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Partnership work is key to designing a safer future

This week PCC Alison Hernandez talks about the recently published Office of National Statistics crime figures and how partnership working can transform communities and policing.

Last week we saw the latest round of crime figures issued by the Office of National Statistics and, in some circles, it has raised quite a stir.

First of all, it is important to explain that these figures are for the number of crimes being recorded – they are not to be taken as absolute proof that more or less crimes are actually being committed. They are one of many indicators used to help us understand what’s happening in our communities.

While it is clear there are increases in some types of crime, one of the key reason for the increase is police getting better at recording what is a crime and what is not. Our communities are more confident to come forward and report to the police. Historically, some forces have been better than others at recording and so Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies, the body tasked with making sure all police forces act in the best interests of the communities they serve, is working alongside police and crime commissioners to ensure all forces do this well.

Devon and Cornwall was one of the forces that HMIC found lacking in some areas of crime recording and I have insisted on improvement. I am pleased with the way the force has responded to this, I believe it has now improved and we will find out in due course if HMIC also believes that to be the case.

So ironically, this improvement in recording is contributing to an increase in crime in Devon and Cornwall, a 17% increase in the last 12 months (compared with a national increase of 14%). Having said that, we still have the fifth lowest crime rate in England and Wales with only Dyfed-Powys, North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Cumbria record lower rates of crime. We are second lowest for theft overall, second lowest for both domestic and non-domestic burglary and fifth lowest for vehicle crime.

Our communities remain some of the safest in which to live and public satisfaction remains high - in fact Devon and Cornwall has the highest level of any force in the country. However, there are some concerning problem areas of crime, particularly around violence – which now includes stalking and harassment and I am glad to see this offence getting the recognition it deserves so that victims can be better served.

But what is key to me is that we don’t lose sight of the fact that every crime – whether it is reported or not – has both an offender and a victim and that those of us tasked with improving communities do all we can to stop more people becoming either of the two. Because if we have less offenders we will have less victims – prevention is always better than cure. As regular readers will know preventing offending is a key focus of mine and why I introduced the Pathfinder scheme for first-time offenders.

So I was struck by an article I read recently about the work being done to improve the lives of those who live on a large Plymouth estate called North Prospect or ‘Swilly’ as it has been known locally. No doubt North Prospect was a tough place to live and serve, I’ve heard stories that even fire fighters had stones thrown at them for entering many years ago not just the police. It really was a ‘no go’ area, the same stories I used to hear about my own community of Hele in Torquay, that was once known as ‘Hell’.

But I have worked in Plymouth and I know the one thing that all estates have is an incredible sense of community. And this community has, in recent years, has made incredible strides thanks to partnership working by the police, Plymouth Community Homes, the council and house builders who have joined forces to design crime out of the estate and make it a better place to live, work and play. The results are plain to see – a 62% reduction in crime on the estate inside 10 years, the vast majority of which coming since the first homes were completed under the Secured by Design scheme in 2012.

Look what PCSO Lee Sheldon, who worked in North Prospect for 10 years from 2007, had to say about the success of Secure by Design.

He said: "It used to take me two hours to walk down a single street because of the issues that people on their doorstep would come out and tell you about.

"The physical appearance of the landscaping of North Prospect and the mood and atmosphere … has changed the estate irrevocably and it seems like a completely different place.

"At night it was pitch black and you couldn’t see anything. Now, it’s light and open – and residents have an outlook.

"There are none of the challenges that we faced ten years ago and I can patrol the estate in a much shorter time. There are still issues but they are all low level and no different to what you would find elsewhere.
"The drop in the crime rate is noticeable for everyone and hopefully that can be sustained.

"To see the transformation is quite remarkable. As you walk down the street, you can see it’s a pleasant place to be. You have got that sense of security and pride.”

Designing out crime and designing in pride of place through these partnership approaches shows that they really can be transformational not just for the community but for policing as well. 

This week my office had to deal with the distraction of yet another vote of no confidence in me as PCC, brought by Liberal Democrat councillors in Torbay. In my response I suggested that, rather than try to make headlines against me, those councillors would be better working with my office, with the police and with businesses to find solutions to the problems being faced by people in Torbay.

What has happened in North Prospect is a clear example of what can be achieved in partnership and let us hope we will see much more brilliant partnership work like that in Torbay and beyond.

Alison Hernandez