Officers and their sons at one of many pass out ceremonies held for new officers in 2023
Police and crime commissioners spend winter months working with their Chief Constables and heads of finance to plan for the next financial year. The challenges posed by rises in the cost of living, a surge in summer population and emerging crime types are discussed.
Part of my role is to represent residents of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in those discussions, ensuring that their priorities are reflected in force planning. For example, in January 2023 we created a budget which funded record police officer numbers of 3,610 for the force, and ambitious plans to bear down on your (and my) priorities of antisocial behaviour, dangerous driving, violence and drugs.
I also ensured there was sufficient resource to continue my flagship programme of opening police station public enquiry offices so everyone in our two counties has the option of engaging with police officers and staff face to face. This connectivity, encouraging a two-way flow of information with those the police serve, is vital to both solving crime and preventing it in the first place.
In total 18 police office front desks will be reopened. In March I toured Tiverton, Newton Abbot, Penzance, Falmouth, Truro and Bude police stations, which reopened in the 2022-23 financial year, and had the privilege of announced that Devonport (Plymouth), Looe, Ilfracombe, Honiton, Okehampton and Kingsbridge police enquiry offices would open in 2023-24. It is something I am immensely proud of and would like to thank the estates team and everyone else in the force who pulled together to make these openings happen.
Of all my priorities antisocial behaviour remains the one which people most feel aggrieved about. My office has secured many millions of Safer Streets monies to tackle this and the force launched Operation Loki, initially in Torquay, in March 2023, with Exeter, Barnstaple, Plymouth, Truro and Falmouth among locations added in subsequent weeks.
The operation deployed a range of policing tactics, from ‘pop up’ police stations, high-visibility patrols, traffic operations and community engagement. Dozens were arrested and the operation rolled out to a number of other communities.
Road safety continues to be a high priority for communities across Devon and Cornwall, and this year we have taken big steps towards reducing the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads through the Vision Zero South West partnership, of which I am chairman.
Following a spate of motorcycle collisions in 2022, and driven by detailed research and statistics, this year Vision Zero increased its focus on collision prevention and behaviour change. Key to this was the development of a publicity campaign which was designed with the help of the Cabinet Office’s behavioural science team and featured renowned biker and TV presenter Henry Cole.
We launched the pioneering Op Cossett which saw drones monitor road users on high harm routes, allowing officers on the ground to pull offending motorists over and show them aerial footage of their driving in real time. We have also led the way in new technology, becoming the first in the UK to use new standalone AI cameras to identify mobile phone and seatbelt offences.
The partnership has big plans for next year too, including the roll-out of a state-of-the-art motorbike hazard perception simulator, campaigns targeting pedestrians and parents of young drivers, year-round deployment of the Acusensus AI cameras, and the expansion of our popular Road Safety Village events.
Action continued on another of my police and crime plan priorities, drugs, with the fourth iteration of Operation Scorpion, held jointly between five south west forces and police and crime commissioners, launching in April. This phase focussed on drugs-related violence, and across the region 11kgs of drugs, 15 firearms and £514,065 in cash was taken from criminals, with 162 arrests made. Phase five, in July, targeted cannabis farms, with £6.5m worth of this drug confiscated and destroyed. In October phase six, focused on county lines networks, led to 94 arrests. Phase seven will be coming our way in spring 2024.
May was a month in which my team showcased some of the incredible services I commission to help victims of crime cope and recover. Key achievements such as the introduction of a service using independent advocates, a specific ASB support service, the shaping of care for people in the police force who have experienced domestic abuse, and the recent commissioning of a three-year road collision support service were presented to partners. These services and more are available all year round so if you need help or support please reach out by visiting the new Victim Care website my team created in 2023, victimcare-dc.org or calling the Victim Support 24-hour helpline on 0808 168 91111.
The following month I and the Chief Constable decided to make £5m available to redevelop Exmouth Police Station. The ageing station complex in Exmouth’s North Street is tired and maintenance costs soaring. The new station will be the operational base for about 60 officers, staff and volunteers. They deserve the clean and modern working environment that this rebuild will deliver, and the community deserves an accessible and open front desk in what is one of Devon’s busiest towns.
There was good news for all residents of the force area when, in the summer, the Office of National Statistics revealed that Devon and Cornwall had the lowest recorded crime rates in the country.
In September we celebrated the Prisoners Building Homes project, which started life in Devon and is now a regionally-funded project delivering much-needed property and skills to prisoners around the country, received a prestigious national award. Just three years ago this programme constructed its first home, now it has 40 serving prisoners in full time employment on day release or on post release arrangements and another 40 employed by opening disused prison workshops that have fallen into disrepair. Nine prisons across the country are benefitting from the programme, with plans under way to involve more.
In the last few years my office has secured millions of pounds for town and city centres from the Government’s Safer Streets fund. In October the Home Office announced that following my application Paignton was to receive £545,000 and Camborne and Redruth £454,000 in a fifth round of Safer Streets funding. A further £527,000 of match funding has been identified. The money will be spent throughout the rest of the 2023-24 financial year and throughout 2024-25 on a range of interventions to reduce crime and disorder, with police, councils, businesses and community groups all involved in the work.
And finally, as the year drew to a close the process of seeking your views on policing priorities and spending began again. As I write more than 2,000 of you have taken the time to complete the Your Safety, Your Say, survey. If you are not yet among them please visit my office website and follow the links, or call in the new year, to make sure your opinion on policing is heard in 2024.
Wishing you a safe and happy new year.