COUNCILLORS have turned down a proposal to give Lyme Regis’ enforcement officers more powers to combat crime, arguing that residents already pay for policing and should be receiving a better service.
The town currently has one Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) who has assured the council that patrols have not been reduced. However, in recent months residents have raised increasing concerns about a perceived lack of police presence in Lyme Regis.
At this week’s meeting of the town council’s Town Management & Highways Committee, members considered joining the Dorset Police Community Safety Accreditation Scheme.
The scheme could see the council’s enforcement officers accredited to combat crime, disorder, public nuisance and other forms of anti-social behaviour in co-operation with the police, or the employment of a new enforcement officer dedicated specifically to the scheme.
Enforcement officers would receive specialist training, enabling them to access and share information with the police and giving them the power to request the name and address of a person committing an offence or anti-social behaviour; seize alcohol and tobacco from underage persons; and direct and control traffic.
Councillor Jeff Scowen has spoken in favour of private security to help combat crime in Lyme Regis on social media, and said the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme was “marvellous” and “purpose made for us”.
However, other councillors expressed concerns that residents already paid for policing through their council tax, and they should instead concentrate on pushing for an improved service from Dorset Police.
Councillor Brian Larcombe said: “I can understand the want but I think it’s a cop out. We haven’t got enough constables or PCSOs serving our needs.
“This doesn’t give the people concerned much in the way of arrest powers, it’s very little authority.”
Councillor Larcombe said the council should instead press Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner to lobby the government for increased funding for policing.
He added:“The answer to our problems is to get proper policing and not to do this kind of thing, which if we had this would suggest that everything in Lyme is now OK because we’ve got these little vigilante groups doing things that they really don’t have the authority for.
“This is a cop out. We already pay our taxes for proper policing.”
The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Michaela Ellis, said: “We already pay for policing in our council tax and I’d hate to see the ratepayers of this town having to pay twice, in effect, for policing.
“If we start paying for this it will spread elsewhere and we’ll end up with no police on our streets anywhere.”
Councillor Ellis said she would try to arrange another meeting with the Police and Crime Commissioner, and encouraged residents to report incidents to the police.
‘Getting nothing for our money’
Councillor Derek Hallett commented: “Fifty-two per cent of the rates we pay go to the police and what does Lyme Regis get? Absolutely nothing… Sooner or later this town will be paying the price for no police presence.
“I’m not saying this is a bad idea, it might be better than nothing at all, but we’re still getting nothing for our money.”
Councillor Scowen said he agreed that the council should continue pressing for an improved police service, but suggested that they could join the scheme in addition to this.
“We’re looking at right now what are we going to do? How long will it take to filter down from government, if it ever does, to get our police back?” he asked.
“This is in addition, I would suggest to pressing continuously, it’s not instead of. It’s us actually doing something with the support of the police that isn’t going to cost too much.”
Councillor Larcombe commented: “We have gone from having constables to PCSOs and this would be a level even lower.
“I don’t think we should be asking our enforcement officers to be out there taking on this kind of confrontational stuff.
“This is a national debate that we’re part of and we should fall in line with other town and parish councils that say, ‘we pay our taxes, give us the resources that that revenue produces’.”
Councillor Steve Miller said the case for needing to join the scheme had not been proven and they had not seen the statistics needed to back it up.
Councillor Stan Williams said: “We are not getting the reasonable share of officers. We should be fairly represented based on the number of people in the town and in the summer season it must be quite frightening how many people are in this town and you never see and police officer.”
It was agreed not to pursue the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme any further, and instead to continue pushing the police for an improved service.
It is hoped that Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill will attend a council meeting in February.