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Giving our rural communities a fair deal for policing

PCC Alison Hernandez discusses the unique challenges of policing in Devon and Cornwall and how more isolated areas must feel connected

The Devon County Show marked the start of a packed summer of public engagement events for me and my team. Despite the slightly damp weather this year, it provided the usual fantastic opportunity to meet with local organisations and talk to dozens of members of the public who came over to us at the police stand to discuss issues in their community. Events like this give me so much energy for my role, and, I have to say, the majority of conversations I had were extremely positive
What was particularly pleasing is how people’s understanding of my role has grown in the 12 months since attending the show shortly after I was elected. So many said they were supportive of what we’re doing, and it was great to have an opportunity to explain more about the police and crime plan for Devon and Cornwall and how we’re reflecting the views and priorities of local residents.
There were topics that I will feedback directly to the Chief Constable. Some people told me they needed more help where they live, particularly concerning anti-social behaviour and alcohol related crime and misuse. I also discussed how the police effectively connect with our local communities - which is central to my plan.      
Obviously the future of rural policing was a hot topic at the show. This is not surprising when you consider that 42% of the population of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly live in more isolated communities. Our rurality is something that we don’t feel is fairly reflected in the Government’s police funding formula and we are lobbying very hard for this to be put right when details of any changes are revealed later this year. The 10 forces who receive the lowest funding per head are largely rural areas. We hope that changes, because the Chief Constable needs all the resources available to effectively police this massive area.
You will have seen recent articles about the way in which we are transforming local policing and our increase in officer numbers, one of the only forces to do so. Considerable work is now being undertaken by the force to effectively deliver the priorities in the police and crime plan, and ensuring that our rural communities are well served is one of them.  How we connect and protect those who live in our outlying areas is vitally important and the Chief Constable takes this very seriously.
What we must never forget is that rural crime is much more than just machinery theft, cattle rustling and poaching. The key threats facing these communities are the same as those in urban areas, and often exacerbated by being so isolated. Domestic and sexual abuse remain by far the most significant crimes. Serious organised crime is also prevalent and mental health issues, alcohol / drug abuse, social deprivation and road safety are also big concerns.
In the words of the rural crime network, “the scale, cost, social impact and other effects of crime in rural areas are underestimated, under-reported and not fully understood.”
Let’s make sure that, here in Devon and Cornwall, that statement can be turned on its head!
While the police play a huge part in helping keep our rural communities safe, this is again an area where other organisations, partners and individuals can make a huge difference. The strength of local communities is in helping friends and neighbours in a variety of ways. However, to maximise their effectiveness and maintain their motivation, they must feel supported when needed by the police and others. Will an officer be there when needed?  Can response times be relied upon? Will that officer be equipped appropriately to deal with more extreme incidents?  Will our IT work effectively in more isolated areas? These are all questions that form the basis of my ongoing discussions this year with the Chief Constable as he develops his detailed transformational plans to police such a massive area with unique rural, urban and coastal challenges.  
I want to thank all of you who have been volunteering to help keep all of our areas safer. Without your help we would not be able to boast that we still live in one of the safest places in the country.

Alison Hernandez