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Keeping communities safe can’t just be a job for cops with guns in cars

In her latest blog, PCC Alison Hernandez discusses everyday crime and keeping communities safe

There is an acknowledged tension between the issues that the public are most concerned about and what analysis tells us are the biggest threats affecting the safety of our communities.

The challenge facing policing today is to balance the needs of the public affected by crime everyday against ensuring an appropriate response at times of great jeopardy such as a terrorist attack.

Police and crime commissioners must be able to have a meaningful conversation with the public about how this can be achieved so that limited resources can best be used to deliver both a connected and accessible policing presence in our communities and effective safeguarding at all times.

Myself and my team carries out many, many public engagement events – in the last few weeks we have been in Penzance, St Austell, Totnes, Dartmouth, Instow and Newquay and what people are telling us at those events mirrors the anecdotal evidence I receive in my postbag – that antisocial behaviour and roads policing issues, are what the public, councillors and businesses are most concerned about.

Interestingly, in a YouGov poll for the BBC, broadcast earlier this week, people in the south west were asked ‘do you believe that you or a family member are likely to be killed or injured in a terrorist attack?. Only six per cent believed they could be directly affected.

This suggests to me that our communities need the police to focus on crimes that affect their quality of life every day – not just that which is life-threatening and rare.

I realise that at a time of limited resources this may seem like a naïve statement but if we cannot find a way to do this our communities will continue to suffer.

So what are the everyday crimes people are affected by?

The latest nationally published crime data suggests that, at the end of March, Devon and Cornwall had the third lowest recorded crime rate nationally and that, while crime was rising, increases were consistent with trends seen elsewhere.

Whether crime increases or decreases it means we still have victims affected by crime every single day.

The crimes which most affect our communities and the victims they create are:
- Theft from the person and criminal damage;
- Violence with and without injury (which includes harassment offences such as abusive and threatening messages sent via social media and phone calls that the victim perceives as threatening in nature);
- Safeguarding offences that typically take place behind closed doors. This includes high harm offences such as domestic abuse and sexual abuse.

Recorded crime figures are rising in Devon and Cornwall however, the biggest impact my office is able to make is to offer care to victims to help them overcome their trauma.

I’ve mentioned before that there are over 80 organisations on the Victim Care Network able to work alongside those affected by crime and help get their lives back on track.

As the public’s representative I must react to what the public is telling me.

So when I see an increasing number of letters in my postbag from key people in many of our communities, and they are reporting a significant deterioration in the behavior of certain members of their communities and an increasing concern about the police response to tackling that behavior, I have to ask the question, ‘what more could be done to help?’.

It is important for those of us responsible for policing to remember that the frontline is not just cops with guns in fast cars, it is about everyone within the policing family coming together to keep communities safe, and we need to invest at all levels to allow that to happen.

The Government has recognised the challenges of responding to a terrorist act in such a massive geographic area, that’s why we have already seen 39 new firearms officers trained and deployed.

But the fight against terrorism and crime, and work to deal with antisocial behaviour, isn’t just a police issue. We must all look just as hard at preventing crime as we do at providing a response if it happens.

Responsibility for dealing with crime does not sit solely within policing but we must continue to work with all our partners and local communities to resolve local problems – these are often complex situations but we must persevere

That’s one of the reasons why we are in an alliance with Dorset police, that’s why we work so hard with partners across the public sector, that’s why we act as a link to the business community which has a vested interest in safe and happy communities, and that’s why the intelligence and proactive support we gain from our schools, councils, NHS and police in our communities remain absolutely vital.

Alison Hernandez