Councillor calls for army to be deployed in Southend unless police numbers increase amid claims residents are in fear of leaving their homes

Armed forces should be deployed on the streets of Southend if police numbers are not urgently increased, a leading councillor has claimed.

Southend’s deputy leader Councillor Ron Woodley said residents of Southend live in fear of leaving their homes due to a spike in crime during lockdown.

The Independent councillor, who represents the Thorpe Bay ward, said there are not enough police to deal with the problem and armed forces should be deployed.

“If we can’t get enough police then get the armed forces on the streets,” he said.

“We don’t want to be in a military state but we want to be safe and if we haven’t got police resources, what other resources have we got?”

His comments have come after videos emerged of a brawl on the seafront at Thorpe Bay Gardens on Tuesday night, which led to the arrest of a 17-year-old boy on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm and being in possession of an offensive weapon.

During the incident, videos also appear to show a Ford Fiesta being driven towards as pedestrian and ramming into another vehicle.

Mr Woodley said he did not blame the police officers for incidents like those seen on Thorpe Bay Gardens as “they can only do what they can based on the resources”.

However, he hit out at the number of officers available to Essex Police and the number allocated to the borough.

“It is a joke, an absolute joke,” he said.

“They get millions of pounds from the police precept from Southend residents, we are the biggest town in Essex and the most populated town in Essex yet they treat us like dirt.

“Enough is enough.”

He continued: “Last year we had problems in the weekends but as a lot of these people no longer have school, they have all day and night to play merry hell into the early hours of the morning.

“At the moment it is every night and it is not just Thorpe Bay, it is across the whole borough, from Leigh right the way through. People don’t want to leave their front doors and not because of the virus but because of the violence.”

Independent councillor Martin Terry, who oversees public safety, also raised concerns about the growing number of incidents involving anti-social behaviour.

He said: “We are definitely seeing an uptick in anti-social behaviour as a result of the lockdown. It is becoming a noticeable consequence of Covid-19 that we are seeing all over the borough.

“In just the past week we have seen gangs of men throwing bottles at City Beach at the weekend with someone hospitalised. Other people are coming into the borough from other parts of Essex and coming into public areas and losing control.

“I am deeply concerned.”

Despite the concerns, Essex Police has recorded a significant drop in the number of crimes reported through April and May during the height of the lockdown.

For Southend, in the year to the end of April there were 300 fewer offences reported – a reduction of 1.5 per cent – and for the year to the end of May, there were more than 950 fewer offences reported – a reduction of 4.6 per cent.

Reported incidents of violence with injury, robbery, burglary, theft of and from a vehicle, anti-social behaviour, and criminal damage all down.

The force is also on track to have 3,353 officers serving across Essex by the end of March next year.

This will mean the force will have grown by 519 officers since 2017/18. However, much of it has been funded through increases in the police portion of council tax, known as the police precept.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter