The DPP and me

Tonight was my first experience of covering a local District Policing Partnership (DPP) meeting as a journalist.

Driving through the wind and rain over the atrocious Fintona to Trillick road in absolute darkness, at times more akin to tarred sand dunes, I eventually found the venue in Trillick for October’s monthly meeting of the Omagh DPP. (No thanks to directions to completely different venue from a colleague who actually lives in the village).

I had my homework done before hand, arriving having already digested the six month DPP report, which is normally handed out on arrival at the meeting. But a diligent reporter I work with managed to procure a copy earlier, which definitely helped.

I know already from experience of covering health trust, education and library board meetings etc, that it is always better going into a meeting knowing what you are looking for story-wise, rather than arriving cold with a wait-and-see approach. Although, the content of DPP meetings is infinitely easier to digest compared with jargon fuelled health trust/ELB board meetings. That is no doubt down to the fact that the whole ethos between the DPP is public participation and police scrutiny, however there wasn’t too much of either tonight.

Despite an abundance outside, the wind was soon knocked out of my sails on arrival. A private meeting of DPP members held prior to the public meeting had promised to reveal details of a story I wanted to follow-up on about a sex offender who moved into an Omagh housing estate without permission. However despite the assurances, I was let down. There would be no further developments in time for the Monday edition of the paper.

For those who have never graced a district DPP meeting, i.e. almost all of you, it entails more than a dozen DPP members made up of councillors, independent members and two or three police representatives  discussing local, and district wide issues. The DPP members will almost without fail outnumber the members of the public bored or motivated enough to come along. Tonight was the scrutiny of the six month DPP report, full of stats and progress updates on a variety of schemes from the ‘F’ District.

THE MEETING

By the usual standards, tonight was actually something of a  bumper crowd, around eight or nine people turned up, only two of which spoke out however when the opportunity arose. I had the feeling that a few of the younger members were actually  members of Ogra Shinn Fein who came along to increase the body count, there didn’t seem any other reason for them to be there, maybe I’m wrong.

The stand out issue from the report was the huge surge in the number of non-domestic burglaries in the Omagh District, i.e. – thefts from garages, sheds and commercial premises. The major target has been copper and lead (Currently hitting $7,000 a ton world-wide according to the report), with agricultural machinery also being targeted.

Setting up a ‘multi-agency approach’ to tackling the number of violent assaults in Omagh was also discussed. (Update: managed to squeeze three stories out of the meeting for Monday, and potentially two more for next Thursday’s edition)

MY TAKE

My take on the DPP was first off the remarkable anomaly of seeing Sinn Fein and the DUP working so well together in the flesh, with councillors able to directly challenge the PSNI’s area commander on a number of issues. It was all very cordial and focused on policing, with no political point scoring at all.

The public meeting aspect however is in most respects a charade and paradoxical. More members of the public means more queries and more work for the police representatives and more parochial grandstanding. The police are happy enough with an empty room, with less queries and meaning fewer headaches. While members can raise their own points, but most queries tend to be met with a “I don’t have that information now, but I can look into it” type response.

However, only one or two DPP members actually spoke up to scrutinize aspects of tonight’s six month report. The DPP is essentially in theory an excellent concept, but in practise is rarely lives up to its billing.

FINAL WORD

For journalists, in the case of all board meetings, whether DPP, ELB or health trust, it’s essential to seize the opportunity of direct access to board members and put them directly on the spot. Don’t take “I’ll look into it” as a response, as you’ll end up with a watered down pish poor press office response.

With little real scrutiny from my sole first-hand experience it then falls on the journalist to relay the main issues in a meeting for publication, massively multiplying the public audience. The three angles I selected for Monday’s Tyrone Herald were: The spike in non-domestic theft, the call for establishment of a multi-agency approach to tackle violent crime in Omagh’s town centre and a story on how £100,000 of seized criminal assets have been re-invested back into youth diversionary programmes in Omagh.

I intend to build on some aspects for more in depth coverage for next Thursday’s Ulster Herald.

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About AldousDuke
Mid Tyrone journalist, not so freelance any more.

One Response to The DPP and me

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