The Dorset police and crime commissioner told a packed public meeting in Swanage that a manned police front desk will be reopened at the town hall to tackle a wave of antisocial behaviour but he couldn’t confirm a date.
Concern has grown to such an extent over the perceived lack of policing in Swanage that the meeting, called to discuss the town’s level of crime, was attended by almost 200 people and many had to stand at the back.
Lindsay Bish, manager of the Grand Hotel, relived her experience of violence in the high street
Teenage boys robbed at knifepoint
Feelings ran high at the meeting at Swanage Methodist Church on Monday 12th June 2023, as parents described how they believed incidents of antisocial behaviour and shoplifting had grown more frequent and more violent.
In the first half of 2023, incidents have included teenage boys being robbed of their trainers and money at knifepoint, an unprovoked attack in the town centre by a large group of youths and an altercation near Swanage bus station in which a 15 year old received a laceration wound.
It was claimed that the use of drugs, especially cannabis and ketamine, was becoming more frequent and that it often took police officers 45 minutes or more to respond to even the most serious incidents.
Police Commissioner David Sidwick vowed to reopen the Swanage police front desk
“We will get the Swanage front office back”
Dorset police and crime commissioner David Sidwick told the meeting:
“It is clear that there is an issue in Swanage – the very fact that we have a church packed to the gunnels with concerned people is evidence of that, and it needs to be sorted.
“For the last nine years the police and crime plan in this county was about protecting the vulnerable, supporting victims and witnesses, but there was something vital missing, which you all need here, and that is cutting crime and antisocial behaviour.
“That is what my new police and crime plan said it would do. Between 2012 and 2023 there were 14 police front offices closed, and I am determined to bring those back, I reopened the first one on Saturday.
“I can’t tell you when, but I am determined it will happen, we will get the Swanage front office back in action. I have heard what you wanted to say very clearly, I represent you and I will work to make things better.”
The meeting heard that a dedicated Swanage police constable Luke Taylor, will start at the end of June 2023 and that there will be three police community support officers in Swanage and two in Wareham who will step up the police presence in Purbeck.
Although they won’t be able to cover every shift, they will be supported by patrol officers based in Wareham and the rural police unit across a wider area, as well as undercover officers who have been addressing the issue of drugs in Swanage.
Swanage and Dorset councillor Gary Suttle (right) claimed that drugs were at the heart of the problem
A small core of trouble makers
Swanage and Dorset councillor Gary Suttle said:
“In Swanage today, there is a relatively small group of young people in Swanage who are antisocial, who do terrible things, who steal things, who fight and have no respect whatsoever for anyone, including the police.
“They enjoy what they do, it’s a way of life to them and do you know why? It’s because the majority of these kids have access to a regular supply of ketamine, which you can buy on the streets.
“A 15 year old girl told me today that she was offered a £175 pair of trainers by a man in the street in Swanage if she would just deliver some parcels – and you can guess what was in the parcels.
“There is no one here to stop them. We have to look to the police and ask them to restore law and order, because until the police are here and there is a permanent police presence to deal with the small core of trouble makers nothing will change.
“This community has had enough of not seeing any police and we want to see them as soon as possible. The police say things like we will get some in September, but that will be too late, we need them now.”
Nearly 200 people attended the public meeting at the Methodist Church
Shoplifting gangs targeting Swanage
Chamber of Trade spokesperson Caroline Finch said that shoplifting gangs were now targeting Swanage taking thousands of pounds of goods because they knew there was a lack of police in the town.
“We need local police, living and working in the area with local knowledge and experience – there are some very scared shop keepers who are concerned about what is going on in our town.”
The meeting was called by concerned local resident Linda Welsh, who called for the use of special police officers, community policing volunteers and community safety patrol officers with powers to issue fixed penalty notices for disorder, vandalism, confiscate alcohol and act as a deterrent.
The meeting was organised and addressed by Linda Welsh, left
“All promises made were broken”
Linda Welsh said:
“We last had a public meeting in 2012 with Martyn Underhill, the then newly elected Dorset police and crime commissioner, but unfortunately it wasn’t well attended as the police station was still open and no one could imagine that Swanage would ever be left without full time cover.
“Senior officers who attended from Poole for that meeting said that Swanage would always have two community police officers and five police community support officers, as well as a front desk for enquiries.
“In reality, two neighbourhood police officers retired and were not replaced, and when the front desk officer retired she was not replaced either, so all the promises made were broken within a short time.”
Inspector Ged Want explained how police resources are used in Swanage
Lack of full time police cover has led to problems
“In my opinion this lack of full time cover has led to a huge increase in shoplifting and antisocial behaviour as shoplifters and youths know there is no one around to stop them.
“If the police are called it can take at the very least 45 minutes to attend, sometimes more than two hours, sometimes never as there is no one available!
“We have now been given a police officer to be Swanage based, which is excellent but again with days off, holidays, sick days, it is insufficient for what we need in the town. Ideally we need three neighbourhood officers to cover all the shift patterns, preferably up to at least midnight.”
The packed meeting illustrated the strong sense of feeling in Swanage that more police resources must be allocated to the town to keep crime under check.
With standing room only, the mood of the residents was clear – they wanted police to act against crime and they wanted it now – not in July or September or next year, but now!