Ask most members of the public and they will tell you that police officers are there to catch criminals and to keep us all safe.
And research by Portsmouth University shows us that on entry, student police officers think that is what they will spend the majority of their working hours doing. Interviewed later in their careers and the answer changes to ‘safeguarding’. This means they spend time helping people before they become a first time or repeat victim of a serious crime.
I am a great believer in investing public money to keep people safe – as I wrote about last week crime prevention and early intervention can transform lives and are part of building safer communities. Police have a role to play in that but, for a large part of police’s efforts is taking criminals off the streets. Last year Devon and Cornwall Police arrested 14,321 people, which still feels breath-taking considering we have some of the lowest levels of recorded crime in the country.
I have been struck, when I’ve spoken to frontline officers on operations to tackle drugs, how pleased they are to be doing the type of job they signed up for. This shows how having a few key priorities – like tacking drugs and violence - set through my police and crime plan really matters to the frontline.
The sad fact of the matter is that all too often their shifts are spent on other work, such as helping people who are suffering from mental health crises. Although they receive some training in this area, and have important legal powers to detain people who may cause harm to themselves or others, a properly resourced NHS service is almost always a more suitable option when someone like this needs help.
I’m still waiting for the Government’s financial investment in mental health ambulances to be implemented in the South West. This has the potential to make a huge difference to our communities.
I heard about Portsmouth University’s work when last week I attended a policing summit which had a focus on cutting crime and building confidence.
Addressing an audience of senior politicians, police officers and civil servants, Home Secretary Suella Braverman suggested that the way to get the public back on side was to get basic policing right.
She said more burglaries must be responded to, antisocial behaviour recognised and tackled before it gets out of hand, the horrendous trade in illegal drugs dealt with robustly and the criminals who seek to exploit and target the most vulnerable members of society put behind bars.
I was pleased that she recognised the important role that Commissioners have in these objectives, and she singled out the unique work I have done with Victim Support here in Devon and Cornwall.
But while it is vital that the high-quality victim services are available to help people recover from crime, one of the things that most helps victims sleep at night is for criminals to be identified and brought to justice. And that is why Police and Crime Commissioners have been lobbying Government to give us greater powers over the Crown Prosecution Service as we have with Chief Constables.
There are tough times for policing. Devon and Cornwall Police’s challenges have been well documented by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire & Rescue Services. But there are reasons to be optimistic.
The uplift has resulted in a considerable influx of police officers from all walks of life. As the first cohorts complete their training that will be felt by our communities.
My programme to reopen some of the police stations closed under austerity has begun in earnest. Tiverton’s station opens six days a week next week. Penzance, Truro and Newton Abbot’s front desks will reopen for a few days a week this side of Christmas, with six-day-a-week opening in the new year. I support plans to reopen more stations in 2023 as face-to-face contact with the force at stations goes hand in hand with more officers on the beat.
And Devon and Cornwall Police will start the new year with a new Chief Constable. One who I have every confidence in to deliver a force that gets the basics right.