Dunstable and Houghton Regis residents “don’t feel safe in their own homes”, it’s been claimed.
They say the town lacks a visible police presence, with some resorting to tackling issues such as drug dealing themselves, a meeting heard last night (Wednesday).
One resident voiced their frustrations simply saying: “We are all taxpayers, ratepayers and residents, and we are all scared.”
And another labelled Dunstable “a lawless town” in which the amount of “low level crime was quite frightening”.
Bedfordshire Police Chief Constable Jon Boutcher attended the meeting at Dunstable Community Fire Station, which was arranged by the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner Kathryn Holloway.
She later tweeted: “A raw meeting at Dunstable and precisely why I arranged for it to happen because we need to hear from and see those affected by crime, not just crime figures. We have to fight this together.”
Recent statistics from Bedfordshire Police show that the ratio of crime per head in Dunstable and Houghton Regis is now higher than in Luton.
There is one crime for every 47 people in Dunstable and one in 59 in Houghton Regis compared to one in 63 in Luton and one per 100 in Leighton Buzzard.
Mr Boutcher said Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary asks for specialist officers to be assigned for issues such as hate crime, internet and cyber crime and child sexual exploitation.
“Officers who used to be in the communities end up getting dragged out into the specialist areas,” he explained.
“If we don’t allow this to happen we get criticised by HMIC.
“But you can’t do the specialist work if you don’t talk to communities and see those communities.
“We don’t have any (financial) reserves as we have spent it all on recruitment,” he added.
“Inevitably we lose people annually to retirement and people’s lifestyle changes, such as moving away from the area.
“We should be dealing with a lot of things far better than we are now, but that comes down to numbers.”
He described an extra £2.9m secured from the government as “wholly inadequate” and said pressure has been put on the Home Office minister for a fairer settlement for Bedfordshire.
Around 150 residents, including several local councillors, packed into the fire station for the meeting.
Speaking afterwards, Central Bedfordshire Labour Parkside councillor Antonia Ryan said: “Residents were raising issues about not feeling safe in their own homes, work places or even to let their children go out.
“This cannot go on. We don’t blame the police for staff shortages, lack of equipment and poor resources.”
Councillor Ryan accused the Government and its austerity programme, which by its “reluctance to fund policing effectively, actively encourages crime”.
She labelled it “ironic” that the Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner and Conservative South West Bedfordshire MP Andrew Selous “can see this government isn’t responding to the rise in crime throughout Bedfordshire”.
And she said: “It’s appalling any civilised society should have its elected representative and its PCC admitting this government cannot afford to police the county effectively.”
She called on the government to go, adding Labour has pledged to give the police adequate funding.
Also speaking after the meeting, Mr Selous described it as “a very heated meeting”.
He said the police representatives present were “in no doubt about the strength of feeling about how bad things have got” in Dunstable.
“All the focus should be on crimes which are major concerns to local people.
“There’s an issue of prioritisation by Bedfordshire Police, which needs to be looked at.
“This should not be dictated by the police inspectorate nationally.”
He backed the “need to return Dunstable Police Station to a 24 hour operational hub”.
And he acknowledged there’s a danger of a vigilante approach by residents “when there’s not an adequate police presence”, saying: “I hear talk of it, but I’ve not seen examples.
“We need concerned parents who know where their children are, can teach right from wrong, and who are responsible citizens.
“The message from the public is they want to see more officers and want to see them on the streets.”
Local resident John Wake, who used to serve in the county police force, said afterwards: “There’s a huge amount of anger among the people of Dunstable.
“They’re unhappy about the lack of a police resource and the lack of a visible presence, which leads to a lack of confidence in the force
“Crime is out of control locally. Between the wife and I we’ve busted ten drug deals close to our property where I’ve physically had to get in amongst them.
“You get pedal cyclists four abreast, riding on one wheel, up the High Street, with no police patrol, no officers nearby, and no CCTV.”
Describing the lack of a visible police resource as “shocking”, he added the burglary unit for the county is four-strong, two in the north and two in the south.
Dunstable resident Sharon Hinds said after the meeting that the majority of residents attending had issues over burglary and vehicles being broken into.
She thought the police representatives wanted to talk about issues such as knife crime, but as she works in children’s services locally she said it wasn’t a huge issue in the town.
“I don’t think the police have got enough resources for tackling the right problems locally,” she added.