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Connecting the public with policing – the vital role of the Police and Crime Commissioner

PCC Alison Hernandez explains how the views of local people are heard, and how this impacts on policing in Devon and Cornwall

As police and crime commissioner (PCC) I have a clear duty to engage with local communities – not just because there are a number of pieces of legislation which say I must, but because my role is to represent you as best I can. I can only do this if I relentlessly seek your views and often ask for your help.
Whenever the police make a decision about improving or changing services, I, on the public’s behalf, need to be confident the decision is considered with the public in mind.

And how we do this isn’t as straightforward as you might think. To help us decide which route to go down my office has developed a code of good practice which gives us a definitive framework that allows us to be consistent and set an example for the force.
Public engagement aims to bring people and communities together to address issues of common importance, to solve shared problems, and to bring about positive social change.
It allows us all to participate in public issues so that leaders and decision makers better understand the many perspectives, opinions, and concerns.
When done well it includes those members of the community whose voices have traditionally been left out of political and policy debates. The young, working parents and minority groups.
Moreover it:
- Helps people weigh a variety of perspectives and listen to each other’s views; I have many a debate at face to face events
- Builds common understanding, manages differences and establishes direction for moving ahead on tough issues; Speaking at events about my vision for policing enables greater clarity.
- Builds trust and improves communication between the public and leaders; Only last week I was praised for my visibility by a local resident in Tiverton.
- Creates new opportunities for people to become involved in public problem solving and decision making. I’ve had offers of help and ideas for improvement from residents.
I am very pleased with the way my office carries out our public engagement. The formal consultation that we carried out last summer informed my new police and crime plan and benefitted hugely from the work that has gone on before.
We offer opportunities to enable face to face and online methods.
By doing this we have been able to get over our messages to more people than ever before – our aim throughout has been to produce information that is worthy of attention in a very distracted world.
The public must feel confident that they can contact the PCC about any police related concerns and that they will be listened to, however they choose to contact the OPCC.
Nothing will ever replace face to face as my engagement method of choice but social media does play an important role in how we interact with the public.
Quite simply, for very little investment we can use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to reach many more people than by any other method – for instance there are 1.2m Facebook accounts in Devon and Cornwall, that’s the equivalent to two-thirds of the population.
In the past two years we have increased the number of followers on Facebook and Twitter by over 200% (it’s literally 000's) and our monthly electronic newspaper circulation list has doubled. Please sign up today via our website
It is cost-effective and allows the office to be proactive as well as reacting more quickly to negativity – just a fortnight ago I held my first live Twitter event which allowed those who joined in to ask real time questions about their policing concerns.

The office has also become more confident in how it invests budget into paid-for digital engagement and plans to invest further in future. In fact the consultation last summer on facebook saw the 65 + age group respond more highly than any other. So we know that we have to work differently to reach younger people and busy working parents.
Clearly, as every penny of taxpayers money the PCC spends on promotion is scrutinised (not just by the police and crime panel but particularly the mainstream media), there is a need for caution when doing this.
The test for paid promotion is simple - is this message issued in the public’s interest or is it simply promotion for the office. If the answer is ‘yes it is in the public interest’ then paid for promotion is acceptable.
For example, last week we spent just £50 on targeted advertising for my Meet Your PCC event in Tiverton. With that we managed to inform 16,000 Facebook users in the Tiverton area of the event. You can check out my events via my calendar on-line.
This increased online presence, using sensible budget investment, is helping us to build low-cost engaged virtual communities with residents, partners and businesses.

In this country we ‘police by consent’ and that is why we are the envy of the rest of the World – as that World changes then so must the way we listen to those who give us that consent.
Alison Hernandez