“What have PCCs ever done for us?”
Departing Chief Executive Andrew White assess the impact of Police and Crime Commissioners and the benefits for Devon and Cornwall
As I leave Devon and Cornwall for pastures new, I wanted to reflect on the first four and half years of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). You won’t be surprised that I believe that they have been a big success, not just in Devon and Cornwall, but across the country.
It is fair to paraphrase Monty Python and ask “what have PCCs ever done for us?” In Devon and Cornwall I would point to many things.
In 2015 we ran a campaign to overturn unfair government proposals that would have reduced our police funding by £15m per annum. Assisted by tremendous public support we became the national focus for highlighting what was wrong with the Government’s proposals which culminated in my team identifying an error in the formula that brought everything to a halt. It is not an exaggeration to say that if these proposals had not been stopped by the OPCC, Devon & Cornwall would now have 300 fewer police officers.
We still enjoy very low levels of crime in this part of the country, but each year many people become a victim of crime. Whether that crime is the most serious type of physical or sexual assault, or a minor theft, the impact on the victim can be enormous. The OPCC developed a unique victim care arrangement that is now the envy of the rest of the country. Elsewhere contracts have been let to a single charity to provide care services, but in Devon and Cornwall we believed that we could do better. My office has developed a network of over 80 voluntary sector organisations. This network provides specialist services to victims across our enormous geography. It is a model that really works fantastically well for this force area. The south west has never been well funded for state services, so our widespread community of charity volunteers has taken up the slack for a long time. The Victim Care Unit has proudly tapped into that volunteer community to provide an excellent range of services.
Possibly the best example of how a PCC can champion the concerns of the public has been the improvement in the 101 telephone service. For years it was common for average waiting times to be 10 minutes with many callers waiting much longer than that. Everywhere I went people complained about this service. Over a prolonged period the OPCC reviewed the service and then worked with the Chief Constable providing investment funds to improve the service. Current average waiting times are below five minutes which compares well with most other forces. This sustained improvement would not have happened without the commitment of both Tony Hogg and Alison Hernandez.
And what now? We have just launched a delayed charging scheme that will provide second chances to first time low level offenders. The focus of the probation system has necessarily been on managing the most difficult ex-offenders in our communities. However, because the needs of these offenders are usually very complex they can only be managed, as opposed to rehabilitated. This is not the case with first time offenders. Largely young people at a key moment in their lives might be nudged into a more positive direction for the rest of their lives rather than into a depressing spiral of further criminality. The initial signals are very positive and I will look on from afar to see the scheme develop.
I hail from the south east of England but I will be leaving a piece of my heart in the south west as I move to the Lincolnshire force as Assistant Chief Officer. Devon and Cornwall has a real sense of place. My theory is that this stems from being so far away from London. This makes the place more self-reliant and resilient. I have been fortunate to meet with so many people on the street and at events. In the many public meetings that I have spoken at I have always found people to be challenging but ultimately friendly and positive.
As I say goodbye I will miss so many things - cycling to the Turf Locks pub on the Exe estuary for a pint - the view from my office window across East Devon towards Honiton and the prettiest walk from Polruan to Polperro. Most of all I shall miss my team and working with Devon and Cornwall Police. Without exception, everyone I have worked with has been dedicated to keeping Devon and Cornwall a safe and fantastic place.
The weekly Alison Hernandez blog will return next week, and I know that she has some exciting plans to carry forward into the second year as Police and Crime Commissioner. I will, of course, retain a close interest in what’s happening in Devon and Cornwall policing
Andrew White, departing Chief Executive, Devon and Cornwall OPCC