If you haven’t had yours already, you should soon receive a council tax bill for the next financial year. This is not a piece of correspondence any of us look forward to but alongside it will be a leaflet explaining how we intend to spend the policing element of the bill, and I’d urge you to spend a few minutes absorbing this.
Since I was elected to office in 2016 my focus has been on resourcing more police officers for our communities. Research shows we have one of the lowest ratios of police officers to residents and ‘more police officers’ is something people around Devon and Cornwall had been calling for.
The good news is that our locally funded recruitment drive coupled with a central Government funded uplift means that in 2022/23 Devon and Cornwall police will hit record officer numbers of 3,610. I know I have mentioned it before but this is a point of pride for me and testament to a learning and development team that managed through Covid-19 to recruit and train many hundreds of officers, not only to build total force strength but also to replace those retiring.
I attended a passing our service at headquarters on Friday (March 11) and it is always wonderful to witness the next cohort of dedicated individuals, complete with friends and family, at these events.
As last week ended with a high this week began with one as I headed to Westminster to promote my priority of tackling drugs with the Prime Minister. This will become increasingly important in the next year or so as the Government reconsiders the formula by which police forces are funded – and if we are to maintain officer numbers and bring new faces to policing teams it is vital to fight for our share of the pot.
I have argued for years that the current Police Allocation Formula (PAF) unfairly favours predominantly urban high crime areas, to the detriment of places like Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, where we might have one of the lowest crime rates but other significant challenges like rurality, a huge summer surge in visitors, and additional calls for missing and suicidal people are not properly recognised in the funding we receive.
The State of Policing Annual Report issued last Thursday by outgoing Chief Inspector of Constabulary recognised that the formula had been a ‘persistent problem’ during his tenure. Part of the problem lies in the fact that different forces rely on different levels of central funding. In Devon and Cornwall in 2022/23 the Home Office grant will make up 59% of the £372m budget, in Cleveland this is 72%, so there is variation in how reliant on council tax payers we are, and this cannot be right.
The PAF works on a complex set of calculations based on population density and by ascribing a value to different crime types based on the impact they have on victims and the time they take to investigate. Almost everyone agrees that reform is well overdue but doing so is complex. The last time this was looked at, in 2015, Devon and Cornwall Police stood to lose out by approximately £13.5m a year. That is why it is essential that politicians, businesses and local government leaders are ready to make the South West’s case.
Sir Tom’s report also makes reference to the significant reform required by police forces in regards to inappropriate behaviour by a minority of officers.
This has been an enormous challenge to the reputation of police, impacting negatively on public confidence. No one is more appalled by these cases than the thoroughly decent and hard working officers and staff who fortunately make up the majority of our force, and I’m pleased Sir Tom referenced the ‘courage and commitment of police officers when faced with danger, sometimes extreme peril to themselves and those they are sworn to protect’.
Yes, it’s right that a full examination of police failings should take place in public so lessons can be learned. My office plays a role in this through appointing legally qualified chairs for misconduct hearings and being an appeals body for public complaints. By way of balance my office also supports officers who have to deal with incidents that most of us could not bear, through supporting the Chief Constable with good staff welfare practices.
We must also get better at celebrating police force successes, like the recent seizures of drugs across Devon and Cornwall, that help keep us and our loved ones safe.
If you have been a victim of crime please report it to police, in an emergency call 999 or in a non emergency call 101, webchat or email the police via devon-cornwall.police.uk. Alternatively, to stay 100% anonymous, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers online at Crimestoppers-uk.org or call Freephone 0800 555 111.
Victims of Crime can get free expert advice 24 hours a day from Victim Support on 08 08 16 89 111 or via victimsupport.org.uk.