Alison Hernandez with some of the Devon Councillor Advocates
When I became Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016 relations between police and their communities was patchy at best. In some parts of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly neighbourhood officers were well engaged with other services like local councils, while in other areas the vital connections between police and the people they serve was quite badly broken.
I am of the view that it’s far easier to solve problems when people pull in the same direction, and with a background in councils I know that there is a huge resource of people in these local authorities who are committed to their communities.
With hundreds of councils, from parish authorities serving remote villages to the unitary authority serving our biggest city, connecting the police force with these individuals was always going to be a challenge. We’ve still got a long way to go but my Connect to Protect agenda has made some significant progress. Among the practical ways we have been able to help is through the setting up of a councillor advocate programme.
The scheme, run by my office, enables any council member to receive regular policing updates and puts them in regular touch with their neighbourhood team. Launched in 2018 it as quickly grown to have around 100 members from across the peninsula and from a range of backgrounds and political parties. Members are invited to quarterly seminars where police and partners present to them on a range of issues. Tours of emergency call centres, chats to the firearms teams and advice on how to deal with illegal encampments are among the activities we have been able to arrange through the scheme.
It also enables the sharing of best practice across the force. I have written before about the Truro Parish Liaison scheme, which gathers 11 parish councils with their neighbourhood Inspector on a regular basis. It engenders understanding and respect on both sides as the police are able to explain their priorities and challenges and vice versa. Meeting every couple of months and with the venue rotating around the communities it serves, it is a super-efficient way of delivering connectivity. Quite frankly the Inspector would not be able to justify visiting each parish in his patch.
I’m pleased to say that through the councillor advocate scheme this system has now been used to deliver greater links between police and communities in East Devon too.
Our very active councillor advocates in the new town of Cranbrook asked their Neighbourhood team to replicate this scheme and last Thursday (16 Jan) Sector Inspector Antonia Weeks met representatives of 16 parish and town councils to discuss their needs and to explain policing priorities in her large slice of rural Devon. The plan is for this meeting to take place regularly and I hope to see the system used in communities throughout the force area.
This week councillors in seven Devon towns to receive Community Responders have been invited to community engagement days where this new role will be discussed. The plan is that over time these councillors will become local experts in policing and crime and can help the police to build safer communities.
We’ve still got a long way to go to make sure that police and councils are pulling in the same direction to tackle crime and create safer and more pleasant places to live but the councillor advocate scheme is proving its worth.
If you are a councillor from any tier authority who would like to join the scheme or for a chat about it please get in touch with my office by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01392 225555.