Published: 15:00, 07 April 2021
| Updated: 13:04, 08 April 2021
A rise in anti-social behaviour including drug dealing, dangerously driven off-road bikes and abuse directed at the public is leading to calls for CCTV to be installed at a popular park.
Police patrols have stepped up at Rainham Recreation Ground after residents noticed an increase in the number of incidents taking place.
KMTV report from Rainham Rec where anti-social behaviour has increased
The local vicar has also stepped in and is leading a campaign to see cameras returned to the area, an idea which has been met with resistance from Medway Council bosses.
Officers from the Medway Community Safety Unit at Kent Police have received numerous reports throughout the past month of young people gathering in the park.
Inspector Steve Bassett said members of the public had been verbally abused and off-road dirt bikes were being driven dangerously in the area.
He said regular patrols had broken up groups throughout March suspected of being involved in anti-social behaviour.
A meeting was held recently between community leaders, police and the council to discuss further action.
Rev Nathan Ward, vicar of St Margaret's Church in the town, says he believes the answer is replacing CCTV cameras which had been removed by the council and has set up a petition calling for their return.
He said: "On the whole, Rainham is a safe and wonderful place to live and we need to work together as a community to tackle the thoughtless behaviour of a few by reporting incidents to Kent Police as and when they happen.
"I am reassured that they have taken significant action, most of which has not been visible but is taking place."
The vicar, who holds a Masters degree in Security and Risk Management, added: "What we need now is for Medway Council to invest in replacing CCTV in and around Rainham Recreation Ground which was removed.
"That is why I have started a online petition calling on the council to urgently re-instate the CCTV. It will assist in the detection of anti-social behaviour, crime and/or the identification, apprehension or prosecution of offenders.
"Medway Council has removed CCTV from the recreation ground and Station Road car park despite local residents being concerned about reckless driving of motor bikes on the playing field, fly tipping in the car park, the use of illegal drugs as well as anti-social behaviour.”
Youth worker Bali Rodgers, who runs the Dartford-based crime prevention charity, the Refocus Project says CCTV isn't always the answer to ending anti-social problems.
She said: "The issue is really about young people being groomed because they don't just get groomed in parks it is also online.
"On top of the request for CCTV I think we should seriously consider what we are doing as a community."
Insp Bassett said residents could be reassured there would be "robust but proportionate action" for offenders identified and pointed to an incident on March 28 when three reports about nuisance bikers were received by police.
Police attended and detained a 17-year-old boy on suspicion of an anti-social behaviour offence. He was escorted to his parents' address and could face further enforcement action.
"A dispersal order was also enforced for the remainder of the weekend, with just one report of nuisance bikers received on the Sunday," Insp Bassett added. "We attended the location upon receiving the report, however the individuals dispersed upon our arrival.
"We are carrying out enquiries to identify any outstanding culprits and are also working in close partnership with Medway Council, and local community groups, to find ways of preventing similar incidents in the future."
Stuart Bourne, chairman of the Friends of Rainham Recreation Ground, said members have noticed an increase in anti-social issues at the park which had also escalated during lockdowns with more youngsters "hanging around the shelter, littering and being disruptive".
He added: "Since there are not any youth clubs for them to go in Rainham, we’ve always accepted that there is little for us to do.
"However, we have noticed an increase of antisocial behaviour in older teenagers and young adults, with many incidents of them riding motorcycles across the park during the day endangering young children.
"Members have also seen adults use the park to drink and take drugs, whilst some have seen many drug deals taking place in the car park next to it.
"It is these issues that the group and its members are most concerned about, which is why we have asked for CCTV to be installed in park and the car park to help identify and put off these people."
Mr Bourne said police had been "extremely helpful" in trying to resolve problems but with limited resources needed volunteers to help police the park and assist them.
"They have to send police to areas of high crime reports," he added. "They did advise us to make as many reports as we can to highlight it as a trouble spot and allow more resources to be allocated.
"So we advised members to do this and we have seen a lot more police presence since then. We thank Kent Police for all they have done and continue to do.
"We have also had some discussions with the council about possible solutions, but they have ruled out CCTV in the park or car park.
"The level of frustration is growing in our members and those people we speak to in the park. We are worried that people will be put off visiting the park entirely. This is very upsetting, as we have put in a lot of work recently with a willow den and fairy trail being installed this year.
"We feel that CCTV is the best way to discourage those few people who use our park for criminal behaviour."
Ward councillors Martin Potter and Kirstine Carr say they speak regularly with the council and police and have the support of a liaison group they established for community matters in 2017.
In a joint statement Cllr Potter and Cllr Carr said: "This has helped enable a proportionate response to tackling local issues when and where they arise, especially as these issues do shift around with different groups popping up and rearing their heads, but thankfully in Rainham we see very low levels of incidents on the whole.
"We did recently have a spate of incidents involving a dirt bike in the Rainham Rec but thanks to information from residents we were able to identify the individual involved, unsurprisingly he was known to the police.
"The key is to pick off the individual or main protagonists involved as the best way of tackling issues once they arise, but better still is the work we are doing to positively engage young people in our parks through detached youth service sessions, which can also support local intelligence with regard to those misusing a facility.
"At the Rec we have agreed, subject to funding, to remove the grotty old youth shelter as the current shelter seems to be an issue both in terms of its design and proximity to the children's play area."
Cameras were removed following an CCTV audit review by the council's Regeneration, Culture and Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee in June 2019.
Minutes from the meeting state the committee approved the changes under consultation with police and Medway Community Safety Partnership after assessing the need for each camera's location taking into account their "activity and functionality".
To view and sign the CCTV petition visit the website bit.ly/3fVAHOp