New Milton mayor Keith Craze challenges police chief over 'Wild West' town
NEW Milton was dubbed “the Wild West” by its mayor as he challenged the New Forest’s police chief about continued vandalism and anti-social behaviour.
Cllr Keith Craze spoke out during an appearance by local commander Ch. Insp. Helen Andrews at a meeting of the district council’s community, partnerships and wellbeing overview and scrutiny panel.
As reported in the A&T, crime issues in the New Milton area have included beach hut break-ins on Barton beach and repeated vandalism of the multi-use games area by the recreation ground, off Whitefield Road., that forced its lengthy closure for over £15,000 of repairs
Cllr Craze, who represents Barton, told the police chief: “I, like our chair [Cllr Geoff Blunden], unfortunately live in the Wild West called New Milton or Barton.
“We are asked collectively as town councillors how many police are there in New Milton and Barton.
“Some members of a certain age, sadly myself included, will remember seeing officers walking down the street or on bicycles which, unfortunately, we don’t see today. We see the occasional car flying past.”
He asked what provision there was for New Milton’s population of 27,000, but Ch. Insp. Andrews would not be drawn on personnel numbers, saying the matter was “not black and white” as officer deployment across the Forest was “very fluid”.
She said: “What I will say is gone are the days when you would have seen a bobby walk up and down the high street or on a bike.
“Sometimes you might not see them at all because they are working on drug-related harm priorities. A lot of drug-dealing and violence happens late at night, so I would put them on late at night.
“Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there and not doing the work.”
She also outlined local policing priorities to the meeting, including drug and alcohol-related harm, children at risk and domestic abuse.
Acknowledging Hampshire police and crime commissioner (PCC) Donna Jones was looking to tackle anti-social behaviour through a planned task force, Cllr Blunden asked how the chief inspector planned to address it.
She said officers had been engaging with schools and outreach workers because a “large part” of anti-social behaviour and vandalism was believed to involve children.
Particular areas for trouble had been highlighted, including Testwood Lakes in Totton where officers had to put a dispersal order in place in summer last year.
“If an area comes to our attention a lot, we put more resources in that area and get the parents involved as well, because sometimes they don’t even know this is going on,” Ch. Insp. Andrews continued.
“We are very mindful that anti-social behaviour does impact people’s lives, and quite significantly if it is not nipped in the bud, so we do take it seriously.”
She was praised by Cllrs Neville Penman and Alex Wade for her team’s work protecting residents in Totton and Hythe respectively.
But she had to assure Cllr Barry Dunning that officers were deployed across the Forest after he raised concerns over ongoing vandalism in Lymington and Pennington.
The meeting was also reminded of the PCC’s pledge to recruit 600 new officers by 2023.
According to Home Office figures, Hampshire’s frontline officers fell from 3,658 in 2010 to 2,812 in 2020.