Criminal offences are on the increase in Harpenden.
But the rise, in percentage terms, is no worse than across the country generally. That was one of the marginally comfortable messages from Local Policing Commander for Hertfordshire, Chief Superintendent Matt Nicholls, addressing the Harpenden Society's September public meeting in Rothamsted Research's Fowden Hall. It followed an introductory overview by David Lloyd, Hertfordshire Police & Crime Commissioner since 2012, who said that more money was being spent on front-line policing in the county than ever before.
Year on year, for the first three months of 2018, domestic burglaries were up by 32.8%, thefts of motor vehicles by 40.8%, and thefts from vehicles by 12.1%. Total crime in the St Albans district, including Harpenden, was notably less than in several other parts of Hertfordshire. Last year, said Chief Supt Nicholls, there were 66 crimes recorded per 1000 population, compared with almost 100 in Watford and a similar number in Stevenage.
He highlighted the specific increase in what the Herts Constabulary categorised as ‘Myriapod burglary', especially in communities like Harpenden, where thieves break into homes, usually at night, with the prime object of stealing the keys of expensive cars standing on the driveway.
Those miscreants were, he said, invariably well-equipped ‘specialists' who had often travelled - typically via the M1or A1 - from another part of the country, notably the London area, targeting more affluent streets where high-value cars were likely to be found. His implicit message was ‘take your car keys upstairs with you at bedtime!'
There was now an increase in ‘cross-border intelligence' by Herts Constabulary, enabling the movement of suspected individuals to be tracked beyond the county boundary. Bearing in mind Luton's close proximity to Harpenden, liaison with Bedfordshire Police was especially valuable in tracing stolen goods and vehicles. In its allocation of an £81 million local policing budget, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) as a means of identifying law breakers was just one example of new technology being employed succesfully by local police officers in apprehending criminals. Also coming on stream was the use of camera-equipped drones, typically deployed during investigations into ‘rural crime', allowing farm buildings and other more remote locations to be monitored more effectively.
Policing in Harpenden specifically comes under the responsibility of Chief Inspector Lynda Coates, who followed Chief Supt Nicholls in her presentation at the Harpenden Society meeting. It was acknowledged, she said, that most locally-based crime in and around the town was committed by a small number of people, many of them known individuals. She added that her team, based at the town's police station in Vaughan Road, were always busy - even on Christmas Day!
That team, headed by Sgt Jordon Fox, comprised six dedicated full-time constables and six non-warrented ‘special' constables. CI Coates reaffirmed Chief Supt Nicholls' assertion that theft of goods from vehicles was now the most common offence recorded in Harpenden, usually carried out by ‘opportunist' thieves, methodically trying car doors to find those left carelessly unlocked. During the week prior to the meeting two such individuals had been arrested and charged. Harpenden police had, said CI Coates, established monthly intelligence links with the Bedfordshire force, with criminal activity in and around Luton invariably on the agenda. In addition, a bi-monthly review was held of the Herts Police's ‘Guardian' programme aimed specifically at combatting home burglaries.
A Q&A session after the presentations brought a number of complaints from the floor, claiming that police services were less accessible than the speakers had implied. There was general regret that it was no longer possible to go into Harpenden police station and talk to a duty officer face to face, even though CI Coates asserted that the station was always ‘open'.
She pointed out that a telephone on the outside wall of the building provided direct communication with a duty officer, though an audience member who had made use of it complained that its voice clarity was poor, particularly against Vaughan Road background traffic noise.
Members of the public in need of police assistance were urged by the police representatives at the Harpenden Society meeting to make contact by telephone, using the traditional 999 service for emergencies or 101 for non-urgent matters. The internet also provides a direct phone number for Harpenden police station: 01582 768769. Meanwhile the Hertfordshire Constabulary website, at