A stark reminder of the terrorist threat we all face
In her latest blog, PCC Alison Hernandez pays tribute to the police and all emergency services following the recent terrorist attack in London and how we can all play a part in maximising our safety.
The tragic recent events in London came as a shock, if not a complete surprise, to all of us I suspect.
The Westminster attack was a stark reminder of the threat terrorism poses to us all – particularly in big cities.
But as the attack unfolded it served to emphasise the incredible work of the emergency and intelligence services who manage to keep incidents like this to a minimum and, when they do, to deal with the most difficult of circumstances so bravely. It was good to see how the public and MPs like Tobias Ellwood responded so quickly in a time of crisis with no thought for their own safety. This community support for our emergency services is so important.
We know that many UK terrorism threats have been identified and dealt with effectively over the past few years, and, while most of this work obviously goes unseen, I think the public does have an understanding and is reassured about the enormity of the task undertaken to try and keep us all safe.
The death of PC Keith Palmer has rightly brought widespread public praise for the police service and recognition of the danger each and every officer can face every single day, whether that is in a massive city like London, a smaller urban environment such as those we have in Devon and Cornwall or, sometimes, a more rural setting.
The response to the London incident was quick and effective, and, while our capital is an obvious target, we must never assume that an area like Devon and Cornwall is not.
Indeed the Giraffe restaurant bombing in Exeter and the recent conviction of Royal Marine Ciaran Maxwell, from Exminster, for preparing a terrorist attack, graphically highlights how we all need to be extra vigilant despite living in one of the safest places in the country.
Report any concerns you may have to the police, and if you feel the need to do this anonymously please use the Crimestoppers service by ringing 0800 555111
I know that Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer spends much of his time considering the response to direct terrorism incidents in Devon and Cornwall - particularly in dealing quickly and effectively with incidents that could take place anywhere in this massive and very rural force area.
This is why he has decided to increase the number of armed response officers available locally and I have made money available to put an extra 100 police officers on our streets.
Understandably there has been a huge debate over the last few days about arming all our police officers.
There seems to be a pretty even split about the pros and cons of doing this, but, while there are clearly areas of the country and specific targets where this is appropriate, I would feel less comfortable about adopting this approach in Devon and Cornwall.
Of course, there is a need to increase the armed response capability that I have already mentioned, but, even allowing for the enormous and difficult resourcing issues, I don’t believe there is an appetite amongst the public, or indeed the majority of police themselves for each and every officer to be armed. What we must remember is that becoming an armed officer is voluntary and attracts no extra pay.
We have one of the highest public confidence ratings in policing in Devon and Cornwall and we must ensure this is not abused or exploited by the over use of force rather than the expert use of our negotiation skill. Already more officers will be carrying tasers and I will be scrutinising their use to ensure that they do not get used inappropriately. Many officers here may now attend emergency incidents alone and taser offers safety to both the officer and the community affected by any ensuing violence.
When I talk to people, it is frustrating to hear many be critical or to be suspicious of our police force and I have talked to the chief constable about ways in which we can better highlight what they do for all of us.
For instance there are many officers, who used to spend much of their time patrolling the streets, who are now much less visible, but nonetheless highly effective, in keeping us safe from extremism, cyber-crime and protecting our children from sexual exploitation.
In my recently published Police and Crime Plan I have challenged the public to think about what is important to them when it comes to policing – and to do that I think there needs to be a much better understanding of the modern pressures facing police forces and officers.
If there is one positive to come out of the London terrorism attack, it is a renewed acknowledgment of the massive debt we owe to all the people who work to protect us from harm based in London, the south west or any other part of the country.
We are all in this together and we need to continue to support each and every one of us that does.