Words by Ed King / Pics by Mohammad Ashraf
Crime and community policing were the main issues discussed at Erdington MP Paulette Hamilton’s Big Conversation last week, with a keynote speech from West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster.
Joining Mr Foster were Chief Inspector Kelly Monaghan, from the Birmingham East Local Command Team, and Erdington’s new Inspector Shameem Ahmed.
Organised by the Erdington MP, the Big Conversation events began soon after Paulette Hamilton was elected to Parliament in March 2022 – bringing senior Council officials and public servants to address local stakeholders and concerned Erdington constituents.
On Thursday 12 January the subject of focus was crime in the constituency, with CI Monaghan opening by identifying the “priorities” for police in the area – hosted at Perry Common Community Hall by Witton Lodge Community Association.
Top of the list was burglaries, with CI Monaghan reiterating the nationwide pledge made in October 2022 that “every single person who is a victim of burglary gets a visit from one of our officers.”
One concerned resident challenged the claim, citing a house on Harrison Road – off Erdington High Street – that has been repeatedly used for growing cannabis, with people breaking in to steal the illegal crops “leaving a trail of (cannabis) leaves through the car park” opposite the address.
Councillor Gareth Moore (Con, Erdington) was quick to suggest “could the police use closure orders” on properties that had repeated problems, as has been previously enforced to shut down unruly HMOs.
Vehicle crime was another “big business” high on the police agenda, with its “knock on effect” to burglary and other offences including the rampant trade in stolen catalytic convertors.
Successes by the Stockland Green police team were mentioned, with both Chief Inspector Kelly Monaghan and Inspector Shameem Ahmed advising the use of anti-theft aids such as steering wheel locks and tamper proof screws for licence plates.
Youth violence was also a paramount police concern on the agenda, discussed only hours before an Erdington based teenager would be charged with the Boxing Day murder of Cody Fisher.
“Gang violence” was raised by Paulette Hamilton as a growing concern amongst her constituents in places such as Wyrley Birch, with the Erdington MP quizzing the police if they were “working with local partners” to effectively tackle the issue.
Consistent crime and violence on Erdington High Street was also raised, with the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) imposed in May 2022 making little impact despite the “40 fines” reported to have been issued.
As one resident commented: “there are street drinkers and dealers outside Boyles (betting shop)… if you are fining them then it’s not working.”
Paulette Hamilton underscored the issue, stating “people are saying the soul has left the High Street” and again calling for more “joined up work” with local partners and police.
Erdington’s new Inspector Shameem Ahmed, who took over the Neighbourhood Police Team several months after Rachel Derby left the post in October 2022, was candid about and committed to the problem facing her force.
“I’m not confident or happy the issue is being resolved as it could be,” told Inspector Ahmed, “and working with partners is something we (police) could do more about – my officers are doing what they can.”
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster then introduced himself to the room, giving a full background of his role and cementing his commitment to “productive, problem solving, and visible community policing.”
In an immediate challenge, the lack of any noticeable police presence was quick to be raised – with Paulette Hamilton MP stating “you never see police in open spaces” such as parks or children’s play areas, despite a number of violent attacks in areas such as Pype Hayes Park.
Inspector Ahmed informed of a “walkabout” with uniformed officers in Finchley Park, Kingstanding, organised for the end of January – with Ms Hamilton responding: “how is this supported locally and why are you not linking with local councillors?”
Inspector Amend replied “they should be”, despite Councillor Des Hughes (Lab, Kingstanding) unaware of any planned activity at Finchley Park by West Midlands Police. The Kingstanding councillor further suggested Birmingham Citry Council’s Parks Department “had a role to play” in safeguarding the public spaces within their portfolio.
Concerns over the increase of licenced premises and betting shops on Erdington High Street was fiercely debated, with several stakeholders in the room having worked to block the recent application by Boyles Sports to open a second Erdington site at the old HSBC building opposite The Swan pub.
A lack of communication between local police teams and the planning committee, who are ultimately responsible for allowing or blocking applications, was raised as a systemic problem – with one local resident suggesting campaigners and members of the public alike should contact the West Midlands Police Licensing Team directly if they wanted to challenge future plans for more betting shops.
Councillor Gareth Moore (Con, Erdington), who sits on Birmingham City Council’s Planning Committee, further addressed the need to “break down the silo mentality” when gathering evidence and responsible authority support to challenge contentious planning applications.
The recent ‘Pop Up Police Stations’ held on Castle Vale were praised, with Simon Wilson, Chief Executive Officer of The Pioneer Group – who took over the housing portfolio of the estate’s Housing Action Trust – suggesting “another model” could be adopted across Erdington, giving the public more access to local police teams.
Paulette Hamilton was quick to endorse anything that supports “a core level of service (from local police teams) that makes people feel safe,” further suggesting more police “pop ups across the constituency.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster confirmed there would be a new police station opened in Erdington by “summer 2025”, situated at the existing site on the corner of Sutton Road and Wilton Road – although there would be “no public desk”, with the nearest station open to members of the public based in Stechford.
Widely challenged by the room, the lack of a publicly accessible police station in Erdington “seems crazy” to Reverend Emma Sykes from St Barnabas Church, who implored the Police and Crime Commissioner to “consider” revising the plans.
Paulette Hamilton MP will be hosting another Big Conversation later in the spring. For more information visit www.paulettehamilton.org