16 children’s homes across Fenland are turning area’s police into ‘glorified babysitters’ says police commissioner

Police and Crime Commissioner, Councillor Jason Ablewhite

Police and Crime Commissioner, Councillor Jason Ablewhite - Credit: Archant

Police in Fenland are becoming ‘glorified’ babysitters thanks to a massive rise in the number of children’s homes in the district.

Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Councillor Jason Ablewhite said there are currently 16 registered homes in Fenland and it is putting undue pressure on the area’s police.

In an exclusive interview Cllr Ablewhite explained there are children’s homes being set up in Fenland to deal with youngsters from as far afield as West Mercia in the Midlands and he claims the district is becoming a “dumping ground” for these often “troubled children, who have complex issues”.

Cllr Ablewhite was addressing the lack of a police response to several calls to the police 101 number and to 999 last Saturday night when a gang of youths was terrorising an area of Wisbech.

He said: “There is absolutely enough frontline officers, I have regular meetings with the Chief Constable who assures me we have a resilient number of officers.

“But on the night in question we had what can only be described as the perfect storm. The call from the Wisbech Citizens patrol came in at the peak time for us. It also came in at 11pm on the night of the terror attack in London, and some of our officers were redeployed, as a result of that incident. They didn’t go up to London, but they were ready if needed.”

Cllr Ablewhite said when resources are stretched then control room staff prioritise incidents,

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But he said Fenland police are dealing with children who are going missing from the children’s homes “every day” and it is putting undue pressure on the service as a missing child will always be top priority.

He has called for urgent meetings to discuss why Fenland has become such a “dumping ground” for children from outside the area and he is also talking with other partner agencies to discuss what he described as “funding shunting”.

“Funding shunting” he explains means police are dealing with more and more issues that are not really part of their role, including people with serious mental health problems

“These people are in crisis, what they need is specialist help from a qualified mental health practitioner, not being handcuffed and locked up in a police cell. I am talking with these partner agencies to try to put a stop to this,

“It is taking up far too much of our time, time that is taken away from dealing with what are police matters, such as anti-social behaviour such as we saw last Saturday night.

“I am also putting pressure on outside authorities such as West Mercia to take more responsibility for the children they are ‘dumping’ in our area,” he said.

He added: “These children are vulnerable, often moved miles from home and all they want to do is get back to where they come from.

“We are getting called out every single day – frankly it is making our police force a glorified baby sitting service.”

As for police numbers he said: “We can never have enough officers, and we would never say no to more. But I trust the chief constable and if he tells me we have sufficient numbers and we have a resilient front line service then I believe him”

In terms of the Wisbech Citizens Patrol Cllr Ablewhite said police were offering training to help them deal with incidents including making the decision to “walk away”.

And he warned the miscreant gang saying: “We are trying to work with these youths to address their anti-social behaviour, but if that does not work then we have the power to seize their powered machines – sometimes permanently. This police force does not shy away from taking such action as people involved in hare coursing can testify.”