Feature: Why did crime rise in Harrogate last year?

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More police officers on the streets, protection for the most vulnerable people and the creation of specialised investigation hubs will be North Yorkshire Police’s focus for the coming year.

In a report on police performance for 2014/15 in the Harrogate district, County Commander Supt Mike Walker will focus on crime levels for the past year as well as challenges to come.

Despite reporting a 2.6 per cent increase in crimes compared to last year, equating to 155 crimes, County Commander Supt Walker stated he was pleased with the year’s figures.

While burglary, shop theft and bike theft all fell, incidents of violence against the person, robbery and sexual offences in particular rose steeply.

However, County Commander Supt Walker explained that the figures were still encouraging, considering the amount of challenges the force has faced over the past year.

Sexual Offences

With a rise in convictions of high profile historic sexual offences over the last year, more people in Harrogate have felt confident to report instances to the police.

As a result, accoridng to County Commander Supt Walker, instances of sexual offences have increased 39.6 per cent, representing 44 more reports from members of the public.

“Sexual offences is up down to increased confidence, people are reporting offences more, it’s historic reporting,” County Commander Supt Walker explained.“Some of the high profile cases have increased and we are now looking into a lot more historic cases.

“Every report that comes in we fully investigate it for threat, harm and risk of future victims. We need to focus our attention into those investigation so a lot more resources are put into it.”

County Commander Supt Walker also explained that instances of Violence Against the Person had gone up by 27 per cent due to a change in reporting of harrasment related offence and was not an actual increase in the number of victims.

Affluent Communities

In the past year, Harrogate has been the subject of two high value armed robberies at jewellers with arrests now made in relation to both.

The investigation into the robbery is still ongoing and one male has been sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for the Montpellier Antiques offence in March.

However, this male was part of an organised crime group from Manchester and County Commander Supt Walker is now making safeguarding affluent communities a priority.

He said: “A real concern is that we do have organised criminal gangs targeting people living in our affluent community.

“We believe those people responsible for the other armed robberies and burglaries are living out of the Harrogate district to target victims but we are working tirelessly to bring those people to justice.“We are working with crime units and police forces in other areas to detect and prevent such crimes within the district, including featuring them on Crimewatch.

“The programme will feature some of the aggravated burglaries in the district to try and get people to come forward with anything they may have witnessed.”

Tour de France

Thousands of spectators descended on Harrogate in July to watch the historic Grand Depart of the Tour de France with North Yorkshire Police also playing a major role.

Hundreds of local officers, PCSOs, Special Constables, police staff and volunteers worked throughout the weekend to keep the roads and the visitors safe and secure.

More than a year’s worth of planning went into policing of the event but, despite the success, the weekend resulted in a large percentrage increase in robbery offences.

This 71 per cent rise was the result of one local offender and the local male was convicted and sntenced to 4 years 8 months for the offences including a robbery on a taxi driver.

County Commander Supt Walker said: “We had the tour de France in July which was obviously hundreds of thousands of people into North Yorkshire over a short period of time.

“During that period we showed that the Harrogate district and North Yorkshire in general was a very safe place to come, we did not experience the level of crime that we may have expected.

“I feel that was down to the policing of the Tour de France because we were very engaging with the public, very friendly, very visible but it’s also down to the people that came to watch.”

Young People

As part of his report, County Commander Supt Walker highlighted the work of the Harrogate Safer Neighbourhood Team to deal with young people causing crime in Harrogate.

A beat manager is now entirely dedicated to Operation Mealwork to target ringleaders of a group of young people causing crime as well as cracking down on street drinking, anti-social behaviour and crime on Bower Street.

The police have also made a request for a Public Spaces Protection Order, currently being considered by the council, to deal with these offenders and reduce issues in the long term.

County Commander Supt Walker also targeted intervening early on Ant Social Behaviour problems in the Montpellier Hill area during the summer.

He said: “In summer 2014 there were significant ASB problems in that area and so we aim to prevent this from happening again.

We hope that a robust policing response early on will stop the problem before it starts. Dispersal notices have already been issued and a number of arrests have been made.”

Future challenges and plans

In a recent College of Policing report, it was highlighted that 83 per cent of what the police deal with is none crime related, illustrating a shift in working.

However, County Commander Supt Walker explained the force was still facing increased pressures on policing resources around public safety and welfare related incidents.

As a result, he explained that new investigation hubs have been set up to deal with various crimes to allow front line officers to spend more time on the streets.

He said: “We need to look at our priorities and where we are putting our resources. We have set up a cyber crime unit and are also hoping to bolster the safeguarding side of policing. Our focus will be on protecting vulnerable people so our focus is on those people who are vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking and child exploitation because that’s where the risk is. “The budget will be the biggest test for us and for forces around the country. If there are cuts to the budget we need to ensure we still focus on the threat harm and risk within North Yorkshire and Harrogate and maintain our neighbourhood policing.

“From our point of view this has been key in the crime reduction that we have seen in the last six years.”

A new way of working

With the police’s budget being reduced for the past year, Supt Walker explained there was no additional funding for the plans.

As a result, North Yorkshire Police have introduced a major change in dealing with incidents by aligning their resources to deal with specific threats and risks.

“We have set up an investigation hub and set up a pool of resources looking at various crimes,” according to County Commander Supt Walker. “Front line officers will attend an incident but all the other further investigations including interviews and arrests will be conducted by the hub which will allow them to get back on the streets.

“We will have more visibility by having officers on the street. Sometimes it can take between 5-8 hours to deal with a shoplifter and that time is usually spent in the office.

“Whereas now they can hand it over to the hub and get back out there on the street. We have had to realign resources but we are still maintaining our levels of visibilty.

“What we now do is resolve a lot more low level crime, including burglary and criminal thefts without sending a police officer because sometimes it can be a telephone resolution.”

Knaresborough and Boroughbridge

In the report, there was a total crime reduction of 2 per cent on year with major reductions of 28 per cent on burglary dwelling and a 20 per cent reduction in victim based crime.

North Yorkshire Police were also successful in detecting two large cannabis cultivations as well as two significant court results which received high profile media interest.

The two men involved in the Knaresborough-bomb hoax were jailed for four years while Kate Gosley received four years and two months for stealing £140,000 from her 89-year-old grandmother.County Commander Supt Walker also explained there would be a future focus on retail crime at St James Retail Park as well as targeting travelling criminals in Operation Hawk.