quite a serious criminal offence. The maximum penalty is 6 months in jail.

Last Friday I thought I came close to being charged with this

The particulars of the charge would have been these: that I had inveigled a police constable, a PCSO, along with the commander of our large police division, Chief Superintendent Bob Eastwood, to waste two hours at a public meeting for no particular purpose.

There were witnesses, too – at least eighty were present, so an alibi would have proved impossible.

The meeting was a regular residents’ meeting – this time for the Brownhill and Roe Lee area of town, held in Holy Souls’ Church Hall on Whalley New Road.

Now in their ninth year, these meetings follow a familiar pattern. There’s a detailed printed report on the area, prepared jointly by council officers and police staff, put round before the start.   Brief oral presentations are made by the Council Leader, the Chief Executive or Deputy, Mr Eastwood the police chief, the senior officer responsible for bins, litter, blocked gullies and similar delights, and by me. That’s followed by an open session with questions or comments from the residents. A full note is kept, and an action report subsequently sent to everyone who attended.

For some years after this cycle of meetings began in 2003 they were dominated by complaints about crime or anti-social behaviour. These days – as at the Holy Souls’ meeting – such complaints are a rarity. Indeed, at this lively meeting there wasn’t a single comment about crime.

There’s an easy explanation for this: the kind of crimes which really worry people, like house burglary, have fallen dramatically.

When, some years ago, Mr Eastwood was the inspector for the east side of Blackburn there might be fifty burglaries in a month. In contrast, in one month last year there were just twenty-five for the whole of his Division – Blackburn, Darwen, Hyndburn, Ribble Valley.

Joking aside, the police at the meeting were not wasting their time because they had no complaints to answer. Rather, that was a tribute to their effectiveness.