Partnership working is key when it comes to keeping our communities safe
Lindsey Hoggard, neighbourhood manager from Homes in Sedgemoor talks about the partnership work they are doing with the police to address organised crime.
With the majority of our anti social behaviour (ASB) cases being low level noise nuisance the appearance of organised crime groups targeting vulnerable people in our homes was unbelievable.
We found out about the groups through our close relationship with Avon and Somerset Police. The force’s help in tackling them has been invaluable and this is how we learnt about cuckooing. This is a form of crime in which drug dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to use it as a base for drug dealing.
Based in Somerset we are far from the hustle and bustle of Birmingham and London but faced with organised crime, we needed to work out how we could disrupt these groups. Despite the number of the cases being very low they can be particularly time consuming if not dealt with swiftly. The first cases we dealt with had very costly outcomes and were characterised by ASB cases that were open for months, high court costs, large recharges and increased turnaround times for voids due to the condition that properties were being returned. This had to change!
We have weekly meetings with the police and tackling the groups is a standing item on the agenda to make sure we keep it at the top of everyone’s priority list. At Homes in Sedgemoor we put our customers first so their safety and the safety of our communities is very important.
Neighbourhood officers and police officers carry out joint visits as soon as they are made aware of a new address being targeted. This helps gather information and get important messages to our customers who sometimes don’t even realise what is happening to them.
We created our own ‘cuckooing’ letter, which is sent to the neighbours addresses to inform them of what cuckooing is and what signs to look out for. This shows them we are aware and taking action and encourages them to report their concerns to us. Our customer satisfaction rates for the way we have dealt with organised crime group cases has been 100% positive.
All of our colleagues from the customer services team members to surveyors are trained on the signs too. They report everything to the neighbourhood officer. In one case, we saw that our customer was requesting numerous lock changes, this happens when they give their keys to the gang, sharing this information internally is so important. We picked this up very quickly and visited with the police.
We have a really good relationship with Somerset Drug and Alcohol Service and have worked with them and the mental health team to support vulnerable victims in the best way possible. We moved one customer within three days to a new home well away from their old neighbourhood. We didn’t just leave it there, we scheduled in regular visits from a neighbourhood officer and continued to liaise with Somerset Drug and Alcohol Service and supported the customers engagement. We visited another in hospital and not only arranged for them to move to alternative accommodation on their discharge, we also made sure that they had the support they needed from mental health agencies.
In May, Homes in Sedgemoor held a really successful partnership day, the afternoon session saw my team and Avon and Somerset Police presenting our approach to a number of partners including other housing providers, private landlords, local authorities as well as support agencies. We wanted to share with them what we had learnt and to show them how, by working with the police and other partners, we have dramatically reduced the impact and devastation caused by gangs in our communities.
Partnership working is key and we continue to disrupt the groups within our homes to keep our communities safe. My team are very flexible and visits become a priority when we hear of a new address of concern. We are becoming more proactive and identifying vulnerable people and working with our contractors to safeguard our homes from becoming the next target. It’s not always easy but the team’s dedication and the great relationship with the police officers really helps. We may never stop the gangs completely, but we will make life extremely difficult for them.
Lindsey Hoggard is neighbourhood manager at Homes in Sedgemoor.