Councillor Victoria Wilson, cabinet member for communities and culture, added that crime levels had reduced during the coronavirus pandemic as she responded to concerns raised by Stone councillor Jill Hood at this month’s full county council meeting.
A spate of incidents, including arson, burglaries, drug dealing and vandalism, has sparked alarm in Stone – and prompted Councillor Hood and the area’s MP Sir Bill Cash to write to Staffordshire’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis.
But at a Police, Fire and Crime Panel meeting earlier this month Mr Ellis said Stone was a “very, very low crime area” – and he thought there had been embellishment of what was going on.
Councillor Hood, who addressed a question to Councillor Wilson at the full county council meeting said: “Matthew Ellis spoke about the crime wave in Stone at the meeting of the panel and described it as ‘embellishment’ and ‘blown up out of all proportion’.
"He later wrote a letter to me and it was obvious he had no idea what had taken place in Stone, so I sincerely thank you Mrs Wilson for your detailed response, which states that crime has fallen by 14.7 per cent this year and there is a three-year programme to increase officer numbers.
“As we’re only in February, are you satisfied that this is a true reflection of crime numbers and will a three-year programme of increasing officer numbers be time enough to stop predatory crimes we’re seeing due to lockdown and mostly carried out during the night?
“My division has seen an unprecedented crime wave since the beginning of the pandemic culminating with two arson attacks on Friday, January 29th. This has led to many residents expressing their serious concerns to me of feeling unsafe in their own homes and business owners feeling extremely vulnerable.
“There is considerable pressure on Stone town police officers who are stretched to the limit in tackling crime. They are working all hours and shifts to combat what is happening in the town and their continued hard work is showing results with arrests made.”
Councillor Wilson responded: “As a council, we have representation on various Safer Neighbourhood panels. In this way we make sure at district level we’re always aware of the data and efforts that are being made by the police.
"I chair the safer and stronger strategy group meeting too and know well how our partners are working on all aspects of policing to keep our county safe.
“Chief Superintendent Jen Mattinson, or one of her colleagues, attends the safer and stronger board and the police are a lead partner on a number of priorities such as serious violence and antisocial behaviour. Jen Mattinson has also said she is happy to provide further information if required.
“I do feel the answer is a robust answer and I am reassured that all that can be done in Stone is being done.”
In a written response to Councillor Hood’s request for an update of how police were dealing with crime during the pandemic, she added: “It is pleasing to read that the policing of Stone has drawn positive comments.
"The neighbourhood policing team, alongside other force departments, have moved quickly to effectively tackle the recent increases in offences and to ensure the community feels safe.
“The policing of Stone or any other community is never the responsibility of the Neighbourhood Policing Team alone. Whilst that team will work with local residents and are our local face of policing, they are able to call upon central resources to assist them when greater resource is needed.
“This may be in the form of support from the police’s Tactical Support Team, the Roads Policing Team or the Neighbourhood Tasking Team for example. Superintendent Mattinson has confirmed that the issues that Councillor Hood referred to in Stone did receive this extra support from police force resources beyond the neighbourhood team.
“During the pandemic there have been significant crime reductions across the vast majority of crime types. All crime has reduced by 14.7 per cent, meaning there have been 12,155 fewer victims this year.
“There have been new challenges of course for policing with a significant amount of new legislation related to Covid 19 and the police have been asked to ‘police’ activities which ordinarily would not have required any intervention such as gathering with others from your household. It has been a challenge to balance the police response between what has become known as ‘the four Es’ – engage, educate, encourage and enforce.
“The number of officers in Staffordshire Police is increasing as part of the three year programme to increase the national number of officers by 20,000 as announced by central government.”