In policing we spend most of our time looking ahead. Whether it be budgeting for the future, planning events or setting force priorities, the focus is generally on the next challenge around the corner.
This week I’ll be joining thousands of others in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to take time out to reflect and remember the sacrifice made by others in years gone by so we can enjoy the freedoms to which we have become so used. With all the doom and gloom around it’s easy to take for granted the liberty and prosperity that makes Britain such a wonderful place to call home.
The fact that we are free to criticise and even ridicule politicians, that we can speak a language of our choosing and that we can worship any or no religion – freedoms that are still being fought for in many parts of the world. In Britain we are also fortunate to have a police service that protects liberties like the right to protest peacefully.
On Sunday I will be representing my office at one of the many hundreds of remembrance services that are held around the region. It’s always a moving occasion, but this year, marking a century since the end of the First World War, will be especially poignant. Devon and Cornwall Police has done an incredible job of marking this anniversary in an engaging and appropriate way.
In Andy Hocking House, the building which houses my office, a fascinating display has been created with the help of the South West Police Heritage Trust. It tells the story of police officers who served both here and abroad during the war years. One former soldier swapped frontline policing in Devon for frontline soldiering in the trenches and was among the first to see action. Herbert Jordan was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his bravery after repairing a telephone line while under fire in 1915. He was injured later that year and discharged as medically unfit for further military service.
Those police officers who were called up to serve in the First World War, and who made the ultimate sacrifice, have been remembered in a stunning memorial at police headquarters which was painted by Sergeant Mark Cooper from Falmouth. It’s a moving and fitting tribute to these men and I’d like to thank Sgt Cooper for his time and imagination.
I am also delighted to see the eye-catching poppy cars – marked patrol vehicles adorned with flower motifs - on patrol in the two counties once again, and this year poppies are being projected on the main building at police headquarters in Middlemoor after dark (I’d recommend taking in this spectacle if you’re passing).
As well as remembering those service men and women who have paid the ultimate price for our freedoms in the armed services, and those who continue to do so, it is also worth reflecting on the risk we ask our frontline staff to undertake on a daily basis to keep us safe. That’s something we turned our attention to last Wednesday, when I was pleased to support the #unacceptable campaign to highlight the work that is being done to reduce assaults on NHS and police staff. Some of the stories were harrowing; like the mental health nurse who was punched in the face and the Devon police officer who had her leg broken while protecting the public.
We need to make sure that the full weight of the law will be used to prosecute those who assault those people who dedication and courage keeps the rest of us safe. They must be able to know that we have their back when they head out to police a night out in Plymouth or attend to someone who has chosen to drink so heavily they have ended up in an accident and emergency unit.
Part of ensuring that frontline police officers – and the public – are safe is making sure there are enough of them. I was heartened by the announcement in last week’s autumn budget statement that money is being made available for a 24-hour mental health hotline and specialised mental health ambulances for major hospitals – frontline officers do far too much work that would be more suitably be handled by the NHS.
But I am less pleased with the lack of a major announcement on police funding. With a hole in the police pension pot, a pay rise to fund and a desire among the community here in Devon and Cornwall to fund more officers – something I dearly want to be able to help with – the money has to come from somewhere. Together with politicians from around the South West and PCCs around the country we now need to lobby hard for a sensible outcome in next year’s Comprehensive Spending Review and financial settlement so we can create a police force that’s able to keep us safe and prosperous.
Our frontline officers know all about courage and sacrifice - as their forefathers did before them. It’s down to today’s politicians to ensure they honour that commitment by financing a police force that able to protect us and our freedoms for years to come.